Author Archives: Kathryn Harja

One Week to Lift Off

One Week To Lift Off

It seems hard to believe after almost a full year of planning, gathering gear, training and putting plans into motion but one week from tonight I should be sitting in my first campsite after doing the first 4 of 265 miles of my Camino Cascade solo trek. Today I spent most of the morning and early afternoon organizing and weighing the remainder of what needs to go into my pack besides food. At one point, as I watched the weight add up on my spreadsheet that I was using to keep track of everything, I despaired of being able to keep it to the 40-45 lbs that was my goal. Amazingly enough in the end it looks like 43 lbs give or take a bit depending on how much water I carry. Wow maybe this will all work out okay. I want a few luxuries like camp shoes, sleeping clothes different than those I walk in all day and wild things like that. I think I have been really afraid that they won’t be possible. However most of them are in – yahoo!

I was tired after the stress of all of that and really did not want to go do my six mile training hike but off I went at 3 PM with my pack filled with these 42 lbs of real stuff that I will carry. The first 2-3 miles I was struggling along wondering if I would make 4 miles, much less 6 or more. Late in the day I am much more tired than morning and it was warm. I walked with a phrase from the poem below that a friend sent me in response to my request for poems for my birthday gifts at the 60th birthday/send off party next week. I will take the poems and meditate on them as I walk. I love this poem as it so expresses what I am aiming for with this 28 days of being out in the wild – to Rewild Myself. The last stanza – “Rewild Yourself, The Earth is her own medicine, Be yours.” really resonates with me. There is something about this whole endeavor from the very beginning that has felt like choosing or being my own medicine. To choose to stretch myself as I turn 60 to create new life and vitality, to continue to grow and change and reach for new possibilities. As the poem says “To rise up into my own magnificence and take my place among the constellations.” Isn’t that an amazing thought!

So as I continued to wander the trails with my pack, deciding that no matter what I felt like I would do at least 6 miles and feeling that sense of “rewilding”, I found my second wind and it became easy and wonderful to move along. In the end I did 6.75 miles and even chose to go back through “Roller Coaster” twice (a trail that matches the name, very up and down and up and down).

Roller Coaster

Roller Coaster

Great training for the many thousands of feet of elevation gain and loss that I will do over these 265 miles through the Cascades. I do believe I am as ready as I need to be and it feels great.

I will write a few more entries hopefully before I leave and then send some as I travel when I get to my resupply spots. If you are interested stayed tuned. You can follow me on a map also at https://share.delorme.com/KathrynHarja. The links will show up on Facebook also as I do a map share. The maps I hope will be more accurate than my training loops have shown I think because I travel over the same ground more than once.

Enjoy the poem below and consider ways that you can Rewild yourself. Kathryn
Rewild Yourself: Be Your Own Medicine

There are places in you
Where thousands of bright, tiny flowers
Open each morning to the sun
In meadows as vast as the sky.

An ancient alchemy courses through your bones.
It speaks in feathers and stones and
Precious metals and the footprints of mandalas
Left by the stories we tell with our lives.

Rewild yourself.
Until green tendrils sprout from your fingernails
And lichen swathes your eyebrows.
Rewild yourself.
Until your roots spread and uncoil and
Writhe down through soil and rock.
Rewild yourself.
Rise up into your magnificence and
Take your place among the constellations.
Rewild yourself.
The Earth is her own medicine.
Be yours.

Caroline Mellor – Sent to me by QuinSerra Stanley

Discouraged Today

I feel discouraged and heavy of heart today.  I haven’t had the energy to get out and walk the last two days.   Grieving for Dennis, for the victims of Orlando and their families, now for a friend whose dear dog companion died.  Somehow all of these deaths have combined with a time of feeling vulnerable in my training for the journey.  At this moment I feel overwhelmed with it all.  Also went to my chiropractor this morning for my biweekly adjustment feeling knee issues cropping up again.  In his advice I heard that in trying to protect my foot arch and ankle with stiff boots I’m probably stressing my knees and hips.  I feel this sense of “I can’t win for losing” or some such thing.  What does that really mean anyway?  In protecting one issue I create another in this aging body.

Today I wonder what in the world am I doing?  Why am I planning to walk 265 miles alone carrying probably 45 pounds?  Why do I want to put myself through the many thousands of feet of up and down that frankly scares me?  Why do I want to face being cold, tired, hungry, alone – all the things that I know will show up on this trek?  I don’t really know, I just know that I feel called to it.  A line from the Rumi phrase that I worked with last week comes to mind, “a voice comes to your soul saying ‘Lift your foot, cross over'”.  There just is a voice saying to me “do this” and it does come from my soul.  I don’t know why now perhaps I will know later.

So I don’t want to go out and do the 5 miles with my weighted pack that I planned on today, I just want to curl up here in my recliner at home and watch the tide come and go.  But I’m going to get up now and go out and do as much of it as I can.

IMG_5982 3

I made it the whole 5 miles with 42 pounds in my pack.  Feels good to have done it though I am tired, my body feels well used.  Above is the beauty of the woods that I enjoyed so as I walked.  It all helped me to rise beyond the sense of discouragement to knowing that there is still time to prepare and in the end I will be as ready as I need to be.  I trust that Spirit will guide me as I continue to prepare and that all will be well.

Where did “Dirty Pants” go and who left my rain pants in the laundry room?

I set out earlier today to do a training hike on the trails near my cottage. I planned on doing 5 miles as I carried 33 pounds in my pack.  Slowly I am carrying more weight in my pack and traveling further distances to increase my body’s strength. The weather report said that it would be rainy in the early afternoon but I felt prepared for that. My rain jacket and rain pants were in my pack, I had a hat for my head and a rain cover for my pack if it got bad. I even had a map of the trails in a plastic bag as I planned on trying a few new sections that I hadn’t gone to before in order to increase the miles I was doing.  I had some lunch with me and a plan to hike about 3 miles then stop for a bit to eat and enjoy the woods.

 

I started up the hill feeling good and ready to enjoy the walk.  I have been working with a process called “Camino Divina” from a book of that name by Gina Marie Mammano, a fellow Whidbey resident.  It is a way to use your walks as a moving meditation as you work with a phrase of poetry or prose.  Like the “lectio divina” practice that I have used off and on for many years, a practice of feasting on sacred words,  you allow yourself to take a bite of the phrase or words (lectio), chew on it (meditatio), savor it’s essence (oratio) and finally digest it (contemplatio) as you walk.  I had planned on pulling out a new phrase to walk with but realized I had forgotten to do so when I was already a quarter mile up the hill.  So I decided to continue to work with the phrase from Wendell Berry that Gina used in the first chapter of her book, “The search withholds the joy from what is found.”  My poustinia circle of 9 friends are all walking with this phrase this month and then coming together in early July to share how it moved us.  Though I felt I had done that over the last week I figured there was probably more to be digested since it was all that was coming to mind for me today and I did want to walk with something to meditate on.

 

Up until now I felt that what I had gleaned from walking with that line was that it was important to make sure I am present with my life as it is and to experience the joy there rather than always searching, seeking something else, something more, something that will happen someday.  It feels like a bit of a paradox in that I feel so strongly that it is important for me and others to continually be open to new learning, new experiences, new ways of being if we want to be vitally alive.  How do we balance and do both?  In many ways this is exactly what I am doing with this pilgrimage through the Cascades this summer to celebrate my 60th birthday and feel into what the last third of my life is to be about.  My life is very full and rich as it is and I do appreciate and feel joy in living it yet I am going forth to explore and stretch myself, hoping be transformed by my experiences out in the wild.  I have been reading books about pilgrimages and one of them describes a tourist as someone who goes and experiences new places and comes home the same person while a pilgrim goes out and has new experiences but comes home transformed by them.

 

As I continued to walk along the trail today I let the phrase move through me as I moved and wondered how much more I could learn from it.  The rain started to fall lightly as I started warming up and I felt I was good in just my shirt and jeans as I continued to walk knowing I could put on my rain jacket and pants whenever it felt necessary.  It felt good to feel the strength and ability of my body to carry the weighted pack on my back relatively easily compared to just a month ago and my breathing felt light and easy also.  My breathing had been an issue with some shortness of breath being a continuing problem as I worked to improve my cardiovascular conditioning.  It had felt frustrating to be so slow to develop that compared to how easy it had been when I was younger.  I started playing with the phrase a bit and seeing if I could make it my own with this present place in my life.

 

I had been seeing these times of walking as training times to prepare me for the trip.  Though that had potency and got me out the door, somehow it didn’t quite feel like that was all that it is or that I want it to be.  I want it to be a practice, a spiritual practice that I then continue and deepen as I walk my 265 miles this summer.  Danny Dryer (Chi Walking) speaks of “a practice as a regular, mindful activity that works to enhance your quality of life.  It’s something you work at every day.  A truly good practice will help your body, emotions, mind and spirit to evolve and progress.”  All of the spiritual practices that I have cycled through my days over the last decade of my life have done that for me so deeply.  None of them seemed to have any juice lately though and I am finding it hard to sit down to any of them every morning.  Instead I find myself using the time reading about where I am going and planning the details for the hike.  Awhile ago I realized that my training walks need to be my spiritual practice right now and sought ways to turn them into meditations.  So Gina’s book being mentioned by a friend was a wonderful synchronicity as it put a name and more intentionality and structure to what I was trying to do.  So as I walked along today I changed the phrase to “Calling it training withholds the joy of what can be found if I call it a spiritual practice.”

 

What joy is there is this very moment as I walk, what is found if I stay aware of my body and of my surroundings as I travel on these wonderful trails?  As I continued along it had started raining harder and harder.  I finally realized that I should probably put on my rain jacket and pants as I was getting wetter and wetter and still had 2-3 miles to go.  I stopped and pulled out my jacket, put it on and then looked for my rain pants.  They were not to be found in my pack and I then could picture them hanging in my laundry room where I put them to dry after the last time I wore them.  “Okay well I’m plenty warm and it should be fine”, I tell myself.  “My jeans will be wet but I’ll survive”.  I looked at my map as I was now heading into the new sections I wanted to travel.  I was to travel on Oliver Twist, turn left on Coyote, right on CanterBerry Trail, right on Dirty Pants, right onto Moss Valley and then I would be in territory I had traveled in before. (Aren’t the names of these trails a hoot?)

 

Off I went enjoying the rain and the process even though it was now pouring.  Even as my pants were now totally soaked it was a joy to walk along watching how a deep rain transforms the trails and woods.   Muddy puddles to find my way around or travel through, if children can enjoy splashing through puddles so can I.  I have to say I was very glad to have my water proof new boots and thought it would be a good test for them.  So I’m walking, thinking, being present and enjoying when all of a sudden CanterBerry Trail ends at Rocky Road – “where did Dirty Pants that I was supposed to turn right on go?”  I look at my map and see somehow I have passed it but it looks like eventually I can get where I am going on Rocky Road, just a little longer.  My mind wants to start complaining “But I’m really wet and don’t want to go farther, I want to be in out of the rain or at least have my rain pants!  I sure don’t want to stop and eat my lunch, this is miserable.  Why didn’t I put my pants in my pack!”  I thought to myself ,“Okay now is the time to really practice this new possibility of staying with whatever is present with joy”.  So I did, I set aside that conversation that wanted to get going and kept walking and enjoying the moment as it was.  Rain, beautiful rain bringing life to all that surrounds me.  Lush foliage, deep green moss, amazing trees and a path filled with puddles!  A healthy, strong body able to carry me along and keep me warm as I continue to move, I laugh at myself and the situation as I go, delighting in the day and the challenge.  (I’ll probably have a few days like this as I travel in August so I might as well learn to enjoy them.)

 

A few more kinks with the trails and the map and then I feel a sense that if I go right here on this little trail that isn’t marked I’ll be soon be back on track.  LOTS more puddles, more like ponds, in my way, that I begin to just move through rather than go around.  At last another trail that I think might actually be Dirty Pants so I follow and sure enough I find Moss Valley and now know how far I am from home and how to get there.  A mile and a half later, jeans dripping wet and into my boots that have otherwise remained dry on the inside, I arrive home feeling exhilarated, stretched and thankful for new practices that can transform and change me if I will allow them to.

Dirty Pants now hanging at home

Dirty Pants hanging in laundry room, rain pants now in backpack.

2 Months and Counting

On July 30th, two short months from now, I’ll be celebrating my 60th birthday with a party at my brother’s house in Snoqualmie Pass and then heading out for a month long trek on the Pacific Crest Trail from Snoqualmie Pass almost to the Canadian border. (I will head west 20 miles shy of the border and head over some mountain passes to end at Ross Lake).  265 miles altogether, 26 days of hiking with two full days of rest at two different resupply points, Stevens Pass area and Stehekin.  This has been on my list of possibilities to do since last August when the idea took form in my thoughts and heart.  I have now crossed over the threshold to commitment to doing so.

 

I just returned from the Mazama area where I spent the last four days hiking a number of days and miles in a row carrying some weight to try my new pack out and test my older body to see how it might hold up.  All systems feel like a go!!  My ankle held up, my back feels good and I had a delightful time reconnecting with the mountains, an old love of mine.  Much more training and preparation is needed but the biggest hurdles feel like they are past.

 

I feel reconnected also to my younger self who knew her way around with a backpack and delighted in time walking in nature with all I needed on my back.  As I drove through Rainy Pass in the North Cascades and saw the signs for the PCT amidst these amazing mountains I did think  “Holy Crap what am I getting myself into?”.  What incredible beauty to walk slowly through.  I seem to a mange hiking about a 35-40 minute mile average with weight on my back and ups and downs (I’m slow but I’ve learned to live with that) and here I was driving about a mile a minute.  What a difference it will be to SLOW down and become aware of all that surrounds me.  After the amazing wild flowers and greenness this weekend I look forward excitedly to this pilgrimage to and through the sacred mountains.  My intention is to have this time out from daily life to deeply feel into what Spirit calls me to in this (hopefully!) remaining third of my life.  A time of eldership and giving back to the human and more than human community.  What is mine to do and how will I move forward into it?

 

One of the books that I am reading about pilgrimage (The Soul of a Pilgrim: Eight Practices For The Journey Within by Christine Valters Paintner) states “Pilgrimage calls us to be attentive to the divine at work in our lives through deep listening, patience, opening ourselves to the gifts that arise in the midst of discomfort, and going out to our own inner wild edges to explore new frontiers.”  That puts into words for me much of what is motivating me to do this, especially the part about going out to my own wild edges to explore new frontiers.  What better place to do that than out in the wilds of the Cascades?

 

So I have committed and now I step into whatever it will take to be ready in two months.

Lunchtime relaxing

Lunchtime relaxing