Trip to Montreal CAN ~ Element Sisters

As many of you know, I have a group of 3 women whom I often call my ‘Element Sisters’ (but am not related to them in any fashion) that I met at my Philosophy 1 Tracker class in 2012. Between the 4 of us, we live all over North America. Linda (Water Sister) lives in Quebec Canada. She has a beautiful home on Mohawk lands that we converged at for some much-needed Sister time!

I drove to Maine the end of March in the Black Dragon with the River Rat where I stayed with Tracy (Earth Sister) and her husband Carl along with their animals. River charmed everyone – even the Gizzy the stand-offish little cat. After resting for a day or two, Tracy and I repacked the Black Dragon, did everything we could to ensure that River would make it across the Canadian border and off we went! The drive should have only been about 7 hours. We managed to make it well over 10…Our intense conversation kept taking us down the wrong roads – even though Tracy knew the area well. We found Jesus Christ on a very hilly back road in Maine. Scared many a logger and managed to not attract the police. The border took awhile, River passed with flying colors though. My Dragon was taken apart because clearly we are drug dealers… The border guards finally dismissed us and shook their heads with many a french word about our characters.

We made it to Linda’s house late in the night after entirely too much coffee and sugar. The first 24 hours was spent catching up and unwinding. Linda’s impressive man of a son brought us dinner even! River charmed the girls who had yet to meet her and one of Linda’s dogs. The other was not interested in making friends and just glared like a cute gremlin at her.

Moon Hidden in the Blue

Moon Hidden in the Blue

Even though Linda lives outside of Montreal, woods and wetlands surround her with beauty. We headed out for an afternoon walk the next day (or was it day 2..I cannot remember) – fresh air and some actual movement were needed after hours upon hours of talking, laughing, crying, cooking and just plain enjoying each others company.

Linda showing us her Sit Spot

Linda showing us her backyard

Afsoon & Tracy carefully examining a special place in Linda’s woods with much seriousness.

Tracy  & Afsoon in careful consideration of Sit Spot

Tracy & Afsoon in careful consideration of Sit Spot

Walking around enjoying the beautiful day – it was a crisp and bright day. The temperature was perfect for moving around in the snow with the sun shining down. Afsoon was bundled up to keep her California blood warm and more importantly the baby that will be joining us later this summer! The rest of us were dressed similarly to ward off the colds we were fighting.

Tracy, Afsoon & Linda wandering the old railroad trail.

Tracy, Afsoon & Linda wandering the old railroad trail.

Sumac – the Rhus typhina variety – also known as Staghorn Sumac grows everywhere on the land! Many people think of it as a scrub bush – good for nothing. But you can do many tasty and even medicinal things with it. Obviously be sure you know which type of Sumac you have before eating it though – there are a few poisonous types in places.

Staghorn Sumac (Rhus typhina)

Staghorn Sumac (Rhus typhina)

Closeup of Sumac Berries. Personally I find it a very pretty plant and would like to try some of many drinks made from it someday. I’ve bought it as a ‘spice’ which is used in many ethnic dishes around the world (though the type of Sumac varies) and even salads.

Closeup of Sumac

Closeup of Sumac Berries

Linda has much knowledge of her local botany and shared much of it – which I think most of us have forgotten as no one had a notebook! Though plenty of information was shared over the weekend, the main goal was to relax, soak in each others company and discuss the important parts of our lives and futures.

Tracy and Linda discussing the botany

Tracy and Linda discussing the botany

Ask anyone who has had the misfortune of being in the 4’s presence – we LAUGH. A lot. Like as in most of the students at the classes the 4 of us have attended with, don’t know our names, just ‘the loud laughing women’ – particularly Tracy. In fact I just say ‘the one with the loudest laugh’ and people who cannot pick her out of line up instantly ‘know’ who I am talking about..(We love you Tracy). Linda likes to say she is the ‘quiet’ one…But actually not. In fact, she is more often the instigator… If someone is actually ‘quiet’ in the group, it’s probably me. Afsoon..well she gets shit done. She makes it happen. And gods help you if you think your going to stand in her way (she is a Lawyer after all..). I think I can speak for the group on this one; we love it when Afsoon decides to take matters into her own hands and marches her cute little butt up to the poor unsuspecting soul who is about to have a serious reality check. It’s as Trace would say ‘FREAKING AWESOME MAN’!

As someone who never really had the whole ‘girl’ time thing – most of my female friends are pretty tomboy like myself – I am beyond grateful for these 3 wonderful women in my life. It is as much a mystery to us as it is to the rest of the Tracker community that we meet and how such a powerfully intense, deep and loving friendship sprung from such radically different people. But is exactly what we need.

Carhartt colors! Afsoon borrowed a pair of Carhartts as she hasn’t learned where to find such things in LA – but the rest of us proudly sport the very comfortable and useful pants – the men’s ones no less! We had the rainbow of Carhartt colors almost complete – clearly we should be getting free pants with our advertisements here!

Carhartt Color Wheel

Carhartt Color Wheel

Spring ‘breakup’ was only days away. But for this walk things were still fairly frozen and picturesque.

Frozen Marshland

Frozen Marshland

Nothing like trying to take ‘selfies’ of 4 people at once…It was pretty painful, and many less than ideal shots had. This was one of the ‘better’ ones. All of us were sporting Smartwool hats! Another place we should be getting free gear from me thinks…

Four Elements!

Four Elements!

Air, Water & Earth! Looking adorable together.

Afsoon, Linda & Tracy

Afsoon, Linda & Tracy

Beautiful even with the goofy grins!

Air & Earth (Afsoon & Tracy)

Air & Earth (Afsoon & Tracy)

Tracy was the photographer here – she said something rather funny and got this ridiculous shot!

Water & Fire in Hysterics

Water & Fire in Hysterics

Without even trying, Linda and I had the opposite color combo going on.

Water & Fire (Linda & Joannie)

Water & Fire (Linda & Joannie)

Probably my favorite shot of the landscape. The whimsical Phragmites in the breeze against the ever-blue sky.

Beautiful Phragmites

Beautiful Phragmites

We had towel fights in the kitchen. Revelations over pancakes. Shopping spree in Montreal at the Market. Amazing Chocolate at Coaco 70 – also in Montreal. Tea 2 and 3 times a day. Delicious food that we all whipped up. And of course, much laughter.

I wrote this post for you 3 – Tracy, Linda & Afsoon! Hope you enjoy ♥

You find your people on the Journey ~ J


Back from Belize – an update

To say that I have been busy is, well… an understatement to say the least. I arrived back to the states from Belize a week ago today (Fri 21st). In many ways it feels like the Belize trip itself was much longer than a week, and that I am still ‘adjusting’ to being stateside. I surprised even myself with how quickly I adjusted to ‘not being in the states’. It was almost too easy. I no sooner hit American turf than I was already plotting another overseas trips this Fall. Don’t get me wrong, I love being back and with some of my people… but a part of me seems to be ceaselessly wanting to wander, never satisfied unless another adventure is on the horizon.

squinting in the Belize brightness

Squinting in the Belize brightness

Belize was amazing. The class with WildernessFusion was amazing. The People are simply beyond amazing (both many locals I met and my classmates). I can’t say I ever thought I would visit Belize; it’s not that I didn’t want to, it simply wasn’t on the top 10 list, or even top 20. But man did I have a great time. I’m ready to go back and explore all the things I didn’t get to see. We stayed at a wonderful eco-lodge called Cotton Tree Lodge: what a great way to rest between adventures, and for those who are a little less inclined to ‘just go’ on their own, a fun and safe way to see the sights and experience some of the local flavor. I’m not going to get into the details of the trip, class or even attempt pictures of everything yet – I have 980 to sort through first…! I’m not purposely being a tease, I just want to update and forewarn. I only have bad iPhone photos for this post!

After my serene trip to Belize, I arrived in DC late in the evening, Shaun picked me up from the airport and we headed to the hotel where Kathy & Dave Gardner were waiting along with my River!

River waiting for me at the hotel...

River waiting for me at the hotel…

Kathy & Dave were in town for some work related things, and to join in on the fun of the ‘Shamrock Festival’. We had no idea what to expect, but it looked fun! River got to come last-minute since her and I were missing each other terribly. Saturday we dropped River off (much to her chagrin) at a Petsmart to day-board – possibly overnight so she was safe and cared for while the 4 of us were at Shamrock Fest.

To say the festival was… interesting is probably not doing it justice. It was a little more party and a little less festival than I was hoping for. But we still had fun. The noise and crowds were a little over stimulating after Belize, but I managed well enough! The 4 of us wandered about, often splitting up and then finding each other. It was very cool to be share the crazy with Kathy and Dave and see them have fun regardless of the years that separate us.

Kathy, Dave & I at Shamrock Fest

Kathy, Dave & I at Shamrock Fest!

They even had an EDM dance tent which is where Shaun and I spent most of our time after the draw of the bands wore off (and Shaun had enough to drink to tell the “tall people” to get in the back’ so he could see…)

Shaun & I in front of the EDM tent

Shaun & I in front of the EDM tent

Shaun headed back to Ocean City, MD on Sunday, while River and I stayed with Kathy and Dave that evening. The next day Dave, River and I toured around DC while Kathy took care of some work stuff. It was a lot of fun to walk around Monument Mall with Dave, talking about history of the various sites, the government system (which I will readily admit, I know very little about even though I’ve been told/read books about it). River earned many an ‘ohhh!’ and ‘look at the cute puppy!’ For the areas posted ‘no dogs’ I put her in my backpack (this is after all the best view point for her to see the various national parks I take her to).

She was also really into the squirrels…I made this image macro of the picture I took of her in the car right after yet another furry tailed-rat had dashed right in front of her (but due to her being leashed – no chase ensured). She wore this grin for quite a while!

River Meme

River Meme

For a late lunch/early dinner we met at McCormick’s which is just a damn tasty place to eat! After much-needed catching up, it was time for me to do last-minute car stuff with Dave’s help before hitting the road with River in the Black Dragon.

Dinner at McCormick's!

Dinner at McCormick’s with my Alaska family!

As you can see from our color pallet and choice of patterns..we look rather family like here. Kathy LOVES teal (I do too, maybe just not quite as much as she) and Dave often sports a plaid shirt (they are undeniably comfortable and dashing), so me in plaid teal pretty much tied everyone together in this picture (clearly I should have been in the middle to get the optimum effect). I always have a great time with these guys, and for some reason they do with me as well ♥

River totally zonked

River totally zonked

The last few days River and I have been chilling in Ocean City MD at my family’s rental. Shaun hangs out with us after work and often feeds me and buys me coffee (coffee is the important detail here..). I am mostly just adjusting to not being on ‘Belize Time’ which is something that doesn’t exist in this country. Also the weather changes from hot and humid Belize jungle to blustery Northeasters on the coastline has been a couple of days of uncomfortable. A few days from now I head north to Maine to meet up with Tracy and then we head to Quebec, Canada to Linda’s place where Afsoon will meet us. Element Sisters reunited! The plan is that River goes with me every step of the way.

I head back towards DC with a few stops along the way in early April, and then back to Alaska by April 14th. River too. Once back in AK we stay put for a while as I have work to attended to, Dogs to train, money to be made if I think I want to go on another trip any time soon.

Dave took this great pic with his phone of River & I in DC right outside the Lincoln Memorial! It was a windy and chilly day – my leather cap is all I could find instead of my warm wool knit, so I kept my hair down to help keep me warm (which is why the rather dramatic style going on there..). But it made for a very photogenic picture with my black leather jacket and little black & tan dog – whose ‘tan’ markings are such a shade of red that they just about match my red hair 😉

River & I in DC

River & I in DC

~ Always on a Journey  – Joannie & River.


March & Schedule Update

Last day of February is here, I sit in Bangor Maine at Tracy & Carl’s house staving off the 5 degree chill by the wood stove. The last few weeks have gone by rather quickly, as I bounced from state to state along my travels. Early February found me at the DC airport 4pm in the afternoon after 14 hours of flying through the night and running around Anchorage doing last minutes things the day before. My Aunt Cathie and Family was out-of-town, so I picked up the Black Dragon and begun battling the DC 5:30 traffic towards Tennessee. It took a few hours to clear the city’s traffic in Northern VA, at which point I stopped for food and provisions. By 8pm I had been awake already for 32 hours and just wanted a bath. But Winter Storm Pax was crawling up from the southern states, threats of 5+ inches to feet of snow and I needed to not be on the highway once it started. I made it to Best Friend – Lorien’s dorm in Johnson City TN, around 2am. The roads were still clear and I could try to rest. I snoozed through the bustle of college kids and woke up to a world of white. I stayed 2 nights and just about 3 days catching up with Lorien and watching the city shut down from 8 inches of snow. I also got dinner with Jackie and Jeremy in Bristol to catch up. Friday I made the 3 hour trek to the Farm in Madisonville, passing overturned trucks, broken down cars and jack-knifed tractor-trailers. For the first 20-30 miles, I saw at least one every mile marker.

The Farm still had about 5 inches of snow, however was getting slushy. The kids were thrilled to see me. Jackie came down from College to see me. I spent the weekend hanging out, playing cards, sitting by the fire, and of course – snow play with the kids. Everyone packed into the van and off to the mountains we went. Sadly due to the feet of snow, not as much sledding happened as time was spent on getting the van’s chains to stay on, unstuck, pulled out..and other less thrilling activities. The kids were out of school Monday, Jesse and I took them to Citico Creek to fish. Upon the realization that fish weren’t biting, we went for a hike. Was a good day. Tuesday the kids were back in school, I had many things to take care of with Barbara and long chats to catch up. I was also officially sick.

I was on the road late Wednesday afternoon, stopped in Johnson city briefly to say goodbye to Lorien. Sadly Jeremy and Jackie were at wrestling practice and I already had a very late start to get to New Jersey that night. I ended up staying another night in Jersey with my good friend Amy and her husband, due to the stresses of traveling while sick. I actually went to a walk in clinic due a strange rash that had surfaced along with my cold. Turns out that I have horrible luck (those would be the exact words of the Doctor to describe my situation) . Once on the road again, my GPS acted strange around NYC, so I got to get rerouted in the city. Was exciting. The drive through Maine was beautiful and peaceful, till something shattered the little moon roof of my Subie. At that point I pulled over and laughed like a crazy person. It was a clear day, no cars in front of me, no bridges, nothing around but trees. Something just happen to shatter the glass… Carl is going with ‘Space Poo’, Tracy has picked ‘God tried to strike you down’ and I.. well this sorta my life. So I’m going with that. I finally arrived in Maine with my tapped up window to Tracy and Carl’s where Linda was as well, Saturday afternoon to a warm house full of animals and wonderful people. Last few days have been spent recuperating and healing. I have new glass for the Black Dragon, but due to costs it isn’t actually installed yet..More Duct tape!

Today, I leave for my Wilderness Fusion class in NY. Can’t wait to see what will pop out of the wood work for this. I’ll stay at friend and fellow classmate – Justin’s tonight. Class will be starting late due to having to move location to better deal with the frigid temps and..yes more snow. Should be a killer of a class spiritually. I may not survive it though! Monday once class ends, I make a dash for Maryland where I hope to arrive in a timely manner so I can actually spend time with Shaun, before driving to DC the on Tues. Turns out that I need to go back to Alaska for a few days for work (which with the extra bills, is really for the best at this point). If I get in early enough to Ocean City, MD I’ll actually eat dinner, see Shaun. If not, well I’ll stop by my Aunt Terry’s, pick up the gear that needs to go to Alaska, sleep for a few hours. And then battle the snowstorm to DC where hopefully I’ll still be flying out Tuesday afternoon..I mean what couldn’t go wrong with this schedule?

March 9th will find me back in DC (weather permitting) and I will have the rest of the original ‘Maryland stay’ I was planning on before heading out to Belize. Whew. That brings up to March 15th… Next month overview looks something like this:

Feb 28th – Drive from Maine to NY for class.

March 1-3 – Wilderness Fusion Class in NY.

Late March 3rd – Arrive in Ocean City MD.

March 4th – Drive to DC, fly out for AK in the afternoon.

March 5-9th – Anchorage.

March 9th-14th – Maryland.

March 15th – Fly to Belize from DC.

March 16th-21st – Class in Belize.

March 21st-23rd DC with Shaun, Kathy & Dave!

March 24th-April 2nd – Unsure/East Coast.

April 3rd – Drive to Maine to meet up with Tracy.

April 4th-6-7th – Canada with the Element Sisters!!!

Early April – I should probably be heading back to Alaska soon so I can continue to eat…


Journey On ~ J

Fall Adventures in the Mix & Joannie’s Birthday

Autumn is near, the Equinox today and the winds of change are ever upon us. Fall used to be my favorite time of the year. Slowly I am getting some of my passion for it back. I still struggle with the memories of happier times and the last birthday that Mom was here for – I wrote about it in 2011 Here:

For the second time this year, I will be at Tracker School in the company of my Element Sisters – Tracy, Linda & Afsoon – for a difficult time period. I feel there is significance in this timing. The other class took place this past March on the anniversary of Mom’s death.

My very first class with my ‘Element Sisters’ – where it all began – a year ago  I wrote about Here:

What I’m up to:

I had a great weekend (Sept 7th -9th) in New York camping on the Ward Pound Ridge Reservation – a large and beautiful park where my Wilderness Fusion classes take place.

Words do not come readily to describe my weekend with Wilderness Fusion, other than it was extremely challenging and I found much-needed cognizance of my self.

The following two weeks after Wilderness Fusion, I spent in Maryland – predominately Ocean City, visiting with family and friends. I enjoyed the Ocean, visiting Assateague Island and taking a bit of down time in between appointments online, errands and planning my next adventures.

Most will know that for the end of September (Sept 22nd – Oct 1st) I will be at Tracker School integrating myself deeply (and probably getting my ass kicked) into Philosophy 2 & 3 with my wonderful Element Sisters and many other friends and class mates!

What is next?

I’ve had a few ‘possible’ trips in the mix, Hawaii being one of them. In addition to Hawaii though, I’ve had an even grander adventure possibility that I have been working on for the last couple of months that I am now officially doing (I will get to Hawaii one of these days..). A much desired destination of New Zealand! Yes, NEW ZEALAND!!! Australia is a possibility if the plane tickets are cheap enough – but New Zealand is for sure!

Details to come, for now I am going with my good friend Carleigh in December to backpack both Islands till the end of January, which brings me to the reason for this quick and rather lacking post of mine: I am asking all family and friends who planned on sending me a card or a small gift (Starbucks card, etc.) for my birthday next week, to instead please add whatever amount (hey I’m not picky – take that 5 bucks that you would have given me for a nice coffee) to my Travel Fund. I need some gear (frame backpack that will work for my rather messed up back.. etc) and of course the plane tickets aren’t cheap. I’m going to just go ahead and add here that Christmas gifts can be funneled in the same direction since I will actually be in New Zealand over Christmas.

Normally when people ask me ‘what do you want for your Birthday’ (Christmas too) I say ‘Nothing’ – or a bookstore gift card at the most. Holidays are pretty bittersweet for me and with my piss poor attitude about them in the last few years most people get me nothing nowadays (Except Lorien, because she doesn’t give a shit that I told her she cannot get me anything anymore). As I have changed in the last year, I’ve realized that while it doesn’t matter much if I still get nothing since this is my normal expectation, if people would like to ‘gift’ me – I can accept it and point them in the direction of what would be meaningful/useful for myself. So here I am, trying on a new hat (Yep that is a nod to you Barbara Myerson).

I hope your Autumn is filled with exciting prospects as mine has been thus far. I hope to write more about my adventures and maybe even edit some of this blog of mine… For now, I hit the road to New Jersey in 5 hours!

Open Roads ~ J

Philosophy, Vision Quest & life changing times at Tracker School

*All photos of fellow students were pre-approved and names cleared or changed*  Thanks guys!
**Also, I don’t any of the Mushrooms identified since I am not very good and DO NOT want to mislead anyone!

If your unfamiliar with Tracker School, check out my About Author page – Around half way down I explain how I got into the Tracker School world.

Many know that I attended Tracker School myself the end of August after Reuben finished his Standard class. I drove Reuben to the Philly (Philadelphia, PA) Airport after spending Saturday with Carmen and Matt on Long Island Beach, NJ (this would be before the storms) on Sunday morning. Philosophy 1 started Sunday evening for me. Tom Brown of courses teaches, while his other (some say better) half Malcolm comes in just for the Philosophy classes. All I can say is that if you ever get the chance to work with Malcolm Ringwalt, DO IT. Carmen’s husband Matt teaches along with Jorge. Every one one of the instructors is amazing, they are what really makes Tracker School applicable and fun.

I began my class tired, withdrawn and generally not thrilled with my personal life (Tracker tends to bring up any deep rooted issues for people – which it most certainly did for Reuben and I). I quietly listened, and said little as I could for the rest of the night and into the next two days. I simply wanted to be present for the class, which took all my focus and energy, leaving me the most anti-social person there for the first half of the class.

Looking up

Looking up

The first couple of days during Philosophy you work on your ‘skill’ which typically involves carving, and go over the base of what ‘Philosophy’ is according to Grandfather (Stalking Wolf) – Tom’s teacher. We prepare for our more in-depth meditations by doing basic ones many times per day to help set a routine and train our minds.

Path to Swim area

Path to Swim area

Tracker School’s main camp has no running water outside of their well pump (which is for drinking/cooking water only). The stream with large springs serves as a swimming hole in the ‘bathing suit’ area, and then a separate screened-off area is the ‘nude’ swim which alternates sexes each day. If you are in need of a soapy rinse, there is a wash area a good ways away from the stream that you can carry water to and use biodegradable soaps to get clean. What this usually means is that, not including some of the early bird people who have their shit together, most of the students jump in the bathing suit area for a quick cool down/rinse and call it good. By the end of the week — or first full day — you know who these people are…

To me, being dirty and disheveled is not the same as being stinky. So while I fit in with the best of them, I try not to be identified by smell alone (unless tea-tree oil counts). You only EVER take clothes that you don’t mind having covered in sweat, grass, dirt, clay, charcoal and other unknown stains. The first two weeks there, I washed my clothes in a bucket and was usually in some state of dampness due to the humidity and rain that made drying anything almost impossible. I wouldn’t have won any fashion contests, but I was clean!

Little Red Leaf

Little Red Leaf

As you can see from the pictures, most of my Philosophy class was spent working on skills or going off on my own and integrating what we were learning. I also had some wonderful late-night conversations with Carmen and once again was struck by the depth of our friendship.

Mossy Cedars

Mossy Cedars

For the Philosophy class, you have to ‘find’ a partner to do exercises and meditations with. Many people in the class came with a loved one or a friend and partnered with them. Others had friends/old classmates that they teamed up with. Other than a young guy  – Corey who I recognized from my Standard Class in 2010, I did not know anyone in the class. Since Corey was actually sitting next to me on the hard-ass benches, we had already said hello and figured out where we had seen each other before. So when Malcolm stated that we (students – all 90+ of us) had to get a partner we would work with the rest of the week, I had a moment of terror; ‘What if no one wants to partner with me? I’ve been super antisocial and withdrawn, now I’m totally screwed…’
I let it pass pretty quickly and decided that whoever was left or approached me would have to be fine. After the lecture was over, Corey immediately came over to ask if I A: Needed a partner, and B: would be willing to partner with him. I of course felt that this was the partner I was meant to have and all my fears were for nothing. I was asked by multiple people the rest of the day if I would be their partner (who knew a social retard like myself could still be suitable?). Corey and I became fast friends, and not just Philosophy partners doing odd meditation exercises together.

The next two photos are blurry and ‘foggy’ due to the humidity. My old-ass Olympus performed much better than the Sony half its age – which took the two pictures below {Editor’s note: Amazing what a difference a few hundred dollars can make}.

My Philosophy Partner

My Philosophy Partner Corey

The week progressed in a whirlwind of self discovery, pushing boundaries, and learning skills of the mind and a calm focus we often think is unattainable. I came out of my antisocial bubble and had meaningful conversations with a few people, and even struck up a friendly acquaintance with a few. I renewed my desire to change the things that did not serve me. Sadly I also contracted Lyme’s yet again (you can get ‘reinfected’ and have to go through the antibiotics treatment all over again- there are many, many different strains of Lyme’s). I had a large Bull’s Eye on my thigh and was having severe (even for me) joint pain and general tiredness. I had to go onto the antibiotics ASAP once I got out of camp and hope that I wouldn’t be stricken with secondary symptoms.

Towards the end of the week, Malcolm spoke more depth about a class/event that was happening after Philosophy 1 finished out. A 100-person Vision Question run by EarthHeart — Malcolm’s group — at the Tracker School. This was supposed to be the last 100-person Quest for some time, possibly ever, and for the first time in (I believe) 24 years, Tom was actually going to work/teach with the students after the Quest. The more Malcolm talked of the Quest, the more I wanted to stay for it. I had ALWAYS wanted to do a quest, I knew, someday, I would. So there I was, a gift upon gifts presented to me and I had to do other things?! How could this be! Money was also a concern along with time. I had already told my family members in Maryland and D.C that I would be seeing them in two days. They had plans for me – since it had been a few years seeing me. Was it really okay for me to cancel on them? Was River okay at the Farm in Tennessee without me even longer?



The final days I agonized over the decision. The more Malcolm spoke of the Quest the more I wanted to stay but wasn’t sure that I should. I mean this is the sort of thing where you sit down with yourself and really take a good, long, hard look at all the things you don’t want to! I have so much shit, like seriously, who in my position and in their right mind would think “I’ll just have a little sit down and ‘deal’ with myself and all the crap that has accumulated over the years and sort it out”?! In the woods, alone and while suffering from Lyme’s to boot??? Only a totally crazy person! I spoke at length about these fears to Malcolm (Carmen too), I told him straight up about the past events, the PTSD and even the meds I was still on for my back. I shared how some people close to me thought that I was a little delusional and possibly even a walking time bomb for hysterics.  Malcolm directly laid my fears of being ‘too unstable’ for the Quest to rest and went above and beyond placating my concerns by sharing his wisdom with me. I came away from my conversation with Malcolm feeling that I was not an emotional, delusional, walking time bomb as enough people had directly or indirectly said until I had accepted that some of it must be true. If I chose to, I could stay for the Quest and was wanted – exactly the way I was – which is not something I’m used to.

Decisions, decisions. Then Corey said he was staying; he hadn’t been planning on it, hadn’t even known (just like me) of the class. But he was staying, work and classes back home be damned! Family and girlfriend would just have to wait. Maybe I too could stay for this thing. Friday rolled around and it was time to have a final answer. Interestingly enough, another 8-12 people from my Phil class were also wrestling with the decision. A couple of ladies that I had either noticed (loud laughter, odd questions) or had spoken to; seemed to be trying to figure out if they should stay for the Quest. Linda, the serene healer type who reminded me of Mom in some ways, and to whom I had actually spoken to a few times; Afsoon ‘Caroline’ who hailed from L.A, California and had a knack for asking odd or just plain funny (to me) questions; and Tracy with ENTIRELY too much energy and one of the loudest laughs I’ve heard to date. All three ladies decided to stay for the Quest – as did I the same day. I felt a little kinship with Linda and quietly observed Tracy during her emotional outbursts (I seriously don’t know what else to call them besides maybe freakouts). Afsoon I simply hadn’t spoken to and figured with her city-slicker, put-together ways, wouldn’t want anything to do with me anyways.

Taking Notes

Afsoon & Linda Taking Notes

Saturday afternoon came, and all who were not staying on for the Vision Quest departed. Usually the ‘bridge’ people (as we call anyone who is staying through till the next class) catch a ride into town and share a fellow student’s vehicle and often get hotel rooms, hot showers and do laundry. Around 14 people were there for the next class, so when the instructors called for anyone who had a vehicle that could make back into camp and no one stood up to claim/volunteer I knew that my plans of spending time with Carmen and Matt for the weekend would have to change (the sand roads have large pot holes and dips that fill with water, and you ideally want a 4×4 or AWD (All Wheel Drive) to not get stuck or swamp the engines on lower cars). Matt and Carmen wouldn’t be around for the Vision Quest after Sunday so I was rather torn. I reluctantly raised my hand and said the Black Dragon (Subaru) and I would be ‘around’ to provide rides into town for anyone within reason. Funny how looking back it’s these little seemingly mundane decisions that alter history forever.

Tracy & Linda

Tracy & Linda

After assisting the instructors driving students to where their cars were parked (or to the bus station) in Waretown, I was singled out for the use of my car. Around 10 people ‘wanted’ to go into town (keep in mind my Subie can only ‘legally’ have 5 people in it including me..) and everyone had their ideas of what we should do in town – laundry, quick stop and then back to camp immediately, stay out for the evening and go to a nice dinner, hotel room for the night, etc… I quietly listened to the ‘discussion’ on what they should do with my car for a bit before interjecting how it would actually go: I would take my car to town and stop where I planned on stopping and would take my time as I pleased; which included laundry, health food store, regular store and possibly another stop for cheap food, anyone who was okay with that could come and I would take them wherever they needed within reason along the way. My boundaries whittled down the number to 6 adults with lots of dirty laundry…okay we would be very close and a little smelly. Corey my Phil partner, Dan the Kiwi (from New Zealand) – an amazing kind man with much wisdom and energy to share, M the Aussie from Australia who was tons of fun with her cool accent, Linda whom I had spoken too a few times and was friendly with and Tracy the loud energetic laugher who Linda asked a spot for. Okay I could do this, be the semi social chauffeur.

Upon packing the car, I was then asked if we could fit at least one more. Now, I have no qualms about stuffing people in the back hatch of the Dragon, but maybe they did, not to mention the amount of nasty laundry that was in the back… I calmly explained that the conditions wouldn’t be cozy and that should we get pulled over for no seat belts/illegal passengers that they would be liable for the tickets. My speech made a couple of the ‘extra’ passengers reconsider but not Afsoon ‘Ms. L.A’. Other than being taken aback by my direct statement she seemed totally cool that she would be stuffed in the back next to Tracy and the stinky clothes. What unfolded over the next few hours lead to an amazing 10 days!



Dan embraced his situation of being the only ‘older’ man along for the adventure with a slew of  giddy women (the 4 girls in the back were having the time of their lives). Corey road in the front seat since he is a rather tall individual. Dan took the whole day in stride and had no problem hanging out with the laundry along with Corey and Afsoon. Once the adventure of getting everyone’s laundry in, M our favorite Aussie, Linda and Tracy accompanied me to find the materials for the Quest everyone needed and other stores. We got lost trying to locate the Health Food store and took quite a while. Afsoon and the poor guys had already dried the laundry and were ready to eat by the time we arrived back to the laundromat. We all agreed to eat at a local Burger joint – Shore Fire Grille, keeping our fingers crossed that it would be semi tasty. First off, if your ever stuck in mid southern Jersey, check this place out! The Salmon Burger was to die for, they make a mean Bison Burger and everyone else was thrilled with their food. We thought we had found the goldmine of tasty burgers. The Grille even made M. a special plate for her dietary restrictions without batting an eye! Seriously, check it out if you like burgers and need a place to eat after a Tracker class!

We arrived back to camp with our clean laundry, purchases, sated, tired and the best of friends. Linda, Tracy and Afsoon took a liking to me even though I had been the quietest of the bunch and before the night was over had cornered me about taking them into town again the next morning for the forgotten items and maybe an early lunch. I agreed since they were a fun bunch and food outside of Tracker sounded wonderful again. If only I knew what I was agreeing too…

Red topped Mushroom

Red topped Mushroom

Now before I get into the morning events before the Vision Quest class officially started, I want to expand on the Quest itself more. Most Vision Quests involve fasting (from food, only some will limit water and those are short) and being in some state of quiet and isolation. Every culture has a large history of a Quest, a rite of passage, an experience that takes a child to adulthood transition, a ‘normal’ member of society into the path of Shaman, Healer, Elder, Leader, etc. Regardless of your age or experience in life, purposely going out onto the Earth to reflect and integrate yourself without distraction is a powerful, challenging and often scary, but immensely worth it experience. The Quest we had just signed up for was a 4 day or 96 hour Quest. Only water (unless you have medical reasons to take in a little bit of food) and the most minimum of comforts to protect against the elements. If you’re a sane person and plan out your Vision Quests, it is recommended that you ‘prepare’ yourself at least 6 months in advanced. Wean yourself off that nicotine and caffeine habit. Cut out the alcohol and sugars from your diet, maybe even all salty, fatty foods to help with the withdrawals and cravings. Maybe even do a few juice fasts, prepare your mind and body for being out in the elements with no food, coffee, salt, sugar, and anything else you imbibe on a daily basis to function. Corey, the 3 ladies – Tracy, Afsoon, Linda, and myself had no such preparedness. We didn’t even know about the Quest until two days before it started. Linda was a coffee person, never went without and tea didn’t cut it. Tracy was a big eater, miss triathlon ate like a dire wolf. Afsoon who had every minute of everyday planned with her busy big city life as a lawyer and a mother hadn’t had 4 hours to herself let lone 96 in years! And there I was, with my sick and pain riddled body, medications and horrible past (who really wants to sit in the woods and think about that shit?). All the girls had fears (okay some more than others..Tracy) and concerns.


Linda (isn’t she pretty in her intense focus?)

So the next morning the 4 of us departed for yet more errands and some food (we had already missed out on ‘being prepared’ we were going out there with a bang and lots of bacon!). Within minutes of being in the Black Dragon, the ladies had dragged me into their lively discussions and had me talking (which can be a feat if you know me in group settings when I have my mind on other things). We stopped for gas, and while we thought we looked pretty good considering (clean laundry gave us this illusion), the young man who pumped our gas ( In New Jersey you do not pump your own gas, its illegal) commented that we ‘looked like we had just gotten out of the woods’. A chorus of laughter followed along with ‘what gave it away?’. Turns out it wasn’t us but the Black Dragon – which was coated in mud. No one had noticed (all the cars look this way in the Pine Barrens) and suddenly it made sense. The young (clearly city) man then asked where we had gone ‘mudding’ – which for those who may not know is taking your 4×4’s that are often decked out for this stuff, off roading for the sole purpose of ‘driving through mud’. I explained that actually we were at an outdoor school and our ‘cool women’ status changed to ‘crazy-scary-woods women’. He walked away from the giggles in the back from Tracy while muttering crazy cackling hens!  More laughter ensued to which he promptly ran away from. Cackling Hens indeed!

After collecting more gear (base layers in case it got cold or rained – as it had just a few days before) and last-minute items we stopped for our ‘last meal’ at The Brunch Spot. Now this place, if you like breakfast foods, you must go to. The owner is wonderful and didn’t kick our loud and crazy asses out! Coffee with real cream!!! – if you have ever been to Tracker, you know what that means, Bacon (oh yes, BACON) and plenty of salty, heavy foods to kick off our week. For starting that evening we would be on a vegetarian and gluten-free (gluten-free is usually what I am, but the others no) diet with close to no animal products, no salt and sugar; till the Quest  in 2 1/2 days – which then would be nothing for 4 days. During lunch, pretty much everyone had a ‘moment’ or more apt  – a total meltdown of what she was about to embark on. The cooks in the back were a little concerned…

The errands done, tearful laughter bonding time, had and a renewed determination to ‘do this’ we settled in for the evening’s intros and lectures. The ‘Questers’ had arrived along with the Protectors – seasoned and trained individuals who worked for EarthHeart or were volunteering their time time make this monster of a Quest happen. It was called the 100 Person Quest. Well a 100 and 20 -something people showed up. Another 30+ in Protecters and Volunteers made the Tracker Camp crowded! Tents everywhere and the dinner line was loong. Don’t ever get us on the subject of the Bobs (porta potties). Over the next two days we prepared the physical side of the Quest (remember, everyone else has prepared their bodies and ideally their minds..). Splitting into 3 large groups, getting the ‘site’ picked out for each of us. For this Quest, we  had to select a 10 ft radius circle in a appointed area to be in for the duration of the Quest. There was a whole system in place so that the Protectors knew where each of their group’s members circle was and what to keep an eye out for and such. You have to place a pre picked object in a marked off area out by the path from the main trail to your circle every morning or the Protectors come in to check on you. This way your ‘alone’ but still being checked on should something come up. Tracy, Afsoon, Linda and Corey were all in my group (yes the ladies stuck together) along with many wonderful people. Our Protectors were wonderful and a couple I am still friends with to this day!

Mushrooms in Moss

Mushrooms in Moss

The two days of preparing passed in a blur. I had started my Antibiotics for the Lyme’s which the lovely miss Aussie M. helped me get. I was still feeling the effects of the Lyme’s and was hoping that the meds would kick in at any moment. I soldiered through the hikes and carrying gear and being awake for the lectures that went until 11pm (we started at 8am). For anyone who hasn’t had Lyme’s, its like the flu (or much worse if your particularly unlucky) without the coughing and other obvious signs of sickness. Every joint, muscle and movement hurts. Your tired. Like. Dead. Tired. Your focus usually goes and stays away (maybe forever..) and overall you just want to curl up somewhere halfway comfortable and die. I (as I tend to) put up a gallant front and pushed through my discomfort with no complaining and didn’t shirk my chores. The high of what I was about to do helped me over most of my fatigue.

Finally it was time. We had our last meal of veggie soup and were now a ‘silent’ camp. We left at Sunrise for our Quest spots. Once out there, we were not supposed to come back until the 4th day’s sunrise. I excitedly hiked in to my area and promptly went back to sleep (so much for the excitement..). The baking afternoon sun woke me and I moved into the shade,set up a ‘place’ for me to lay on (while you were not encouraged, you could take out your sleeping bag if you needed/wanted too, due to my back I took some sleep gear with me so that I wasn’t distract too much by pain) and settled in to watch the sun set. During a Quest you keep any extra gear out of your circle. You do not bring anything that would distract you, no paper, no pen, no nothing. You have a latrine you dig a little ways away from your circle and that’s about it.

White & Green Lichen

White & Green Lichen

Most Questers do a type of ‘stomp’ dance when they feel a emotion come through or need to change it up. Your encouraged to do this dance as much as you need to. Other than the dance, ideally your not daydreaming the entire time, playing with the bugs or grass, leaves, twigs, etc but instead keeping your mind open for the questions you have of yourself and life.  There is a saying that we were told quite a bit that if you had to break the Quest down, it would be like so: 1st  day – physical. You adjust to the action of no action. You feel hungry, bored, anxious, tired, etc. The 2nd day – mental. Your mind is on fire! All these great ideas. If only you had a pen!!! You have entire conversations with yourself. The 3rd day – emotional. Your wonderful, feel great, no more hunger, peace ensures. Then the sadness, the anger, the grief, every emotion you could  ever feel comes through. 4th day – Spiritual. You transcend all things, words have no meaning, the physical has withdrawn to leave a feeling a contentment, your calm water, no upheaving emotions. Or at least that is what one could hope for during their 96 hour Quest.

Left to right: Afsoon, Linda, Joannie, & Tracy before the Quest

Left to right:
Afsoon, Linda, Joannie, & Tracy before the Quest

I wasn’t worried about the hunger, I had done plenty of other fasts before and often forget to eat in my everyday life. I didn’t expect too much trouble with not having anyone around, not speaking or conversing somehow with another person for the next 4 days and 4 nights. I had already spent large amounts of time alone and often seeked it out. Not doing anything sounded quite pleasant provided my brain didn’t run away with me. It was my ’emotional’ side I was most concerned with. What if I had a total onslaught of backed up grief and pain? How is a body supposed to handle all that?

My experiences were as follows: The first day passed in a daze, I was just so tired. I had finally stopped moving long enough that I noticed how bad I felt. I didn’t feel very hungry, more just nauseous from the medication I was taking – now on an empty stomach (in the chaos I had totally forgotten that 1. my original meds needed to not be taken on an empty stomach, 2. the antibiotics for Lyme’s is not just horribly harsh on ones’ stomach, they put your metabolism into overdrive). That night I had to bundled up in all my clothes (quite a bit of warm ones) and was in my 15 degree rated sleeping bag along with a blanket. I was still cold.  I woke myself up when I put my hand on my face (face was outside the sleeping bag, everything else in, my hand felt blistering hot to my cold face! I was shocked by how much the temperature had dropped! I hoped the others were okay, I mean I sleep in Alaska’s winters with the windows open, how would Miss L.A be doing? I figured it was the lack of food and general stress, maybe my hypoglycemia was causing my body to be extra cold. Either way I was glad for the heavy wool socks I had with me in addition to the thermal clothes! Other than the coldness I had an easy night.

I was up early due to an upset stomach and feeling rather poorly. I didn’t put my sleeping stuff up, instead just laid in my circle watching the shadows change as the sun rose. Once I had warmed up with the sun, I shed my clothes and tried to stay in the shade for the rest of the day. It was hot in the sun, I remembered belatedly that my body doesn’t handle antibiotics and sunlight at all and the type of antibiotics I was on your were instructed to stay out of the sun… I felt rather dumb that I hadn’t factored that in when picking my circle. I tried to stay cool, in the shade and move as little as possible. My stomach continued to rebel and I decided that the stomp dance was not going to happen for me; I was simply too dizzy and light-headed. The rest of the day passed in a haze of avoiding the sun, thinking wistfully about apples and my life. I also watched the birds, bugs, sunlight passing through the trees, the clouds, the grains of sand…then I would remember that I should be thinking of mountain moving thoughts, not grains of sand and bugs and food! I had a Humming Bird come right up to me a few times, once almost smacking me in the face. I felt like I was special.

Fuzzy Mushroom

Fuzzy Mushroom

The second night was just as cold and I had a rock in my stomach that was being slowly turned into gravel. I also had to jump up out of my sleeping bag so that the deer that someone else startled into fleeing through the woods didn’t land on me. By the false dawn I was tired and feeling rather drained. The morning was still peaceful and inspiring though. By the afternoon, the sun was up and I was sweating. My thoughts turned to food in a way that I have never before experienced. I had fasted 10 days at a time before and it never fazed me! Even the time I was very thin from being sick and was put on a medication that made me throw up everything single thing I ate (starving and not being able to eat the food in front of you sucks) didn’t leave me feeling like this. My thoughts were consumed by food. I drooled over the memory of last week’s apple and almond butter I had had. I conceived of every kind of food and how to prepare it. I was writing an entire cookbook in my head! The theme was protein. Salmon burgers, sirloin, bacon, elk steaks, cheese and spinach, eggs, and more. I was absolutely driving myself insane. The day passed again in a funk of haze that seemed to never end. I wondered about my friends, I hadn’t heard Afsoon’s tarp rustle, was she still out there? How was Tracy? Hope she was okay. I did have some ground breaking thoughts but usually they were overlayed by thoughts of food.

The third night I wasn’t quite as cold, but I did noticed that my skin on my hands still felt incredibly hot against my face. seemed odd. Was I running a bit of a fever? I was more awake for the evening and was feeling pretty good. I would get to go back tomorrow (I cannot count properly on a good day, so my muddled brain didn’t compute that I had another 24 hours to go..) and sit and sip some soup, eat my stash of protein bars that were in my tent. I was doing good! Sunrise came and with it brought clarity that I had another whole night out here. At this point I was wavering badly I made a sign (out of twigs) for the Protectors to let them know I needed electrolytes before the day was up. I was unable to keep water in my body, even though I was being very careful not to over hydrate (my body doesn’t retain water very well – even when eating salty foods) it was going right through me. But I still managed to put my damn Pinecone out, I was finishing this Quest.

The day passed very slowly. I was ready to head back in, soak in the cool spring, wash the dirt and oils (from the bug repellant) and crap off me and eat. I had yet to stop thinking about food. Everything sounded amazing. I wanted a buffet of sushi, grilled salmon, rare steak, bison burgers, kale, spinach, seaweed salad and anything else that had similar properties. Carbs and sugar didn’t make my stomach growl, only Bambi and Thumper’s salad sounded good. I figured I had finally lost it or became an actual zombie with a desire for health food. I had myself a good cry (at this point I’m hallucinating Salmon’d cry too) and figured I was the weakest person out here that I wanted to be done with this Quest so I could freaking eat! My electrolytes showed up outside my circle’s path and I rehydrated and felt a tad bit steadier.

The fourth night passed slowly starting at me ‘eagerly getting ready for bed about 3 hours before the sun actually set. I reflected on my life and wrote up recipes for Moose stew (Bambi was way too small at this point) in my head. I slept little, it was hot. I watched the sun rise and finally felt like it would be ‘acceptable’ for me to wandered into camp. It was the longest walk of my life. I hadn’t moved for the last 96 hours except to a shader spot and to my latrine. Spots swam as I wandered down the path. My Protectors greeted me with hugs and congratulations. I whispered my first words in days. I made it back to the main fire, Malcolm was sitting there directing those who had just drifted in to some soup and tea, every couple of people who came in he would quietly say something along the lines of ‘just calmly rest and enjoy your soup, try not talk too much and just allow yourself time to reintegrate’. Okay, I could do that, I just wanted to sit anyway. I got some soup, Miso. I didn’t find it tasty and couldn’t finish it. Really!? After hallucinating fish I couldn’t finish some soup? I was hungry, but it tasted wrong to me. I gave it to Dan, he could eat. I didn’t see my other friends, where were they? Sometime later I spotted Linda. She confirmed that she had seen Afsoon, but not Tracy. Where was Tracy? She didn’t leave early and get sent home did she?  Another hour passed before I tracked her down. Tracy was positively bursting with the need to speak, but the camp was supposed to remain mostly silent until the last of the Questers had come back. I didn’t care, everyone was there, Corey had come back looking exhausted but happy. The girls whispered to me that I looked rough. Was I okay? Sit down, we’ll get you water and more soup. Fuck that soup and give me steak tar tar please!

Once everyone had come out the woods, the silent ban was lifted, but camp was still to remain fairly quiet as we were supposed to write everything down before we forgot the details. Well I was tired and most importantly, so fucking hungry. I did try to write, not much came out though. I asked for more food after a rice soup was served, but was told to wait until the next round of food in a few hours, they didn’t want anyone to get sick from eating too much too suddenly. All I wanted was steak. I asked for yogurt, my stomach hurt so damn bad I was afraid I had done permanent damage to it. No yogurt was given, just acidophilus tablets. I found my raw protein bar and ate that. Didn’t throw up or feel sick. My stomach still hurt but at least I felt steadier. I was bombarded with questions from everyone, was I okay? How was I feeling, could they get me rice or soup? Afsoon told me I looked like I had lost at least 20 lbs (no idea if this is accurate). Everyone said I looked pale (paler than the 4 days before at least). And very thin. Clearly the Lyme’s had taken a toll and the meds hadn’t helped the symptoms. I asked if anyone else had frozen their butts off, everyone looked at me like I had spouted horns. Corey talked about how he couldn’t sleep from the heat. Linda mentioned that she hung out in her underwear, even at night due to the heat. Afsoon and everyone else agreed, it had been dammed hot the entire 4 nights, only slightly cooler the 4th night. I was confused, I froze those first two nights and even the 3rd was chilly. They took my temperature. I had a mild fever. Clearly I had been burning up out in the woods and had thought I was just cold from the weather. This was all news to me. The Protectors asked why I hadn’t alerted them to my state. Everyone was concerned but I just wanted a freaking burger. I was told to go soak in the stream to bring my body temp down and they tried to get me to drink more miso soup. I just wanted sushi and maybe some hot chocolate.

Left to right: Tracy, Joannie, Afsoon & Linda after the Quest

Left to right:
Tracy, Joannie, Afsoon & Linda after the Quest

I was doing better by dinner and when Dan (who also had a hard Quest) mentioned that he just wanted a damn burger, I whole heartedly agreed and said that I was contemplating on sneaking out to town just for that reason. Well word spread like fire and the 4 of us ladies and Dan (we were commissioned by Corey to bring him back something) snuck out of camp in the Black Dragon to get us some burgers! We were stopped by a firetruck and the police on the way out of the Pines (at which point everyone thought for sure that the Tracker Gods were smiting us for our delinquent ways..) and question if we knew anything of any party fires. Seems that a group of people set fire to the Pines with their drunken stupidity and the whole of Waretown were out to apprehend them. Once clearing that the fire had indeed been contained and that our beloved Tracker Camp wasn’t about to burn we continued with our ninja burger mission. It was simply too important to double check our tents.

All 5 of us descended upon the poor folks at Shore Fire Grille (yay for being open late!) and ordered anything that had animal products in it. Fries smothered with cheese, avocado, sour cream? Add bacon please. Oh and EXTRA sour cream! Burgers for EVERYONE!  (Any EarthHeart and Tracker staff who read this will think horrible thoughts of us right about now) We inhaled the food and talked like teenagers who had just completed Mission Impossible. Easily one of the best memories of the summer, or possibly ever. We bonded over burgers (no beer needed, we were tipsy off of the cheese) and busting out in the night. Dan is the man for putting up with our laughter and insanity. We went to bed that night with a little extra bounce in our steps. I slept so much better that night with meat in my stomach. Sadly, by morning it was gone and I was back to nuts and rice.

Afsoon smiling at Tracy

Afsoon laughing with Tracy

The next couple of days passed in a whirl wind of attempting to take in what Tom was teaching. We were split into groups of 12-14 people. Soon as The instructors announced it, we had quite a few people jump to our corner of loudness and proclaim to be ‘in our group’. Dan being the good guy he is went to a group that needed more people in it. Corey stayed with us to my delight and a few of the new comers. Our group was a mix match crew of veterans of Tracker and people who had never done anything Tracker, just EarthHeart. We formed a ‘council’ and created a space out in the woods for us to gather to bounce things that Tom was having us do, off each other.

Council Fire

Council Fire

Our group contained two people that stood out to me – V a long time Tracker student who was a quiet (until he started talking) but brash Long Islander with oodles of wisdom for the world and a large blind spot for himself and N. I observed N during the days leading up to the Quest and wasn’t impressed. He seemed.. like the kinda person who only wanted to kick back with a beer and watch ESPN or something else redneck. Yet here he was at a 100 person Vision Question. He was crude, clearly didn’t care what he looked like (to an extreme level even for Tracker) or what people thought of him. Fuck seemed to be his favorite word and his manner of speech was cringe worthy. Soon as N jumped up faster than I would have thought possible for someone who seemed to be going through alcohol withdrawal could, and said he was ‘in our group’ I knew that this guy was about to surprise everyone. V was our ‘Elder’. You always knew that he was about to offer some sage insight to your question. N on the other hand was like two people, one being the total shit head that everyone sees and the other a direct voice for the mysteries of the ‘unknown’ and ‘not yet thought of’. It was beyond awesome having the people in our council that we did. As Tom laid out methods of dealing with the human mind and condition, we struggled to put it on paper and in practice. Some people didn’t stay for the days of lectures and exercises after the Quest. A few due to family/work things or were called away. But quite a few simply needed to leave. Their tanks full for new experiences or their heads unable to assimilate any more information. Our group had two people that left early (names not mentioned) so we adjusted accordingly. Corey grew into himself more with each passing day, N continued to surprise everyone (and I think maybe even himself). V was often the calm in the excitement from the others. Two other nice men were in our council along with the 3 girls – Linda, Tracy, Afsoon and I.

'C' Taking notes

Corey Taking notes

The final day rolled around. I had been at the Tracker School for the last 27 days. Basically a month. I had the chigger bites to prove it! I had dirt ingrained on my skin, my nails would simply have to ‘grow’ out to be clean. I couldn’t have been happier. I had overcome obstacles, meet people who seem to ‘see’ me, made friends and reconnected with a part of myself I had shoved down since Leaving Tennessee. I felt alive (okay more tired and sick, but spiritually alive). I felt more myself than I had since the trial took place in 2010. I might have been a train wreck in terms of events, but I was still me; which is really something I am now told.

Tracy, Afsoon & Linda

Tracy, Afsoon & Linda ~ Element Sisters!

Most of all I formed this quad relationship with 3 women. Linda, Tracy and Afsoon. None of us knew each other before the class. Heck in Philosophy we didn’t talk to each other. If not for all 4 of us spontaneously deciding to stay for a Vision Quest that seemed like the most impulsive and ridiculous thing to do, we would have never made a connection. Tracy quit her job by staying, Afsoon missed over 8 days of work and her little girl. Linda also missed unscheduled work and important appointments with her family. I stayed even though I was already sick and shouldn’t be doing ‘taxing’ things. If not for me being the only one with a car and driving their stinky laundry around, we wouldn’t have made that initial bond. If not for The Black Dragon, busting out of camp for burgers and The Brunch Spot, the bond wouldn’t have solidified. It’s these little seemingly pointless things that created a space for relationships to form. I went through a period where I thought the 3 of them were good friends and I was just the chauffeur who they were being nice too for the sake of having wheels or pity for my loner ways.. It took some convincing on their part that it was more than the car that they like… These 3 women and I have the most intense and insane friendship. The husbands are a little confused at times as was Reuben. Even the Tracker Staff were a little bemused (it takes something special to get a reaction out of them)!  A nickname was coined for us – The Element Sisters. It seems to fit.

After class was officially let out goodbyes said and hugs given, I took the girls into town to get Tracy’s car and to have lunch again at the Brunch Spot. It was decided that Tracy give Afsoon a ride to the New Ark airport and I would take Linda to the Quebec border since her ride flaked out on her at the last-minute. We stayed (thanks to the amazing owner – who remembered us) at the Brunch Spot long after they closed. Laughter, tears and more was shared over what we proclaimed to be the ‘best meal ever’.

The Crew Left to right C, Tracy, Dan, Afsoon, & Linda

The Crew Left to right
Corey, Tracy, Dan, Afsoon, & Linda

The weeks we spent ‘finding ourselves’ in New Jersey (you should see the reactions we get to that statement..) have slowly morphed into a new way of living. While I do not assume to speak for the others, from what I have gathered the change has touched every part of their lives and has brought much. For me its been a slow unfurling. A realization and rememberence of who I am and what I need to do. What being on that path means in regards to other people (the part I could never quite get before) and what it means if I am not on it, to myself. I renewed my commitment to the Journey and accepted the challenges and adversity that comes to those who live outside the box. I embraced that I will often be lonely. I made peace with the fact so many people close to me will deem me as lost. But Mr. Tolkien has it right, ‘Not All Who Wander Are Lost’ ~ J

* I accept full responsibility for not taking better care of myself and it is not a reflection on the fine people of EarthHeart of Tracker that I was sick for most of my quest.

Black Prickly Mushroom

Black Prickly Mushroom

* July 2013 Since I published this close to a year after it took place, I can honestly say that all the things I wrote are true. The relationship for the 4 girls is stronger than ever. I met up with the Element Sisters for another class this year along with V and N. I connect with Corey randomly and have deep conversations. I even stay in touch with my Kiwi, Dan. Everyone has furthered themselves and grown yet stayed connected in some way. The path takes us to places we  thought we would never go (I’m in Maryland now for Christ’s sake!) and we step into ourselves one more step at a time.

It’s the Journey people, don’t ever lose sight of that!