A Stupid T-shirt

Aug. 02, 2021

“One more and then we’re done,” the Phlebotomist assured me. The lab at St. Charles Medical Center had a Christmas song playing on the PA. This has become part of the drill after returning from 15 months of continuous backpacking. It’s a good day. I have stopped dry heaving, began eating, and sleeping, went to a small distanced social event, my vision is now normal, my hair is growing, a toenail finally grew back from a broken toe, 2 fire ant bites from 7 months earlier stopped oozing pus, fewer anxiety attacks, and after 3 months the night sweats have stopped and so have the nightmares. I am afraid I will never be intimate with a partner again for I have been unable to function sexually for almost a year. I have a list of diagnoses under the umbrella of Over Training Syndrome but mostly it’s a good day.

I felt as if I hadn’t slept in a century. Let me rest. I will make a nest of down feathers and twigs and garland. I will climb in with a copy of The Tibetan Book of the Dead and hire a monk, sworn to a vow of silence, to bring me soup twice a day. And all of my days I will lay here content to do nothing but watch the birds and the weather change. Today is a good day.

“Rue we’re are all set, now you just have to shit in this container and bring it back in two hours,” said the Phlebotomist. There would be Dr. Reiher, Goodman, Pappacurri, Koto, Brewer, Stroeder, Norris, and Sheffler. They are my medical Trail Angels and they were guiding me through recovery. I left the hospital on foot to climb a local butte. I made it part of the way up until I had to make a return to the lab with a bag full of shit. I didn’t make a joke of it or smile, as I had in the past, but simply turned over the goods and made myself scarce.

I walked the five miles to a dear Friends house. She was transitioning from this life. I was so afraid I wouldn’t be able to kiss her one last time. With so much gratitude I visited her daily. She was mostly nonverbal at this time, something she had never been her whole life. A tenderness would arise in my chest as I saw here laying there in her American Perimeter Trail t-shirt. She had been there for me always and now in her dying act she insisted on wearing her APT shirt everyday. Even as her life drained she was, in her own way, making sure I was okay and felt supported. It was a stupid t-shirt and this gracious act meant the absolute world to me. I told her this as she lay there taking her last breaths. “You mean the world to me,” I whispered in her ear as I stroked her hair.

The only thing I wanted for Christmas, was for my dear friend to transition in peace and not feel like she had to hold on for the holidays. My wish came true and she passed before Christmas. We were all absolutely devastated. I promised her. I promised but I am choosing not share here what that promise is. It’s between her and I, I like to think she will know that I have kept my word. I will never be the same.

It’s a good day and a few months have past since. I am recovering and heading back to the APT soon. It’s different from when I first left that fateful day back in July of 2019 . However, something about it is all too familiar. I don’t make check list or plans. I know who I am all though I do not know where I am going. Generally, I will head west and then south to basecamp in Bend, Oregon. It’s about 3,000 miles but who knows? I have no idea what is ahead and that is just the way I like it. That kind of sums up my APT experience. The hike has been full of surprises and that doesn’t even include the advent of Covid 19.
I call them “yets.” As in, that hasn’t happened yet. After many thousands of miles backpacking over two decades I thought I had seen or been through all the “yets.” A Triple Crown pre-cell phones seemed like a perfect stage for exploring all the “yets.” A few scrapes with death and couple knocks on the head and I thought I had seen a lot. Please don’t misunderstand, I didn’t believe I had seen it all but rather that the experience had filled itself out pretty well over the years. The APT would be more dynamic and a lot longer but mostly it would be a replication of past backpacking treks. I was wrong.

Why? Because life doesn’t really work that way. It feels like the worst pain ever or the best piece of pie ever! Things seem the same or the best or worst but they never really are. It’s impossible for situations to arrange themselves perfectly in replication. The good news is that I am not looking to have the same experience I had on other trails. I desire the new, the fresh. This has been a huge lesson in being careful what you ask for, you just might get it. We as a species change, we move, we expand, and we contract and consciousness is ever present circulating the whole damn show.

Soon I will be backpacking in N. Dakota and it will not be the same N.Dakota I left just a short time ago. Because though N. Dakota may remain the same I will never see it through the same pair of eyes as when I first sighted her. I don’t know what this summer holds but I am afraid and also excited about crossing off some of the “yets” from my list. What “yets?” That I do not know but all I can tell you is that today is a good day.

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