Getting Prepared

“Alison, Run!!!!”

My friend Alison is hiking along the Appalachian Trail about 50 feet ahead of me. We have been hiking alone for 10 days and are carrying 50-pound backpacks, so her running is more like a hurried hobble.

I see her try to pick up her pace, stumbling over roots and rocks as she continues to ascend the ridge, but her speed doesn’t accelerate much. “Go!” I call frantically. She can’t look over her shoulder because we are wearing poorly-packed, external-frame packs that extend high over our heads with sleeping pads and pots and pans strapped to the outside. Alison has no idea why I am suddenly commanding her to hurry, but due to the timbre of my voice she doesn’t stop to question me.

Behind me, I hear the thudding of heavy feet galloping up the trail. Something big is coming fast. I hear the leaves and brush rustle and scrape, but I don’t dare to turn around. The faster I run, the faster it pursues me. I am in a blind panic. “Alison!”

We are both 16 years old. This trip had been my idea. The previous summer I had attended Camp Farm & Wilderness, and now felt that I was well versed in outdoor living. I had convinced Alison that we should hike on the Appalachian Trail for a month and survive off of wild edibles along the way. I had also just read “My Side of the Mountain” and pictured us fishing out of clear streams with hooks carved from saplings and eating pine nuts and acorn pancakes to sustain ourselves. Surprisingly, our parents thought this would be a good experience. Maybe they were in need of some respite.

Not surprisingly, it was harder than it sounds. By the second day, we were starving and begging other through-hikers for handfuls of trail mix. We hadn’t even brought a stove and realized quickly that acorns, while theoretically a food, are as bitter as hell if you don’t cook them for hours.

Needless to say, we were ill-prepared. No stove, no food, no maps. And now we were in bear country. We had recently passed a sign that gave instructions for a bear encounter:

  • Do not run
  • Back up slowly
  • Climb tree
  • Use pepper spray

At night I had been sleeping with a butcher knife under my pillow–just in case. But currently, that knife was buried deep in my backpack. I was helpless against my attacker. In my rush, I tripped. My heavily-laden backpack toppled me forward, and I hit the ground hard. My knees crashed down on a rock, and I struggled to quickly unclasp my hip belt and twist free of the weight of my pack. I was picturing the bear shredding me with his long teeth and jagged claws, and I wanted to be ready to kick at him. With a sharp intake of breath, I turned to face my doom.

There was nothing. Instead, I saw my sleeping bag had become unrolled and had been dragging on the ground behind me, bumping along the rocks and roots and sounding very much like a bear in hot pursuit. The relief that flooded me could be sold as a street drug.

“Alison,” I called. “It was my sleeping bag.” She dropped her pack immediately and looped back down the trail to me. She was covered with sweat, her cheeks shone red, and her breathing was ragged. She laughed, “Let’s get some pictures of your bloody knees.” (See picture above.) I posed, and she took some shots.”We should probably sing to keep the bears away from now on.” she said. I agreed. So, we did.

I saw Alison yesterday for the first time in 18 years. We met in a coffee shop called Book and Bar in Portsmouth New Hampshire. She was with her 11-year-old daughter. Alison had read this blog and reached out across cyberspace to reconnect. As we spoke her daughter leaned over and whispered in her mom’s ear. “Is this the one?”

What ? ” I asked.

“Oh,” Alison laughed, “She has heard stories.” We started swapping tales of that trip. How we hiked with ferns behind our ears to keep the gnats away and ended up looking like forest nymphs. How we hadn’t even brought a stove or a map. How in our starvation we took a break from the trail and hitchhiked to Arby’s. We set up our tent up in the parking lot and ate dinner and breakfast there. We remembered asking a farmer to sleep in his barn along the hike during a terrible thunderstorm and huddling under his tractor to avoid his very agitated horse that was also seeking shelter. It was rearing up and kicking at the hard-packed dirt all around our heads. We spent the night questioning whether we had ever heard of a horse trampling someone to death. We remembered how kind everybody was and how helpful. “You will have a lot of adventures, Penny, just wait.” Alison said.

We paid no attention to detail, we relied on the goodness of strangers, and we learned more than we could have ever from a book or a screen. It was terribly uncomfortable, and, at times, we were alternately exhausted, starving, and terrified or all three at once, but, of course, it was worth it.

On this bike adventure I will bring food, lots of it, and maps too, and I hope the appropriate gear. I still welcome the craziness of not planning every moment, but, given my track record of chaos, I will try a little harder to give some thought ahead of time to some of the details.

I hope Oakley will sing with me if I get scared of bears like Alison did.

Here is what we are planning to bring:

  • 3-person tent that does not require stakes
  • 2 cozy, very compactable sleeping bags
  • 2 soft, compactable sleeping pads
  • Biolite stove that can use twigs if no fuel is available
  • Cooking supplies
  • Two touring bikes, double racks and double fenders on each
  • Kevlar tires (to prevent flats)
  • 2 sets of front and rear panniers
  • TransAmerican Trail Maps
  • Bike lights
  • Headlamps
  • Homeschooling supplies
  • Repair kits
  • First aid kit
  • 2 full sets of rain gear
  • Battery pack for phone
  • Serious amounts of food
  • Serious amounts of food
  • Serious amounts of food


The Truth Hurts-I May Be a Liability

Another summer morning on Peaks. 10-year-old Oaks is pottering away his time jumping on the trampoline. He is doing front flips, back flips, rodeo’s and the like, elevating himself 12 feet in the air in a way that seems almost controlled. This is nothing new. He jumps around like a flea all day long. He can do back flips even when off the trampoline; he can do handsprings, run downhill on jumping stilts, launch himself into the air on skis off huge jumps and pogo stick until the cows come home. He is never still.

When we moved to Peaks Island after eight years away (we lived here before Oakley was born), I went to the police station to give them the heads-up that I didn’t always sanction his reckless activities, and that they should feel free to stop him if he seemed to be acting in a dangerous or out of bounds manner. I am not embarrassed to ask for help. He seems to have no fear and we have always needed others to be his conscience for him. He needs everybody to be his Jiminy Cricket.

On this particular morning, Twain and I were gathering a few last-minute things to outfit ourselves for a quick trip to town on the ferry while our 15-year-old son Jonah babysat Oaks. We ran through the house grabbing keys, sunglasses, wallets, and phones in the final moments before we would have to run for the ferry. Just then, a neighbor came by with a gift for Oaks. He wanted to bestow on him his old “giraffe” unicycle. It measured six feet from the bottom of the wheel to the seat. I had never seen one so tall. ( I think this man might be a full-grown Oaks in his own right.) He presented the bike with a Cheshire-like grin, knowing that the giving of this gift to a kid like Oaks was at once terribly generous and terribly mischievous. I shuttered at the thought of yet another high stakes activity entering our lives, but I thanked the neighbor just the same. Oaks was beside himself. He smiled from ear to ear and cradled it in his arms like a long-lost lover. Suddenly, I was torn about going into town. Oaks + Six-foot unicycle + No supervision = Disaster. But, we had to go. “Jonah, don’t let him touch it until we get back!” we admonished. “Oaks, we will be home in two hours. Just wait!” He nodded. We ran for the ferry. God, am I a slow learner.

When we returned home to Peaks barely two hours later, who should come careening down the hill to the ferry dock, flopping his arms and wiggling his butt desperately trying to maintain balance on this gargantuan unicycle but Oaks himself. He was covered in sweat with a look of intense concentration on his face. He had no helmet, no wrist guards, no sense. Cars edged down the road beside him trying their best to stay out of his fall line. He was so proud.

As a parent what am I to do? Do I yell at him for not listening and causing me to live in a constant state of high alert, or do I smile at him and admit that I am incredibly proud of his abilities? This kid struggles academically; he has zero to no executive-functioning skills; he struggles to relate socially at times, but he is kinesthetically gifted. I used to live with my heart in my throat watching him catapult through life until I became numb. Other parents would shriek when they saw him fly through the air as he practiced a trick. His favorite was to climb onto a railing or fence post, and then launch himself into a back-flip and (usually) land on his feet. I realized that I was helpless. I had to shut off. Becoming numb was a survival tactic for me. I just can’t be scared all the time.

Then there is me. I am NOT a natural athlete. I am 157 pounds of cozy. I like to be active, but I am by no means gifted. I run, slowly. I can’t jump. Really, not at all. I have had varicose vein surgery twice. Gravity and I love each other. I think I can launch myself two inches, maybe three. I can’t do a pull-up, never have. I stink at catching baseballs and can’t throw a frisbee. I hate yoga. I should love it, I know, but I don’t. Sometimes I make myself do it because it is the right thing to do, but it is so uncomfortable. I have no kinetic sense and often bumble through life. My posture sucks; my back resembles a camel’s hump. I have no depth perception, due to an eye injury. You should see me try to put toothpaste on my toothbrush. I believe this is why I sometimes live vicariously through Oakley.

It is time to begin to get in shape. I am going to spend this season trying to get this body back in line. I have grown soft and feel tired much of the time. That might be the age 50 whispering in my ear. I can’t listen yet.

This trip is going to take a lot out of me, but I do have heart and I do keep going. I have endurance. I have been told that I may not be not light on my feet but that I am a good hauler. So I will haul myself across the country, chasing Oaks and trying not to have my heart in my throat.

Three Eyes Between Us

Last night, after spending the day running around doing errands town, my husband insisted that it was time to spend some time with my maps. I think this is because he is excited to begin to plan where he might come to join us for a few days. I have announced that being apart for three months is too much for me so he will try to meet us somewhere along the route for a few days so I can grab some kisses…and have a shoulder to cry on.

So, I sat down on the floor with my 144 maps that cover the minute details of our route, and a big map that covers the expanse of America, and a blue Sharpy. I began to slowly trace the route, city by city, park by park, big wild expanse by big wild expanse across the country.

One of the many issues we will have to contend with out there is my vision. It sucks. 10 years ago I was diagnosed with a melanoma on my retina. The treatment for it consisted of eye surgery as well as radiation. It was not super fun, but I was lucky. I got to walk away alive and kicking, with only the loss of my vision in that eye. Most of the time this doesn’t affect me. Nobody would ever know unless they saw me pour a glass of wine, and miss the glass (when I am stone cold sober), or misjudge whether a bird is coming or going, or, watch me try to read a map. My good eye quickly becomes fatigued and little words and roads and numbers seem to wander about the page doing pretty much whatever they feel like. It is exhausting. I can do it (don’t worry, mom), though it is just really frustrating and takes a while. Oakley will have to become the expert.

One notices how damn big this country is when one attempts to transpose 144 maps across its width with one squinty eye! Drawing it took forever. Many times I had to remove my glasses and rub my eyes and lean my head against the wall. Truth is, I had to finish the second half of it this morning. However, after sitting there diligently squinting and marking, now I can see it in my mind’s eye. It is pretty amazing.

We will be riding on endless little twisty and crooked roads through the most obscure places! We will pass through Crow Heart, Sweetwater Station, Amy, Colorado, and Sugar Grove. There are, of course, huge mountain ranges, but also immense deserts and grassland! We will pass through the Wind River Reservation, the Grand Tetons, Yellowstone, and the Shenandoah National Forest. We will climb over Bear Tooth Pass and descend down onto the long (and thankfully flat) plains of Kansas. We will pedal by the Mammoth Caves and Hot Sulfur Springs and hopefully finish by the Jamestown Settlement in Virginia.

A friend who did this trip told me that he would often find himself biking through deserted prairie lands ringed by barbed wire until it got dark, and then he would just jump a fence and wheel his bike over and around a small hillock to set up his camp out of sight of the road. I wonder about the coyotes. I am no wimp, but that chortling, yelping, screaming sound that they make as they stream across the prairie like a hungry mob decimating everything in their path, pulling little cute bunnies apart limb from limb and playing catch with their heads haunts me.

Yes, studying all this expanse of wild land between where we will start and home was a bit disconcerting. I am truly excited to think of all we will see and experience, but I won’t deny that I am a bit apprehensive about the fact that I am really signing up for sleeping under the stars with nobody but Oaks and some coyotes…or snakes, or vultures, or bears for 80 nights or so We will be okay, right? I have one good eye and Oakley has two.

Phone Decision Made.

Today is Wednesday and Oaks and I are heading out to go snowboarding at the local hill. We do this once a week as part of the Peaks Island Ski Club. It is a great program and gives us all an excuse to blow out of town and go play in the snow, away from the cobwebs and dust prevalent in our homes and bodies in January. Typically, I take three or four kids in my van, and we eat snacks and chat during the hour-long drive to Shawnee Peak.

Today though, I have just Oakley and his friend Ryan. Ryan is a great kid, and I love talking to him about all sorts of ideas on our car rides. He begins chatting, ” What do you think is more important, happiness or freedom? I am reading Brave New World by Aldous Huxley, and it is one of the themes.” I look over at Oaks who is sitting next to me, riding shotgun. He is diddling on a phone that a friend gave him that is not hooked up to a number. It only can be used when connected to wi-fi unless you have downloaded games or music. Apparently he is playing some games now. “What do you think, Oaks?”

“What?”

“About Ryan’s question?” He shrugs and grunts.

“Did you know that teenage pregnancy is decreasing, but it is still a lot more common in the South than the North.” Ryan tries again.

“Oaks, put your phone down. We are talking.”

“No, I am only doing one more thing.” His voice is beginning to escalate.

“Put it down, buddy.”

“You’re so annoying, stop!”

I see exactly where this is heading. Poor Ryan. I wait another minute or two. “Oaks, you’re being rude.” Ryan shifts uncomfortably in his seat. He doesn’t want to hear this. “Oaks. now.”

“Just give me a sec!” He yells. His fingers swipe and his eyes dart across the screen. I put my hand out, gesturing that I want the phone.

“Now, Oakley.” There is no wiggle room in my voice. Oakley’s hand darts out and he aggressively shoves my hand away. This kid is solid muscle, and it actually hurts.

“Leave me alone!” he shouts. Ryan winces.

Decision made. I take the phone from his hands. He won’t be seeing it again. One of the wonderful things about Oakley is that he knows when he has crossed a line and understands the repercussions. He slouches down in his seat and puts his chin to his chest.

Oakley will not have an iPhone. No Youtube, games, Instagram, nothing. This bike trip is the last chance I have to help him disconnect from the distraction of screens, and to reconnect to the world around him. I’ve decided to get him a “flip phone” — the Trac-Phone variety — because I envision lots of times when we may need to split up during the ride. He’ll be stronger and faster than me. He will be able to use it as a walkie-talkie, and it will be plenty to keep us connected with one another. He may be able to text and call his friends, but that is it.

So, what is the answer to Ryan’s first question? What is more important, freedom or happiness? Oaks just lost the freedom of a phone in the name of happiness. Both of our happiness (and Ryan’s).

Thank you for all your comments. This story isn’t always going to be pretty, but it is going to be real.

God Help Me; It Is Only January 19th

https://portlandgearhub.org

“We have so many bikes right now,” says Ainsley exuberantly. “Storehouses of bikes made from recycled parts. Let’s start by looking at Long-Haul Trucker style bikes. You can beef up the tires, swap out the handlebars, change the shifters, change the type of brakes, get new seats, strip down and rebuild any of them.” The possibilities are endless. She says there are hundreds to chose from. Tractor-trailer beds full. Storerooms. Oakley and I hover together in the Portland Gear Hub, a cinder-block bike shop in Portland, Maine. This is it, the moment we have been waiting for. No more talking; time for action. We are going to start building our bikes.

The Gear Hub is an amazing place. They take donations of used bikes from all over the Portland area and rebuild them, swapping old broken parts for working ones, polishing up the ugly parts and making them shine and then putting them back out for sale at affordable prices. They make it possible for just about everyone to buy a bike. They turn the profits directly into a campership fund. They also have a bike school. They have classes for kids, women, and the general public to learn step-by-step how to rebuild a bike from the ground up. They make these classes accessible with low prices, some of them even free, and create specialty classes so no one feels intimidated. Women and trans-people, kids, beginners, you name it. You can show up not knowing how to hold a wrench and come out with true knowledge of bicycle maintenance. Participants can attend open-bench time and use the Gear Hub’s tools, space, and expertise while they work on their own bikes. Something everyone needs, especially if you are about to embark on a cross-country cycling adventure. The Gear Hub wants to put people on bikes — all people — not just the elite. What’s not to love?

Oakley and I are ready. First, Ainsley, the manager, sizes up Oaks and me. She has us survey the shop floor: what shaped handlebars do we want? What kind of seats? What are the pros and cons of click shifters or thumb shifters or twist shifters? Our minds whirr. So many choices. “Would you like to look in our shipping container out back? We have lots of options.” She says. Would we? You bet!

We follow Ainsley through the cold, dark January evening to a freshly painted, corrugated steel shipping container. It is freezing and we stand close together with our fists jammed into the pockets our down jackets. This is it. She kneels down on the pavement and readies the key for the padlock. I can hardly wait. Which will be my baby to ride home? Which bike will become my best friend, my chariot, and the bane of my existence?

Ainsley fiddles with the lock and key. Her naked hands look cold as they maneuver the small metal parts. She isn’t wearing a coat. “Hmmmm,” she says. The key doesn’t look like it is working. She repositions herself and tries to force the key into the lock again. Oakley and I shift hopefully “It’s not going in. Maybe there is ice in the lock.” The cold wind blows up my jacket and tickles my spine in an unpleasurable way. “This has happened before, we might need to boil some water and thaw it. The lock sometimes fills with frozen water.” I am so excited to see these bikes, but the idea of Ainsely scrounging around her shop trying to boil water on this frigid evening seems too much to ask. “No, that’s okay, we can come back,” I say, feeling my stomach sink just a bit. I am hoping she insists that we stay, but after another moment she reluctantly gives up. “That’s probably a good idea.” The shop closes in half an hour. There is a ferry to catch. I don’t blame her at all. “Okay,” I say, maybe a little glad to get in out of the dark and cold.

January. Yes, it is beautiful in Maine in a shocking, startling kind of way, but really, it sucks when you are chafing at the bit to break free. I am the worst at sitting still. I am impatient and overly intense. Ask any of my children. Ainsley will call us soon, she promised. I believe her. We will take her class and rebuild our bikes. But today? We return home empty-handed. My daughter is lying on the couch after her third knee surgery. She stares vacantly at the wall. So do I.

Should I Let Oakley Bring a Phone on Our Trek?

Our family, like so many others, deals with an addiction to phones. I have been one of the last holdouts to give my children cell phones. The three oldest made it to high school before I relented, and it was really based on the fact that they would be attending school on the mainland while I would be working on Peaks. I saw them as walkie-talkies.

Our phone use started innocently enough, and they were indeed mostly used for logistical exchanges, but, of course, the rate of phone use took off exponentially. First came access to music. That was great. Then access to games, less great. Then to Instagram and Facebook, and these became real time and motivation suckers. Lastly, to the bane of my existence, came Snapchat.

I run a private practice counseling service, and I often work with teenagers and young adults. I have seen many people’s self-confidence and motivation tank at the same rate that their phone usage escalates. I feel old when I say this, but it seems true: people don’t hang out like they used to. They isolate themselves, and I have seen a big increase in social anxiety that runs parallel.

My own relationship to my phone is also fraught. I diddle on it endlessly, often checking for new texts or emails that will change my life and give purpose and meaning to all I do. I know that the answers will never come from there, but I can’t seem to help myself. In weaker moments I play Candy Crush.

Last night as I lay in bed trying to fall asleep, I found myself remembering glimpses of my childhood before the social media invasion. I saw myself at age 7, squatting with my knees pressed against my ears on the cement patio behind my parents’ house. I was watching ants navigate a crack, carrying huge and unwieldy pieces of crackers over their heads that waved like sails in the air. I watched for what seemed like an hour. I built obstacles and designed races for them and cheered in a whisper for the champions.

I saw myself climbing a fence and running through an apple orchard to a half-fallen-down hollow tree that I knew was slick and polished inside from countless bottoms that had slid through the tunnel of the trunk. I remember climbing inside the tree and the feel of the smooth, silkiness of the wood under my fingers as I scooted my fanny down through the dark pithy wood.

I also saw myself in the evenings playing Ghost in the Graveyard outside at dusk. Sweaty, even the though the air was cool. Breathing hard but quietly. Heart thumping. Acutely aware of every sound in the bushes around me as I hid, and smelling the sweet green of the hedges.

I am not saying this doesn’t happen now, but I do believe that people live less fully in the moment. And I believe that this speeds up life. I am looking to slow it down. I want to be fully present and I want Oakley to be, too.

I have not given Oakley a phone yet. He is 15 and is desperate. His friends have given him broken cell phones which he tapes together and uses without data to listen to music and take pictures. He tells others that they work because he is embarrassed that he may be the last of his friends to have one. Even so, he is on it all the time. It is like the phone calls to him and he can’t resist. He fiddles with it endlessly. He doesn’t seem to be able to see or hear what is around him during these times.

I want him to leave it behind on our trip. I want him to be fully engaged in the experience and not worrying about the drama back home he is missing. I want him to lose himself in the moments. He can use my phone to take pictures and occasionally touch base with friends and family, but I don’t want him to have access to games and pop culture. This will be a battle, but to me, it is part of the point of this trip. Looking at life differently. Checking out from all that distraction. Is it still possible? Am I living in the Dark Ages?

Please read Oakley’s Opinion in the last post.

Oakley’s Perspective- Why Can’t I Have a Phone?!

Okay, so the question here is, “Why do I want a phone on this trip?” Well, the reason why I think I should have a phone during this trek across the county is that it would be nice to contact friends or family every once in a while, and my mom and I are making an Instagram account based on this trip.

The other question is, “Why the hell are my parents so uptight?” My parents were planning on not getting me a phone until I was in my freshman year of high school, and while I am biking across the country I am technically a freshman in high school, so why not let me have a phone?!? I just asked my mom again why I can’t have a phone, and she said, “It rots your brains.”

The truth is, I (kind of) already have a phone, which my parents didn’t actually allow. My friend gave me his old iPhone 4, and then my brother got a new phone and gave me his old iPhone SE, which is the smaller version of the iPhone 6. Because it’s not activated, it doesn’t even make calls, but, when connected to wifi, I can text and play certain games. Even so, I am barely allowed to use it. On the trip, we will rarely be connected to wifi, so this “phone” won’t function at all unless, of course, my parents actually activate the phone and get me a number.

The one big reason why I feel like I need a phone is that all of my friends have phones, and every time I need to call my parents, instead of pulling out my phone and calling my mom, I have to ask my friends to borrow their phones to make the call. That’s another reason why I want a phone, not just to play games. Well, sometimes I want to do that, but really all I want is to easily communicate with my parents and friends.

My parents have never let me have a phone. I am 15 years old, and I am the last of my friends not to have one. What is your opinion? Please write it in the comments section below.

Triple F Days

Our family 2018-taken by Twain

“Triple F Days” are what my family calls Forced Family Fun days for short, at least that is what the F’s stand for in my mind. I am sure that my children would tell you that those F’s stand for some other choice words. “Triple F Days” are the days that I insist we all go out adventuring.

On any given Saturday in the recent past, one might have seen Twain and me and all four of our kids sallying forth to the ferry terminal to catch the 7:15 boat off the island to “go to nature,” our family lingo for a hike. This could mean a simple walk in the woods or an extended expedition. Passersby have literally exclaimed “What a happy family!” as we have paraded along. What they haven’t been privy to is the 6:30-wake-up, the groans and utterances of agony about the injustice of it all, nor the infighting about who has to carry what and the unfairness of having to wear a jacket even if it “isn’t cold.” They haven’t heard the exasperated sighs and shrill complaints about waking up on a Saturday and being forced to eat breakfast before the birds and all the comparisons made of what other normal teenagers get to do with their Saturdays.

I have dragged everybody on bike rides, hiking trips, camping excursions, and road trips since the day they were born, whether they wanted to or not. They have spent days stuffed into cramped vans and sleeping in tiny wet tents in the name of togetherness and the beauty of the outdoors. We don’t have a “Leave it to Beaver Family” and often all that coziness can become, shall we say, stifling? Yet, I continue to champion these days, optimistic that the next one will always be even better than the last.

One March, not long ago, I was seized by the longing for a Triple F adventure that was a bit more than a day trip. I decided what we all needed was a road trip to Apalachicola, in Florida’s panhandle. A little spring-break escape from Maine, which, in March, is gray and bitter and without a hint of spring in the air. I quickly calculated a 22-hour road trip. We thought we could make it in one day if we took turns driving. This sounded a tad awful, but it would surely be worth it. When we got to Tallahassee, some 23 hours from home, we realized we still had five hours to go. We were all sick with fatigue as we arrived at our destination at 3 a.m., rather than the predicted 9 p.m. The campsite was locked with a sturdy bar across the drive. I am ashamed to say, I drove around it, crushing all manner of flora and fauna. I am a fallible environmentalist.

We went to set up our tent and realized that we forgot some of the poles. The zipper broke. There were midges and sand fleas. We tried to hang it with some branches and use duct tape to seal the tent’s entrance. It didn’t work. Our sleeping pads would not inflate. The next night Twain got food poisoning. Duct taped tent doors and sick stomachs are not a good combination.

My friend and Barbara Schlictman brought her family to join us for a few days of this lovely trip midway through the week. Our children get along better with each other if you dilute the bunch and her family was a welcome distraction. When they arrived, however, they took one look at our hobo tent and promptly rented a small bed and breakfast in the local town. They decided it might be better to just join us in our squalor during day light hours.

One afternoon the boys took a cheap inflatable raft out on the ocean. As they jumped in and out of the boat and clumsily splashed at the water with the plastic oars, the wind picked up and blew the raft down the beach a little way. Before long they found themselves paddling about in front of a group of surf fisherman. One fisherman began gesturing emphatically to move away from the area. The children jumped off the raft and began to try to push and pull the raft back up the beach against the wind. They were making little to no progress. The man continued to call and wave at them. My friend Barb approached the man to tell him nicely that the boys were trying, thinking this man was being a little uptight about the kids invading his fishing grounds.

He was not uptight. The man told Barb that he had been calling to the boys because there were 5 hammerhead sharks circling the raft that had been drawn in because of the smell of bait from the fishing. He could see them swimming around the juicy little boys who were happily splashing in and out of the boat. Without a word, Barb walked into the ocean, through the school of sharks, and calmly directed the boys to get back in the raft. She pulled them safely to shore before ever uttering anything that would cause alarm until they were safe on the beach.

After driving another 27 hours home to Maine we were all terribly sick of each other. The bickering and the smells emanating from the children were unbearable and by the time we got out of the car, I had a knot in my rump as big as a gourd. It took weeks to get out, literally.

However, the truth is that even that knot was worth it. We spent our time on the Florida Coast on a wild and beautiful beach, half-naked and lounging in the sun. We swam in the warm silky water, ate delicious seafood, and stayed up late to watch the stars and sit around our fire under tall palms. We caught lizards and listened to wild pigs barrel through the undergrowth late at night. We met friends and made beach mazes and found that my friend has heroic qualities. And we ended up laughing about the nightmare qualities of the trip; in fact, we still laugh about it. In the end, I got exactly what I had wanted, togetherness, adventure and the outdoors.

It wasn’t until my son Jonah turned 18 and announced he was no longer going to be bullied into joining us on our family outings that anybody even realized they had an option. His older brother, Finn, was 20 at the time and it had never occurred to him that he could opt out. Raven, his younger sister, was 16 and amazed at Jonah’s audacity, but soon came to find that he had paved the way for her to use the word “no.” This has saddened me to no end, but all teenagers need to exert their independence at some point.

The good news is that Oakley has not yet grasped that he could put his foot down and refuse to go on our trip. Don’t tell him. I am seizing the day and taking him before he figures it out. He is on the cusp. I am sure that it will not go smoothly, but I am sure that it will be worth it just the same.

-Dedicated to Barb Schlichtman and her “Triple F Days”


Oakley’s perspective: Someone Stole My Bike.

Ok, I know that some people say that I hid my bike to get out of this whole trip, but no, I did not hide my bike. I had a bright red Cannondale that I was going to strip and rebuild as my touring bike, BUT someone stole it. I left it down at the ferry on the bike rack one morning when I went to catch the boat. I know that some people say that the ferry dock is the sweet spot for stealing bikes on Peaks, but I was in a rush and that night I completely forgot to pick it up. There, end of story.

My mom, of course, thinks that I hid my bike and made me go all around the island to see if I could find it. My dad thought the exact same thing. On a freezing cold day, they sent me out to look everywhere. I was so mad. I am pretty sure that they called my friend’s parents to check if it was hidden at one of their houses.

One of the issues with my mom is that she thinks that I am lying all the time. It is true sometimes I lie, but sometimes I don’t. Sometimes, I lie to get out of trouble and the other times is just to make life more entertaining.

The truth is, my bike was stolen. If you see it let me know.

The Apple and the Tree


I’m sitting in Mr. Sessa’s English class in 10th grade, filled with what can only be described as an insatiable itch not to be there. These damn blue plastic chairs affixed to tiny wooden desks that prevent me from moving at all. No leaning back, no scootching back in the seat to lean forward, just forcing me to sit and attend, as if my body should be an afterthought. I look out the windows and see a beautiful blue sky with puffy white clouds blowing by, and I just know that a balmy wind is filling in. The grass in the school playing fields has just turned green. I need to get out of here.

My notebook is covered with doodles. I just can’t make myself care about what Mr. Sessa is saying. I like him, but he is boring me to death. It all seems irrelevant. I raise my hand and ask to visit the bathroom. He looks at me skeptically; I have a bit of a reputation, I am afraid. “Make it fast,” he says. I do.

I make it fast — down the hall and out the side door of the school. The air is balmy, just like I imagined. It smells sweet and enticing and I simply walk away from the school and all my responsibilities and constrictions. It doesn’t feel like a choice, but more of a need. 

I stroll down the road, with a purpose in my stride, toward the nearby park, out of sight from the school.  There is a pond there with ducks. I like to go wander in the woods and then sit by the water and write, draw, or just space out. The day before me has just opened up to a delicious feast of the senses and adventure.

I am failing high school. My parents aren’t aware of how bad things have gotten, but I have cut so many classes that I have gone beyond the limit of allowable absences. I have intercepted several phone calls home and modified several report cards this year. F’s are very easy to turn into B’s. If I think about what is going to happen when it all catches up to me I feel sick, so I choose not to. Instead, I climb trees and goof off, always smiling and acting like it is all one big romp. People tend to think that I am a stoner, but really, although I have dabbled, I am not. I am just pulled to be free.

I have become a pathological liar. The lies began as a form of protection and then became a way of life. They started to keep me out of trouble at school and with my parents, but then they began to enter all facets of my life. I created fictional as well as non-fictional adventures to keep me entertained. I have told my parents that I was babysitting and then gone into the city to walk the streets all night long. I have told people that I fell off my roof to get out of social commitments. I even told all my friends that I was dating the rock star, Prince. It has gotten out of hand. As I sit in the park, I fabricate more of these stories and excuses to get me through the next week. I think I have it all figured out.

But I don’t. The stress of trying to maintain all these stories is getting to me. As free as I long to be, keeping up these stories has become its own cage. Sometimes I hate myself and am so angry that I can’t do what everyone else seems to be doing. Why can’t I just “do” school? Why have I made my life so complicated? Other kids seem to balance it all, but I can’t seem to.  I feel different from everybody else. How can they follow the rules while I can’t? My lies and stories have definitely made my life exciting, but there is a thin line between adventure and disaster.

I have a group of close friends that often join me on my escapades. We have cut school and stolen off to amusement parks, snuck onto fenced in pastures and ridden bareback on police horses. We have run away to the New Jersey Shore and to a Pocono ski resort, all while fabricating elaborate tales of nannying jobs. It is somewhat of a miracle that we have come to no harm and rarely seem to get caught. Yet all those crazy friends are maintaining far better than I. They are doing well in school and I hear them beginning to talk about colleges and their futures. I have spent 28 days in in-school suspension due to cutting class. I don’t believe there is a college out there that would be interested in me. I dream of becoming a barefoot gypsy. The idea of staying in school a second longer than necessary or maintaining a 9-to-5 job is absurd.

In the end, I do get caught. One of my lies is that I am on the swim team and that practice is every day from 3 to 5. This gives me an extra two hours of freedom before I am expected home for dinner. The truth is that due to my failing grades I have been kicked off the team for several months. I was spending that time running wild. One day my mother comes to watch me in a swim meet. I am not there. She asks the coach of my whereabouts and everything unravels: cutting school, the failing grades and my status of being cut from the team long ago. It all comes crashing down.

So you see, Oakley and I are the perfect match. It is uncanny. I see him chafing at the bit, as I did at his age. I made it through due to luck, forgiving parents and a feeling of joy and belonging in the outdoors. I hope the same will work for him.