I’m going to be very real with you all.
As we said last night, the conditions in this area have changed. Just a short time ago, as a matter of fact just days ago, I walked in short sleeves. A few weeks ago, I walked in long underwear and shorts. If I tried that now, I’d be SOL in a few blocks. Tom and I had a pretty long discussion last night and again this morning. We looked at the weather here and the next couple weeks worth of projections. The outlook was not good.
You have to understand, neither Tom nor I are intimidated to walk in 0 degree weather during the day. We’d prefer to not (what sane person would), but if that is what it is, then we’re down. We are worried about those temps, however, with nowhere to go at night. Walking all day leaves you a sweaty mess, even in the cold. Your clothes hold that sweat. Then, you try to sleep in a bag, cold and wet, in the middle of nowhere. That is a recipe for disaster.
So, our decision is this: we are taking a ride out of the mountains. Tomorrow, an Iraq vet we met on the trip is going to pick us up and take us to Albuquerque. This allows us to get out of the mountains and keep walking. The night time temps are still cold and the stretches in between towns are still far. That said, it isn’t 0 or below at night. This allows for Tom and I to sleep outside if necessary and it not be 0 or below. The gear we have is OK, but it isn’t going to protect us from negative temps without a place to go at night.
People have brought up the idea that we explicitly said we wanted to do this route because it was hard and that this trip would demonstrate a person’s ability to overcome. Trust me, it is hard and I think we’ve done a pretty good job so far dealing with all this trek has thrown at us. One aspect of this trip, for us, is learning to take control over your own life even when conditions outside your control mount against you. For a long time, I felt very powerless in my life. After Iraq, nothing brought me happiness, nothing made me feel fulfilled or like I was doing anything worth anything. I drank to black out or pass out because my mind would not stop. I made stupid, foolish decisions that hurt me, friends, and my family because I couldn’t feel any emotion except anger. After that, all I felt was guilt and regret because I knew I was making the wrong choices. Then, I did it again. Why? I think because I felt like feeling good wasn’t an option for me, that I didn’t do enough or didn’t do things well enough to feel good. So, despite what others would claim was reality, I only saw the complete negative in me.
This trek has made me reevaluate that. One of the messages the military imparts is the need for adaptation. Conditions change. Missions change several times while your executing them. This trip has given me an opportunity to see how much control I do have and how adaptable I can be. Every day is a whole new set of circumstances. Often, we know where we’re going but have no idea what to expect when we get there. Will we have a place to stay? Can we find supplies? Every step is an adaptation on the trip. Every step is an adaptation towards success in my life.
The trek has demonstrated how capable we are. The trek has given us the chance to reevaluate our position in life. We can’t control the weather, but we can control ourselves. We can’t guarantee our safety, but we don’t have to put ourselves in positions where we jeopardize our wellbeing. What we’ve come to learn is that this trip means a lot to a lot of people. Hopefully, people can see that one aspect of this trip is understanding that YOU can make the best decision for you. You have to make the decision, no matter how disappointing it might be, to put yourself in the best position for success. On our Facebook, someone said that it is the completion of the mission that is important. That is so true. Without the chance to complete the mission, you find yourself regretting circumstance. It becomes a, ” Well, I could’ve completed the mission, but…” scenario. The decision to accept help when it is needed allows us to complete the mission, despite the change, and still look ourselves in the mirror and say ” Well, I could’ve quit the mission, but…”
The decision to lose some miles is disappointing. The decision to assert yourself and do what’s right for you is encouraging. It means we’ve learned something about ourselves…that beating yourself up, whether emotionally or physically, is not worth the effort of being honest with yourself and saying this is what I need to be successful for myself. It means that we’re breaking out of the acceptance of the bullshit we’ve carried for years. It means we’re finally allowing ourselves to see a situation from a position of influence and not of how influence will impact us. It means for me a change of self image and self worth. It’s like the opposite of depression. You have to understand that prior to this walk, I would’ve done whatever, for better or worse on me, because I just did not care about myself and didn’t feel I deserved to feel any better. This trek has brought me to a point where I believe I do have some value and can see, for the first time in a long time, that I am capable of changing my circumstances.
A friend I spoke with today said that this decision puts an asterisk next to this trek. If that’s the case for some, then so be it. I’d rather it be on this trip than my life. Stopping now would be an asterisk on life… A life that could have been lived, but a choice was made not to. The other day, Tom and I hiked up a mountain. I stood on the edge and looked out on the valley and prairie below. Hulking cattle were tiny black dots that looked like grains of sand sliding on the smooth surface of the yellow plains below. Cars carried people somewhere fast as they cut back and forth through the curves. A person we met on this trip, Wolf Walker, told us to feel the wind, feel the sun, experience life and the supreme creation around us. I closed my eyes. I felt the cool, thin air turn to wind and whip through my beard. I felt the delicate warmth of the late November sun on my face. I just breathed with my eyes closed for several seconds. I opened my eyes and saw a whole new world in front of me. There is no asterisk in that. I felt something real for the first time in a long time.
Wolf Walker, talked to us about power. You hold your power and you lose it by choice, when you let someone or some circumstance take it from you. You give away your power when you let someone else’s ideas, wants, or desires choose your course for you. Lives and experiences are shared, not controlled, unless you cede control by your choice. We have chosen to not allow circumstance to take control over us. Rather, we choose to see things for what they are and be honest with ourselves. Letting someone’s criticism or desire for us to do something as they feel we should, without understanding our position, would be ceding that power.
This trip was never intended to be a demonstration of how tough we are. For instance, I’m a big fat guy, not particularly active anymore. I joked several times before we left I thought some may donate just to see if I could move my mass from WI to CA. I thought by moving my heft I could motivate some who feel life is too much to move their ass and not waste their time like I did. I left the better part of my 20s behind because I didn’t feel like I deserved any better. This trek has 3 goals: raise awareness of issues plaguing Veterans and their families, raise funds for Dryhootch– a community based organization that tries every day to serve Veterans where they are, and for Tom and I, on a personal level, to address the bullshit that has influenced every single second of our lives for the past several years. Every decision we make on this trip is meant to further those 3 goals.
This decision is difficult because we are aware of the expectations placed on us. We have been encouraged by the number of people who have shared their encouragement for us and have not lost faith in us or our trek because of this. We have done our best and will continue to do our best. The distance we have left is about 1,000 miles, or the distance from Milwaukee to Colorado. We still have a long way to go and still will have many obstacles in front of us. You can expect that we’ll continue to do our best and make LA.
If you’re in the minority and think we’re quitters or taking the easy way, go do what you probably did in the military and go fill sandbags while everyone else goes outside the wire and puts themselves out there knowing the risk of failure.
For what seems to be the majority, thank you for all your support and encouragement from day one until the day this trek is over. I’m not trying to sound emotional, but your help pushes each step when every second to quit is one second in front of you.
See you on the (amended) trail,
Anthony and Tom