A Message From the “Other Side”

When I was hiking on the Appalachian Trail with my friend Joe Donmoyer the other week and his son, Shawn, we came upon a family of thru-hikers. I was immediately impressed and learned that the Canadian family had an 11, 13, and a 15 year old with them. They were already half way finished with the epic trail. After I congratulated them, I looked at the kids and asked, “Are you having fun? Do you like it?” They shrugged.

I said, “I get it. A little boring in the great green tunnel? “

They nodded. “My kids would have a hard time too, I believe, but then again I spoiled them out on the Continental Divide.”

And the mother looks at me in disbelief and says, “oh my God, are you Cindy Ross? It’s because of you and your book, Scraping Heaven that we are out here. If you could take those babies across the Rocky Mountains, I knew we could take our family across the Appalachian Trail.”

She went on and on for awhile and then asked if her husband could take a photo of us together. She whipped off her hat and her glasses, smoothed her hair over and affectionately put her arm around me. I felt as though I looked pretty darn bad after hiking and sweating all day but I was happy to stand there with my new favorite fan.

I hiked away marveling at how you never know whose life you are going to touch when you are a writer. I have spent the greater part of my life as a writer expounding on the virtues of taking your children out into the natural world and how to do it. From a quick paddle to an epic 3,100-mile traverse of the Continental Divide. I have hoped that I have inspired a few families to at least try car camping at their state park, but you never know what kind of an impact you have.

Taking your family on an epic 2,100 mile traverse of the Appalachians is life changing stuff, and to be even partly responsible for making that happen makes me feel like my life and my work has not been in vain. Like a teacher, every now and then you get a positive affirmation to let you know your seeds have been sown on fertile ground.

These moments help writers when they are struggling with a monstrous project like writing a new book. Especially when it spans a monumental amount of time like 25 years of material. Especially when the content is controversial and your daughter, your #1 editor, screams at you that you can absolutely CANNOT write about family bath time nor hardly anything else that’s private and personal.

That’s ALL I’ve ever written about- personal and private stuff. I have been told that that is where my real strength as a writer lies (not in grammar or punctuation or any other mechanical skill that most good writers possess because my formal education was in the fine arts, not writing) and in my blatant honesty, helping my readers connect and believe they are not alone in their feelings.

When I wrote Scraping Heaven, I did give the manuscript to my husband, Todd to read and edit. But afterwards, my writer friend, Mary Alice got ahold of it and would ask me, “What was REALLY happening here with you and Todd?” and prompt me to tell her the rest of the Paul Harvey story. I’d delve a few layers deeper and hit upon richer material and she would say, “That needs to be in there,” and so it got added.

When the book was published, Todd began to read it aloud to Sierra before she went to bed. He would come down from her room and reply, “I don’t remember reading that before,” and I broke it to him that it probably was in the second edit that he didn’t get to see and smile sweetly to him.

My daughter Sierra said that there will be a stiff price to pay if I do not respect her wishes and privacy when writing Modeling a Life, about raising and educating my children alternatively. She said our relationship will suffer. “Is it worth it?” she asked.

I teased her and replied, “That depends.”

She was too young to put her two cents in when I wrote Scraping Heaven. Todd just shakes his head and knows his wife is completely unmanageable. Sierra has her mother’s mouth and opinion.

This may be some of the reason I have been dragging my feet these past years and have not displayed the level of commitment that one needs to see a book through to publication. When half of a chapter has big X’s crossed out- not just sentences or paragraphs but whole graph, it is not exactly encouraging.

And so I allowed myself to be sidetracked, by veterans and their cause and a whole slew of excuses. But the time has drawn to a close. Bryce has graduated from art school and if I want him to illustrate it, I’d better get my dibs in for his time before he commits to other projects. And, both children are well on their way to impacting the world positively. I did want to be able to walk the talk.

Dedication has been renewed and work at turning the manuscript into an attractive package for a publisher is underway. And to verify that I am on the right track, I had a message “from beyond” this weekend.

I was attending the Elk EXPO at Benezette. I was standing there minding my own business licking an ice cream cone when a couple came up to me followed by two children. They said, “Are you Cindy Ross?”

I said, “yes.”

“It is because of you that we are here with our children. You are the reason we travel and go everywhere with our kids, having adventures in the outdoors.”

I smiled happily.

Then they asked, “Did you get that book published yet about raising and educating your children yet?”

I said, “Funny you should ask. I have recently gotten back to work on it with renewed passion.”

“Well, we need to read it. Please hurry up and get it published.”

And I said, “Thank you. I needed to hear that right now.” And they walked away.

I have no idea who they are, or where they are from. I didn’t want to know. I viewed them as angels, messengers from the other side. And I am going to listen to them.

The Result of the Love of Thousands

 

When my Sicilian Grandmother Borzellino died, my mother and her brother had issues over my grandmother’s wedding and engagement rings. He kept them, although my mom was supposed to get them. Mom was not a spiteful, mean person but she was easily wounded. This broke her heart (after her mother’s death broke her heart) and she could not find it in her to talk to him… for ten years.

My siblings and I woke up to this fact sometime in our pre-teen era and decided this was completely ridiculous and unacceptable. She HAD to make peace with her brother and move on. Life was too short- he WAS family and important. We would not take no for an answer, no matter how uncomfortable it would be for her. We ganged up on her, all four of us kids and she listened.

That was many decades ago and because that side of the Sicilian family has such pathetically unhealthy hearts, everyone dies at a young age. We lost track of our cousins over the years with no aunts and uncles to glue us together.

By my older sister, JoAnn, is one of those first born, very responsible children who reads the obituaries on a daily basis and calls me up quite frequently with yet another cousin or friend of the family who died and do I want to go to the funeral. It is nearly an hour drive for me into Reading and I pick and choose who I go in to see laid out. In reality, my sister is not fond of seeing dead people, she is very fond of reconnecting with alive people from our past who meant something to us- the ones who we can still reconnect with. I get this and agree.

I also no longer question who shows up in my life and why. I just always assume that there is a reason and to honor it. So when my cousin, Teenie died this past week, I met my siblings in Reading and attended the funeral. There, I reconnected with my cousin, Bobby, Teenie’s brother who who is my age, and whom I had no idea we had so much in common. I invited him to come up and hike with me sometime and that very next day, he telephoned for a date. Wow. That was quick. We set a date very shortly after the funeral, (today) he came for breakfast and a hike and we found scores of things we had in common- mutual loves, some that he shared with no other friends, including blood relatives. Which incidently, is a very strong one. I learned that from traveling to Poland and Sicily to find our relatives and was shocked and awed at the connection to our cousins over there. Family ties and blood lines is one of the strongest connectors in life and should be honored and nurtured, I believe.

I don’t remember EVER having a conversation with my cousin Bobby when I was growing up. He was a boy cousin and shy. I can still see him in my mind’s eye as a youngster, however. We are only 2 months apart. That in itself is a special bond. But we have a love of hiking, mountains and nature in common- he paints, is a photographer, writes music and plays instruments (like my son Bryce), is creative and believes in metaphysical principals like spiritual connection etc.

I wasn’t looking for a new friend when I agreed to attend my cousin’s funeral, but that is what I might have found. Bobby Borzellino said he would like to hike more and I told him I do this everyday, call me and I mean that. Next hike, I think I think I’ll slip my grandmothers’ rings on, just to celebrate and summon all those Borzellinos who have already gone before us to join in on the fun.

Walking, I am listening to a deeper way. Suddenly, all my ancestors are behind me. Be still, they say. Watch and listen. You are the result of the love of thousands.”…..Linda Hogan- Native American writer

 

WELCOME EBEN YONNETTI into the Rossfelter Clan

When my daughter Sierra was on a road trip with her boyfriend, Eben, last summer, she called me crying. They were spending all day driving through the glorious west and she was imprisoned in a vehicle. When they finally stopped, her boyfriend wanted to go into town and find a cafe to sip coffee, find a library, mediate on his yoga mat. Sierra wanted to hike. She was born to hike.

I told her to just go ahead and hike herself, leave him behind if he didn’t want to join her, but to take care of herself.

I was concerned. Eben was nice enough and loved my daughter enough but did he love what she loved and how much did it matter?… the important things, the things that are not wants in a person’s life but are needs. I know tons of hiking clubs filed with divorced members whose spouses did not share this love and so every vacation was spent away, with others, making memories without their spouse. It often doesn’t work after awhile.

Eben spent the last two semesters abroad in Nepal as a student life advisor at the study abroad school that he and Sierra met at. When he came home in May, Sierra announced that she wanted to do something epic. Like hike the nearly 500 mile long Colorado Trail.

Todd and I helped them prepare, pack, cover logistics, give advice and encouragement. Sierra whispered to me, “Eben is really nervous, Mom. He’s never done anything like this before. He is doing it for me.”

And my heart moved for the boy. Eben had grown on us over the years that he and Sierra were together and we felt pretty confident that they would make a good lifelong match. But I was thrilled to hear this and thought, “This is good. He CAN do this for you. He SHOULD do this for you. This will only be one of many epic times he will be called to rally for you.”

I thought about my own amazing husband who led our family across the Continental Divide- five summers traveling over the Rocky Mountains with small children- the logistics, the planning, the responsibility – so much of that was on the shoulders of “Trail Boss.” He knew his wife wanted to write a book about the entire 3,100-mile adventure and I could not do that if we fell short of our goal. Year after year he pressed on. Just as he did when it came to the long five years that it took to build our handmade log home from scratch, teaching himself every skill he needed- besides logwork- plumbing, wiring, wallboard, slate roofing, clay tile flooring and on and on, because he and his wife wanted to own a debt-free handmade log home. He did it because he was dedicated to his wife. And Eben would hike the Colorado Trail because he is dedicated to our daughter- as it should be.

On the top of Coney Summit, Eben proposed to Sierra. We all knew it was coming sooner or later but what a grand place to do it! At 13,000 feet! They are planning a May 2015 wedding.

And so on the phone, I was teasing little Eben, “What would you like to call me? Mom? Mama? Ma? What do you call your own mother? We should start to practice.”

They both laughed and Sierra said, “Mom, you are so ridiculous.” But after their completion of the Colorado Trail, I feel very close to the boy and said to him, “You know Eben, I feel ever closer to you because I share a special tie with you. We have a special bond.”

When the two of them were getting their outdoor clothing together, I pulled zip necked long sleeved long underwear out of storage that fit both of them. (They wear the same size). Both shirts were blue. Eben needed synthetic under pants yet. I told him I had a bunch of pairs that I bought that were styled like men’s white BVD’s without the flap. I hated them and never wore them. “Would you like to try them?”

Sierra said, “no.” Eben said, “why not? I don’t care. No one will see them. Why should I spend a bunch of money if I don’t need to and also be a consumer?”

And so my underwear kept him hypothermic-free on those 11-12,000 Colorado ridges when it rained and thundered and lightning.

I love Eben even more and know he is a good fit for my daughter because he is secure enough in his masculinity and confidence to be okay with me writing about the underwear in this blog. And I thank him from the bottom of this mother’s heart- for caring about my daughter enough to want to hike and to successfully hike the entire Colorado Trail and of course, for loving her this much. I am so excited to think of the years ahead. Welcome son.

WHOSE WEDDING IS THIS ANYWAY?

 

 

When my husband Todd and I got married, we viewed it as a celebration. We invited 225 of our closest family and friends, people who helped us become the people who we are, the ones who loved us and guided us, shared our life’s moments, etc. We created the reception on a budget. I sewed the men’s shirts who were in the wedding party- blue linen Missouri River boatmen shirts with handmade lace. The girls’ dresses were blue flowered prairie dresses with lace. We made our own flower bouquets but the most fun part- we cooked all our food for 225 people, with help of course. We baked 60 loaves of homemade bread- recipes from around the world and froze them. We roasted a pig. We made huge pots of chicken corn noodle soup for our Pennsylvania German relatives…a salad bar- an ice cream sundae bar. We wanted all our favorite foods there for all our favorite people. We had a bluegrass band and our dear friend called some square dances like the Virginia Reel. It cost about $2,000. We had plenty of money left over in our accounts to go hike the Pacific Crest Trail. People still say it was the best wedding they ever attended- the most fun. Todd and I say it was the best wedding we ever attended too! The great part was that all our favorite people in the world were there that day to help us celebrate what has become a fantastic marriage and life together.

 

BUT, the most impacting part was at the wedding itself, not the reception. When our dear priest made Todd and I turn around and look at those who were present in the church. He said, “These loved ones are here today, not just to celebrate with you but to stand as a reminder that they are there for you, now and throughout your entire marriage, for support, advice, all kinds of help should you need it. Use them. Marriage is hard. You can’t do this alone.” That made a big impression on us.

 

So when my daughter Sierra announced that her and her fiancé Eben Yonetti were thinking they were going to hold their wedding at a Buddhist stupa in a remote state park in New York, I was taken back. This religious monument normally houses relics and devotees walk the kora around it…moving through prayer beads and spinning prayer wheels as your prayers rise up to Buddha. Eben is a Buddhist (Sierra is not) but the stupa means a lot to both of them. They met in Nepal during a study abroad program and lived in a Tibetan exile neighborhood where a very big and beautiful stupa was the central focus of the community.

 

Okay. I get that. But how are we going to stage a wedding reception up there?  Where will anyone sleep? How will we get the food up there? (in the back of our pick-up, she tells me- her father and I will drive it up) Who will make that trip? Whoever wants to, she tells me. Whoever feels it’s important to be at her wedding. It IS her and Eben’s wedding.

 

So I have been thinking about this. As she and her fiancé hike the Colorado Trail, amazing things have been happening to her- people have been coming out of the woodwork to help them on their journey. People whose lives she touched growing up. There is Wally & Laura White in Durango- who were responsible for getting our family onto llamas in the first place 21 years ago. Wally saw that little pee wee Sierra as a three year old ride her llama up the Colorado Trail. They hosted Sierra & Eben when they flew into Colorado and got them started on the trail.  Next was Stacy & Grriz Boone- old friends from our long distance hiking association (ALHDA) who watched Sierra grow up at the Gatherings. They made a long drive up to a remote Colorado Pass and helped them resupply. Then there was Carolyn & Bill Schwartz, my travel writing friend who joined us on cycling the Camino de Santiago about ten years ago. They welcomed them into their home while they resupplied in town and treated them like family. But what takes the cake is Gail Story and her husband Porter. Gail wrote an award-winning book about her Pacific Crest Trail adventure, “I Promise Not to Suffer.” She is a huge supporter of me and has commented on my blog more than any other follower. She is Sierra & Eben’s support in Boulder, where they will be moving now that the Colorado Trail is over as they attend the university for graduate school.

 

Gail and her husband, Porter welcomed them when they arrived, allowed them to park their loaded cars in her driveway for a month while they hiked, had a welcome dinner for them when they completed the trail and insisted on buying them a huge hotel room for three days to sort out their gear and get ready to move into their apartment. At the hotel front desk, Sierra was arguing with Gail to pay but Gail would have no parts of it. The front desk clerk said, “She must be family or a lifelong friends to be taking care of you like this. “

Sierra said no, actually, we had never met before this. HER MOTHER never even met this wonderful friend who was taking care of my child as if she were her own. It makes your heart swell with gratitude that there are such wonderful, loving, supportive people in your life.

 

Well, Gail and her husband Porter won’t be coming to Sierra & Eben’s wedding across the country and neither will Wally & Laura nor Stacy & Griz nor Carolyn & Bill. But I bet they would like to. But there are friends right here who would absolutely love to be present as this most fantastic celebration of Sierra & Eben’s new life together, friends who played such a big part in raising this child of mine. And they won’t be making that trip to the New York Buddhist stupa, either. And that makes me sad.

 

Sierra tells me that this is her and Eben’s wedding and that it is. But I can’t help feeling like they will be missing out for they won’t be able to turn around and look out over all those smiling, teary-eyed faces whose hearts are just brimming over with love and support, who will be saying “We are here for you. Use us.”

 

But it’s not my wedding. I had my wedding.

..maybe we can have another wedding reception here later ……

There is Nothing Like a College Roommate

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My college roommate, Valerie Robertson Westcott, came to visit me today after not seeing one another for 20 years. She wasn’t long in the house before she began telling stories to my son, a captive audience.

“Did you mother ever tell you about the time she turned off the light in our dorm room and said, ‘I bet I can get into bed before the light turns out’ and she proceeded to dive into her desk instead of her bed and slit her nostril open? I turned on the light as she moaned and her face was covered in blood. She could dilate her nostril and the whole soft tissue (ala) would flare up and down. When she went to the infirmary, they suggested they not butterfly bandage it and keep it open so she could breathe better with her stuffed up cold. “

“Did she ever tell you about the time she was stretching a canvas as she sat on her bed, wearing a thin nylon robe, braless and she came down hard on the staple gun and sliced off the tip of her nipple?”

My son just looked at me. I said, “That was also the year that I jumped off    the metal trestle bridge in town into the river and tried smoking cigarettes, but got dizzy and walked into a telephone pole. I decided that was not my sport.”

This was Val’s and my first year of college- at Indiana University of PA- Punxsatawney branch…1973. So small a college that only a handful of boys were in the men’s dorm and a handful of girls in the women’s. They sat directly across from one another. We had “house-moms” who lived with us in a dorm room whom we made crazy. That was their last year “taking care of students.” They never came back after our year.

We had one school building- a condemned elementary school next to our dorms. We went to college in our slippers. We all got very close.

We were all there for reasons like we applied too late to get onto main campus.  Preoccupied kids.

Then we moved on to the main campus the next year. Val and I were  both art students. She helped train me for my new profession- a life drawing model. The professional model often didn’t show up and instead of all of the students going home, I wanted to make some extra money and model. But I needed to practice, get up my nerve.

Val sent me into her crowded closet. She got on her bed with her large newsprint pad and stick of charcoal and announced that she was ready. I slid open the door, stepped out, undid my rope and dropped it. I began striking poses on our tiny cold linoleum dorm room and she helped me develop a repertoire. Shit like that bonds you.

Although Val was from Rochester, NY and I was from Reading, PA, she  married a guy who grew up in the next block from my parent’s home, who also went to Punxsy. I was in her wedding, of course.

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(40 years ago- I am second from left)

Val’s dad was a big wig at Kodak. He got  his company to give me all my film for hiking the entire 2,100 mile Appalachian Trail and the 2,600 mile Pacific Crest Trail. They gave me mailers and developed them all for free. Then brought me to Rochester and taught me how to put together an impacting artistic slide presentation. I had a lot to be grateful for with Val in my life.

A few years ago Val got cancer. I got scared I would lose my dear friend. You only have a few college roommates in life. Only one as special as Val.

I said if I found out I ever had cancer, I would get in my car and travel the country visiting old friends, reconnect, definitely say hello, maybe say good-bye. I thought then- why wait until something bad happens, do it now. So I decided that when my new book is published about raising and educating my children alternatively, I would take to the open road and give myself that gift of visiting old friends who made an impact on my life. Speak at their local bookstore- make it a book signing tour. Val just beat me to it. She came to me. And when we hugged after all those years, it took us right back to Indiana University- wild & crazy girls, free in the world for the first time.  I love you roomie! There is on one else like you.

 

Dead Squirrel

I keep going back to this image of a full length dead squirrel stretched out on our welcome mat by the door. It actually looked as though it were arranged to show off its mature full-grown length, as though the murderer wanted to impress me with its size.

My cat is a killer. There are often dead creatures outside the door. You have to watch when you step out, especially when barefooted.

The head was missing on the squirrel. Chewed off and raw red flesh protruding from its neck.

I find it hard to believe that my medium-sized cat can run down a hyper, alert squirrel, AND what possessed it to do so and give it to me. Clearly he is not hungry.

So I Googled it- the way to get smart today.

 

It is a great gift from my beloved pet, it said. The larger the animal, the more difficult it is to kill it, the more frequently the gifts are delivered, that is a true indicator of your’ pet’s love for you. It knows, you could not get this tasty full length squirrel on your own, so he got it for me.
Never, ever ever reprimand or scold or heaven forbid, yell at your pet for doing so. They will not understand at all. Praise them instead.

 

We’ve always had killers for cats, all the years my kids were growing up. They used to take them in small cardboard boxes and tenderly take them out to “Forest Park” under a big deciduous tree and bury it in the cemetery. Chip a headstone out of discarded slate or use a chunk of brick for a headstone.

 

I wonder if I could find those headstones under the leaf debris. Did the mice eat gnaw on the bones after all these years since childhood passed? It taught my kids to revere life- no small thing to learn no matter the age.

 

I went to see my friend Dave in the hospital the other day. He is a studly rock climber for a nearly 60-year-old guy and I looked at his form under his printed blousey hospital gown and I could tell he looked as gorgeous as he did when he was 30. He works hard to stay fit and has all his life. But his heart freaked out and started pumping off the charts. He felt tired and weird, couldn’t whack the tennis ball without getting unusually out of breath. It creeped up in a few months and he chalked it up to getting a cold AND older age creeping in.

 

It took days to try to regulate his heartbeat, even had to shock it into beating normal. His resting heart rate is so crazy low to begin with from being so fit, that the doctors were alarmed.

 

Dave could have died. I sat there looking at him on the hospital bed and thought, I could have lost my friend.

That’s why I put a halt to my crazy busy life and went in to see him and  spend a few hours. Because I saw his presence in there as a gift, that he was still here. I brought a deck of cards to play 500 Rummy but we never needed to entertain ourselves. We never got off the topic of our kids, never made it to us. But I knew he was happy to be alive and was shaken by the close call. That goes without saying.

 

As Jackson Browne sings, “Pay attention to the open sky. You never know what will be coming down.”

It can be that quick. Like the squirrel, he never saw it coming. Regardless of how fit or how fast or how strong we are.

 

Always Someone Worse off than Yourself

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Nineteen year old Steve Chapman had just washed his dirt bike and was taking it out for one last joy ride before selling it when the front fork broke. It sent him propelling out over the handlebars, flipping him and slamming him into a tree. His lung collapsed and the impact of the blow shattered his spinal cord. He laid there for fourteen hours, through rain, hail, thunder and lightning.

He had passed a neighbor’s farm right before the accident and had waved to the farmer as he performed a wheelie. That farmer’s dog was going ballistic all night long, barking at the injured  Steve who lay so close to the house. The dog’s owner just yelled to the dog to hush up.  Because of his collapsed lung, Steve could not yell for help, yet he was conscious.

It was very hard that first year for paralyzed Steve for he spent four months in the hospital recovering,  but he soon began to play wheelchair basketball and won the national championship with the Grand Rapids Pacers. He could hold the ball high above his head for his torso and arms were so long- his frame measured 6 feet 4 inches. After the Vietnam War, high tech equipment was developed and wheelchair basketball began. Now they are using high tech gear for bicycles and wheelchairs.

“Getting into shape helped me. The wheel chair just became an extension of my body.”  Steve’s mom took his accident the hardest although she said, “God knew what he was doing when he made your arms so long.”

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Steve and his bike are incredibly long and when I first saw him in Brick Wheels Cycle Shop in Traverse City, Michigan, he seemed to take up the whole store!  His bike cost $10,000 and was manufactured by Top End, which makes tennis wheelchairs (which turn on a dime) hand crank bicycles, etc.  Once they receive their bikes/chairs from the Florida based company, they get no support. They have to seek out bike shops like Travese City’s Brick Wheels to help them.

Steve’s bicycle is aerodynamic. His field of vision is obstructed by his crank and he has to look around it. Still Steve sits very low to the ground and his butt often hits when he has to go over a crack or a bump on the trail or road. His bike has only a very few inches of clearance. His hands get sweaty turning the crank and the aluminum hand pedals get slippery so he must wear gloves. But he can easily put fifty-two miles on his bike in one day and accumulated 1500 last year.  Traverse City is a bike-friendly community (thanks largely to Tim Brick, owner of Brick Wheels Cycles). They LOOK for cyclists on the road.

Steve has been riding with his son Dylan, who is now 14 years old. Dylan runs a very fast  22 MPH pace and Steve only averages a respectable 15-18! He will have to step up his game!

Steve has great balance. Besides his bike, Steve rides 4-wheeler and snow mobiles, but he can’t use his stomach muscles.

He has ridden the IRide- Independent Ride across Michigan – a 4 day ride with the Disability Network, which helps physically challenged riders like Steve accomplish their goals.

“Everyone takes their accident differently. I go to hospitals and talk to accident victims. It helps both of us for you can always find someone worse than yourself. “

see related story

http://cindyrosstraveler.com/2014/07/06/a-twist-of-fate-changed-lives/

 

A Twist of Fate= Changed Lives

Leelanua Peninsula 110

Tim Brick and his brothers Bob and  John used to ride their Western Flyer bicycles past the Traverse City State Mental Hospital because the huge manicured grounds and many roads were a joy to ride, plus they had fun with the residents. Some of the 8,000 would be out on the barred-up porches and they would taunt them and they in turn would yell to them as the boys sped away…all in good fun, typical adolescent boy behavior. Their bicycles were a source of freedom and joy

John Brick did not get adequate oxygen when he was born. He seemed a tad slow but back in the 50’s there was not the technology to measure and test it. He seemed fine. But when puberty hit, John suffered a nervous breakdown and was institutionalized- in the Traverse City State Mental Hospital , of all places! What a crazy twist of fate.  The boys used to tease friends when they did something stupid and say, “What’s wrong? Are you from 11th Street College or something?” for the hospital entrance was off 11th street.

“We always thought it was funny but when your brother is a patient there it wasn’t funny anymore,” Tim admits

So their mother, Mary Jean, a school teacher by trade, went back to school to get her masters in special ed and founded a group home for adults with developmental disabilities, called Grand Traverse Community Living Center (now called the Brick Ways), with the goal of keeping them live independent but safe.

“Mom used to say, ‘We want them to be a part of the community not just living in the community.’”

Mary Jean and John are no longer with us but Tim has continued to carry on the amazing work that was spurred by their rides on the hospital grounds. Forty years ago, Tim founded Brick Wheels cycle shop.  He was one of the four founding members of the TART (Traverse Area Recreational and Transportation Trails) and introduced cycling to many in this beautiful city, where over 100 miles of off-road cycling paths exist.  Thousands of folks took up cycling, giving them healthier and happier and making Traverse City one of the Top 10 places to retire in all of America.

But what is extra special about Brick Wheels is the clientele. On any given day, you might see a handi-capped van pull up and the driver unload his wheelchair, then his adaptive bike. It could be 6’4” tall Steve who rides a nearly completely horizontal bike that he “pedals” with his hands cranking a wheel. Steve is paralyzed from his nipples down the result of a dirt bike accident when he was 14. He averages over 11 miles an hour on the TART trails (or paved roads around the Old Mission Peninsula). He put 1500 miles on his bike last year alone.

Cycling isn’t the only sport Steve does- he water skis, snow skis, plays tennis in a special quick-moving wheelchair…is a lot more active than most able-bodied fifty year olds.

Then there is John who became paralyzed at the age of thirty-two from a snowmobile accident. He rides a recumbent bike that he hand cranks but unlike Steve, is able to sit up.

Their bikes cost about $10,000 and they received grants from foundations to purchase them through Top End Co- who also makes wheelchairs etc.  Although there are half a dozen bike shops now in Traverse City, Brick Wheels gets the lion’s share of disabled riders. Tim’s staff makes every attempt to make them feel like everyone else and caters to them.

Steve and John tell me,“We have our own personal pit crew at Brick Wheels.”

They pull up in their vans, someone surfaces from the store to assist them. They air up the tires, check the brakes, put their wheelchair back in the van and close it up.  If they get a flat or need assistance on the trail, Brick Wheels is only a phone call away.

“They know us here, what we need and go above and beyond a normal bike shop.”

Brick Wheels is anything but a normal bike shop.

The other unusual clientele they have are the mentally handicapped cyclists…the folks who live in Mary Jean’s very popular group homes and independent apartments under the Brick Ways direction.

“We usually get at least eight special needs cyclists who show up every week, out of about 20 that we service,” Tim tells me. “They come in and talk, discuss sports, ask us to check their gears, investigate squeaks, even if we checked them yesterday, we still do it. Our mechanics never pre-judge. Other bike shops may not want to bother.”

“Our employees all figure it out sooner or later that the short bus stops here!”

Tim teases his special needs clients. Gives them bike gloves, other special presents they might need.
“Fast Eddie” got equipped with a trailer for his twenty-seven speed mountain bike. He cruises town picking up recyclables, which earn 10 cents a bottle or can. He has made over $300 in one day.

Eddie was born to a homeless couple and found in a box as an infant with rat bites on him and long rat claw scratches. He’s had a tough life in and out of foster care until he found Brick Ways.  Tim and I visited him in the hospital where he was recovering from a bout with pneumonia.

When we walked in his room, Tim teased him about the brown iron IV drip, “What’s that in the bag, Eddie? Root beer?” Tim never hesitates to tease his special needs friends, and treats them all as if they were family, like his brother John. I asked Eddie why he is called “Fast Eddie” (on his mountain bike he named “Hot Rod”!) and he answered, “Because I’m fucking fast!”

As we prepared to leave the hospital, Eddie put his arms around Tim and hugged him hard, and teared up. He said, “I love you Tim. You’re like my big brother.”

Mom Mary Jean and Brother John are both smiling broadly down on Tim Brick.

 

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…Yours truly had the great fortune of meeting Tim Brick last year when I was in the Traverse City area on assignment for Adventure Cycling Magazine and My North Magazine. Tim helped me plan my week long bike trip around the Leelanau Peninsula, sponsored my family with free bikes, and shuttled us. In the course of the last year, Tim subscribed to my blog, read about my life and my feelings, commented and we chatted back and forth frequently.

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This June, we returned to the Traverse City area to paddle the Manistee River for another story and also to write about Tim Brick, Brick Wheels, Brick Ways Foundation and his amazing special needs clientele for another story… (the content will include parts of this blog)  While we were in Traverse City, Tim put us up in his river house, took us out to dinner and then boating on Lake Michigan on a catamaran all day long. This is not the typical behavior of a person that I have been assigned to write a feature magazine story about. This is the behavior of a magnificent human being with a huge heart who clearly knows how to love ALL people and has been practicing it all his life who has become my dear friend.  Like Fast Eddie, I hugged Tim Brick hard when I said good-bye because I too love him to death and have been blessed by having his life touch mine, like so many fortunate others.

A Journey of Remembrance- A final hike with Zachary “Shady” Adamson up McAffee’s Knob on the Appalachian Trail in Virginia with his friends and family

Video

This video was made to remember a special Memorial Day climb up to Mc Affee’s Knob in the Blue Ridge Mountains of Virginia. This far-reaching vista, the most photographed on the entire 2,150-mile National Scenic Appalachian Trail (AT), was Airborne Ranger Zachary Adamson’s favorite spot. Zachary was an AT thru-hiker in 2013 and became a successful “2,000 Miler.” His Ranger friend, Travis Johnston, created the event for family and friends on May 24, 2014 to celebrate Zach’s life and to begin to find the strength to go on without him.

Cindy Ross, author/photographer and long distance hiker was privileged to be a part of the Zachary Adamson Memorial Climb. It is her wish to do everything she can to keep the spirit of Zachary Adamson alive, as well as all veterans whom America has lost. Her goal is to spread the word that walking and immersing yourself in the natural world aids in healing. She has co-founded http://www.RiverHousePA.org to help with this mission.

Music by The Piano Guys

THE STORY behind the video….Steve Adamson leaned on his son’s Appalachian Trail hiking poles with every step. He leaned on his memory of Zachary, needing his help to get up the mountain. Steve swore he saw him, swore he heard him in the woods, “You can do this Dad,” and he could, despite his two bad knees and the extra weight he carried on him. It was not just the physical challenge of the four mile climb up to Mc Affee’s Knob on this Memorial Day weekend, but the emotional drain of the event as well.

Steve’s son, Airborne Ranger Zachary Adamson (“Shady”) became a 2,000 Miler on the Appalachian Trail (AT) just last year. He left Springer Mountain, Georgia only four months after returning home from Afghanistan at the conclusion of four years in the military as a Special Operations soldier. Zachery got the idea to thru-hike the Appalachian Trail from his good friend and fellow Ranger, Eric Hario, who had a dream to hike the entire AT once he got out of the military. Eric died on his first mission, so Zachary carried Eric’s dream forward and hiked the AT for Eric and for himself in 2013.

No matter who you meet from the AT Class of 2013, everyone repeats the same mantra: Zachary was a friend to all. There was nothing he would not do for anyone. His fun-loving spirit brought joy to everyone’s life.

Four months after reaching the summit of Mount Katahdin in Maine, Zachary died from a gunshot to the head and rocked the whole Appalachian Trail community as well as thousands of friends and family. The cause of the wound may never be determined- self-inflicted, inflicted by another, an accident, or a combination because evidence was wrongly destroyed. Not knowing the truth is horrific to any parent and loved one and inhibits forward progress and acceptance. Nothing can bring back happy Zach. Still, closure needs to occur.

Travis Johnston, Zach’s Machine Gun Team Leader who served with him in Afghanistan has also been dealing with his grief personal of losing Zack. To help with this and to aid in healing from what the war has done to his spirit, he too decided to hike the entire Appalachian Trail in Zach’s memory.

Travis then got the brilliant idea to honor Zach on Memorial Day weekend, had a 150-pound memorial granite stone made, flew Zach’s family in from Ohio, and gathered friends and family to celebrate Zachary’s life on top of Mc Affee’s Knob in the Blue Ridge Mountains, Zach’s most favorite spot on the entire 2,150 mile trail. Zach’s best friend, Sean Reilly, another Airborne Ranger, joined the group, as well as his whole family.

Travis and Sean, as well as Zach’s brother, Jesse, carried the stone across the busy highway to the trailhead leading to Mc Affee’s Knob. Everyone in the group received a lit votive candle and filed across to the stone, spoke to Zach, and placed the candle there for him and then began to climb.

It was a day of reliving memories. In only four ascending miles, the walking stimulated many memories. Zach’s dad told stories of taking the Adamson kids hiking and backpacking, of storms they got caught in. We would stop to sob and hug, to look at photos in Steve’s phone. Nearly every highlight in his son’s life was there for quick reference.

There is nothing like a steady climb when you are out of shape to remind you that you should get yourself in shape. Steve spoke of this and the beautiful fact that he feels his son here in the woods more than any other place. He wants to return, time and time again to visit with his son here. He also said he needed more joy in his life. Steve and Rebecca felt like they had been drowning in their sorrow. In four months since Zach’s death they both gained a lot of weight, felt like they were becoming reclusive and certainly very, very sad. Steve said, “Maybe there are lives being saved here today.”

Up on the mountain top, with exceptional visibility and magnificent views across the valley, Travis and Sean laid out momentous of Zach on the rock: like his knife, medal and hiking poles and photograph. A bottle of twelve-year old Jamison whiskey, a favorite drink of Rangers, was passed around in tiny plastic cubs for a toast to Zach. Songs were sung accompanied by a guitar. The American flag was folded over Zach’s mementos.

Each family member as well as Sean & Travis, all took turns speaking about what Zach had meant to them. They spoke of how they were planning to go on with their lives, wanting to be more like him, embracing life, living large, spending time in nature, etc. Rebecca said to us all, “You all see a hiking friend, I see my little boy,” and broke up. There was crying going on and off all day, intermittent with sobs. It was a day of releasing.

Sean spoke of his memories with his best friend and Travis shared a story of how impressed he was at Zach’s funeral- how Zach’s hiking “family” came from states far and wide to pay their respects and show their love. Many in the military, especially a tightly bound group like the Rangers or the Marines or the Seals, believe that no one can be closer than their “band of brothers”…until they experience a thru-hike on the Appalachian Trail.

Zach had his “hiking family” and now Travis has his. Over twenty hikers left their thru-hike and arranged to get themselves north to Mc Affee’s knob to be there for support. Travis said his hiking family was helping him heal from his loss and his nightmares and horrific memories of war that still plagues him.

When we reached the trailhead as the sun grew low and evening descended, we were hit with the intense beauty of Zachary’s stone sitting there at the trailhead, flickering votive candles bringing his photograph alive. Travis sat down by it and began to tell me of that horrible day in Afghanistan, the day that became the worse nightmare in his and Zach’s life, the images that still cause nightmares, making his mind reel and be tortured with questions, “should I have done it differently.”
I asked him, “Have you forgiven yourself yet Travis?” and he replied, “I don’t know that I can.”

And I told him, “Work on that. Spend the next 1700 miles working on that. “
I stood up and kissed his face and told him, “You are a wonderful human being. You are on your way and you will be ok.”

Like the tens of thousands of returning veterans, Travis still has emotional healing to do, but he has chosen to open his heart to love. He has chosen to expose his vulnerability, and understands that he can be a tough strong Ranger and still cry and still hug and work hard at loving. That was the single overwhelming emotion at the entire Mc Affee’s Knob event- an out pouring of love and support. Healing can’t happen in our “safe” little homes, behind closed doors and sturdy walls that we have constructed around our hearts, alone with our demons and memories. Our veterans have to stick their necks out- go on a walk, embrace, as do their families.

Travis Johnston orchestrated an event that will have so many positive ripples, that reach out into all our lives, just like the life of Zachary Adamson touched so many lives. Travis commented on Mc Affee’s Knob with the exquisite backdrop of the valley, towering tall with clouds behind, feeling like heaven was right there. “Zach did not practice the concept of ‘Leave no Trace,’” for everywhere he went he left his residual love and huge spirit.” May we all continue to walk in his light.

Acceptance and Rejection

guest blogger- Sierra Gladfelter

MAY 28, 2014

I believe that we create our own reality. As individuals, we have incredible power to order the world to reflect our dreams (or disappointments) through our thoughts, words, actions and conviction. But I also believe that each of us is responsible for our own happiness, an act that demands constant acceptance and finding peace with what we are given.

Somehow, I managed to live 24 years without having to confront the conflict in these two beliefs and draw a line where one ends and the other begins.

I had been struggling for months with acceptance. Since December when I submitted applications to nine universities, I waited—feeling utterly powerless—to know about graduate school. The uncertainty was exacerbated by the fact that my partner, Eben, was working in Nepal almost 7,500 miles away. While we both had applied to several schools that had strong programs for each of us or were within an hour of each other, at the end of the day it would come down to where we would be given funding. Both of us tried not to think about the unlikely odds that this would be at the same place.

As acceptance and rejection letters trickled in without any matches, it seemed that the shoots of all our beanstalks were being severed with no ladder to our common dream. The University of Colorado was the last chance for us to be together—and ironically, had been the school we visualized ourselves at from the beginning.

On March 1, 2014 I received an email from my intended advisor at the University of Colorado Boulder.

Dear Sierra,

I regret to inform you that you were not admitted to the program. The official notice from the graduate school should be coming next week, I believe.

With that, my final hope dissolved. I was stunned, my mind streaming though all the things this meant. Eben and I would spend the next two years consumed in programs at different schools sustaining the distance we had been enduring for another four semesters.

But for some reason I could not let go.

The strangest thought suddenly rose—the kind of thought that seems so foreign it must have floated in from a greater mind like dandelion seed drifting from a distant garden.

What?

For another possibility.

And so I inquired if there was any chance of being offered admission contingent upon outside funding. I had applied for a Graduate Research Fellowship (GRFP) through the National Science Foundation, which I would not find out about for another month. Although it was a shot in the dark, if I received the fellowship it would support me at any institution to which I had been admitted with three years of full funding.

I almost collapsed when she wrote back,

We haven’t done this sort of thing before, but I can check with others and definitely consider the possibility.  

Later that day, she followed up.  I’ll get a letter to you for admission if you get the NSF (or some other funding).

I am a humble person. I would never have had the audacity to ask to be reconsidered for a program from which I had been rejected if something had not moved me so urgently to seek another reality.

Now I had only to wait on the NSF. Even with just a 10% chance of winning, the possibility was enough.

In the meantime, I realized that as I had visited other schools and had such clarifying experiences about the nature of the programs in person, I really should go and see the University of Colorado as well. I would not, however, have more than a couple of days to make a decision once I knew about the fellowship in early April.

So I asked again.

If I do get the NSF GRFP and am able to fully fund myself through the Master’s program, would there be any funding available to help subsidize a flight/visit to see the school?

My advisor wrote back, offering me five hundred dollars.

Rather than waiting, I decided to act. I planned a trip and purchased a flight, recognizing that there was a 90% chance that I would not get the NSF GRFP at all and would have to go through with my visit regardless or swallow the cost.

The morning I flew to Boulder, I woke up to find an email from the NSF sitting in my inbox. I had to open and close several other messages before I could muster enough courage to look.

Dear Sierra Gladfelter:

Congratulations! I am pleased to inform you that you have been selected to receive a 2014 National Science Foundation Graduate Research Fellowship Program Fellowship.

I was already on my way.

Of course there was surprise and unbridled joy. I called Eben happier than I have ever been in my entire life. But as I flew out to Boulder and had hours to cast my gaze over the world beneath me, my mind wandered back to my old convictions.

How do we know when to accept what is around us or seek something more?

If I have learned anything through this graduate school process and the series of surreal events that followed, it is that dreams do not come true when we leave everything to chance. Of course we can be happy, for that is a power that no one can ever take from us. But the magic happens when we go beyond accepting what is and ask again for another world—brighter and closer to our dreams.

http://lifeonthewind.wordpress.com/2014/05/28/acceptance-and-rejection