Hiking Equipment Decisions

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A lot of people spend more time researching and buying equipment than they spend hiking. I learned this at my Appalachian Trail Institute workshop and want to avoid it. So I took notes and ultimately have decided to buy what other hikers before me have suggested.

I am spending approximately $1000 that includes:

A ULA backpack

A Thermarest sleeping pad

A Sawyer water filter

A sleeping quilt from Enlightened Equipment

A Big Agnes tent

A pair of boots

I am currently testing my pack weight with a 5 day supply of food and water.  Looks to be under 30 pounds which is good.  The goal should be less than 25% of your body weight.

My husband has clearly communicated both his support of my hiking and his lack of interest in joining me. He has multiple stories of being a good dad and spending time with our sons while hiking and camping in less than ideal conditions.  Each time I hear him tell the stories, you can feel the suffering reemerge.

I agree for the time being that his support will be in the form of occasionally meeting me at a hotel or hostel in a trail town.  He’s already begun to refer to these meet ups as conjugal visits.  I am hoping that hiking doesn’t feel like prison but I am the first to admit that I don’t know what I am getting into.

My next goal is to set a date for a weekend hike of around 20 miles.  I am going to do this in March right before my sabbatical begins.

The Appalachian Trail Institute

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Who signs up for a workshop two weeks before Christmas?

Apparently, me and 10 classmates named Pete, Steven, Carowyn, Sarah, Evette, Dave, Rosemary, Jeremiah, Brian and Richard.

I expected to be the oldest. Wrong. I expected to one of the only females. Wrong again.

I nicely blend with the other people who have come to learn about hiking the Appalachian Trail. We range in age from college student to retiree.

We arrived at Laughing Heart Lodge and Hostel in Hot Springs, NC not knowing what to expect. What we are quickly finding is a tribe. A tribe called hiker. Anybody can be a hiker. You just have to be willing to hike.  The challenge seems to be the need to surrender to nature and the inevitable curve balls it will throw you. But back to the Appalachian Trail Institute.

Normally, Warren Doyle is the facilitator of this workshop. But for some reason, Jennifer Pharr Davis is our guide for the four day experience.  Jen has taken time out of her schedule to inspire and share her personal experiences with us.  The nominal $250 per person price tag for this workshop does not begin to compensate her and her spouse for taking time out their life to hang out with us.

I am quickly finding that the hiking community does not abide by the rules of the world.  Meaning and purpose often trumps financial gain.  Hikers are not your typical bear.

From the beginning, I have been amazed by the almost instant bonding that has occurred with our class. I feel connected and loved by this very diverse crowd of people. We are staying up late listening to music and singing together within days of knowing each other. We are laughing and hiking and eating with each other like a family does.  I have to wonder why this can’t occur more often in life? The world would be a better place if it did.

The workshop has covered almost every topic you could imagine from equipment to knowing about different sections.

Jen’s newborn, Gus, who is 10 weeks old, is listening (and ok, often sleeping) as his mother delivers lessons. Brew, Jen’s spouse, has shared his insights regarding section hikes and performed for us at night the songs he has been recording.  Brew looks like a mountain man which masks his deep and emotional spirit that pours forth from his music.  The free concert was priceless.

The classroom workshop has been complimented by day hikes ranging from 4-7 miles on the Appalachian Trail. We’ve been given a nice December mix of weather that has included a cold day, a rainy day and a nice day. One of Warren’s quotes is:

The workshop ends today at a small diner that had been feeding us.  We all will leave the way we arrived with the exception of a small beautiful seed that is now planted in each of us.

Time will tell how each seed germinates and grows.

Enrolling in a Hiking Workshop

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Right under two months has elapsed since my son announced he is going to quit his job with Microsoft to hike the Appalachian Trail in 2017.  I see this as a sign for me to slow down and look where I am going.  I have stopped accepting new clients at my practice and have shared with a select few individuals my intentions for taking some needed time off. Their overwhelming response has been positive and supportive.

But now my thoughts are turning to logistics.  Sure, my son is capable of achieving an enormous task like hiking almost 2200 miles up and down over mountains from Maine to Georgia.  But even if my goal is much simpler section hikes, how am I going to do this?  My hiking skills consist of going to scenic areas and walking on nice trails during the day.  My camping skills include less than a half dozen times of throwing a ton of crap in the back of my car and then unloading it at a nice campsite.  And my physical condition?  Let’s just say it’s not very impressive.

What am I thinking?

A wonderful client of mine knew about my son’s intentions and promptly gifted me with a copy of Jennifer  Pharr Davis’s book, Becoming Odyssa.  I recently read it in Cincinnati while visiting my parents for Thanksgiving.

So I got out my computer yesterday and typed in “Appalachian Trail Institute”.

What came up was a website, warrendoyle.com, with a quote:  “Not all who wander are lost.”  Sounded cool.  I read lots of stuff before finding a contact number and dialed it from the couch in my living room.

“Hello”, said a an older man’s voice who appeared to be engaged in physical labor- like walking in the woods.

“Hello!  I am wanting to find out about The Appalachian Trail Institute,” I said.

“Oh.  I don’t hike in the winter.  I mostly do Contra dancing in the winter.  Let me give you Jen’s number.  She is doing a class soon in Hot Springs and might still let you enroll.”

I was promptly given contact information and the call ended.

So I contacted “Jen”, Jennifer Pharr Davis. For most of the world who is not connect to the hiking community:

Jennifer Pharr Davis is an American long distance hiker, author, speaker, National Geographic Adventurer of the Year, and Ambassador for the American Hiking Society. She has hiked over 12,000 miles on six different continents, including thru-hikes on the Pacific Crest Trail, the Appalachian Trail (three times), the Colorado Trail, the Long Trail in Vermont, the Bibbulmun Track in Australia, and numerous trails in Europe and South America. In 2011, Pharr Davis set the unofficial record for the fastest thru-hike of the Appalachian Trail with a time of 46 days, 11 hours, and 20 minutes, an average of 47 miles (76 km) a day.

That’s why I am currently kind of excited and nervous. Jen just sent me an email saying I am now enrolled in the Appalachian Trail Institute.

Looks like I’m going to be in Hot Springs, NC two weeks before Christmas.


A Burnout Formula

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The top careers notorious for burnout include first responders (think fire fighters, law enforcement and military) and individuals working within health care (think doctors, nurses and mental health professionals). It seems to be a dangerous combination to combine stressful work without proper self-care and time to recharge.

I went back to graduate school for counseling when our youngest child started kindergarten. I felt very confident that I was in the right field. This was largely due to my positive undergraduate experience. While at Virginia Tech, I worked with some of the best researchers and clinicians in the field of Psychology. I loved the concept of helping people get mentally well so that their lives would get better. I didn’t at the time consider the effect working in this field would have on my own life and well being.

Twenty five years have elapsed since undergraduate school and my years working in field seem to be catching up with me. I tell my clients to use a likert scale to assess their stress level. Zero indicates no stress present and ten indicates high stress. I took a minute recently to ask what I would rank 2016 so far. 8-10 range was my answer.  I felt like 70% of my time was going to my work and the remaining 30% was being absorbed by my personal responsibilities.

I started to think about why my stress level was so high. There were personal stressors stemming from being a mother, wife, sister, daughter and friend.  There was the physical stressors from owning a hobby farm.  And there were the professional stressors.  2016 was the most financially successful year ever for my practice.  That seemed good on paper but I was noticing it came at a cost.

I was violating some basic boundaries that could have kept me well.  I was guilty of following a formula sure to create burnout:

1) Overbook 20+ clients into three workdays per week.

2) Start coming in earlier in the morning and staying later at night.

3) Do not take vacations. Feel guilty when you do. Work double time before and after any time off.

4) Continue to accept clients after your caseload is full.

5) Respond to clients during non-business hours.

6) Specialize in trauma work and bring your work home after you leave the office.

7) Ignore self-care, practice poor nutrition and stop making time for exercise.

Who was to blame for where I was in life? Myself.

Nobody was making me do this. I was self-employed and owned my own business. I preached work/life balance and the importance of self-care to all my clients.

What was happening? And more importantly, how was I going to correct the problem I had caused?

I think the solution is going to require me to take some much needed extended time off in 2017.

I’m going to call it a sabbatical. Sabbatical is a Hebrew word that loosely means taking scheduled time off for rest.  The Bible talks about the importance of periodically allowing agricultural fields to lay fallow.  I do this with a section of my vegetable garden every year.  It prevents pests populations from multiplying and cuts down on diseases. As counter intuitive as it might sound, even though time is taken off, productivity will increase as a result of the rest. 

I love what I do and I love my clients.  I think now I need to love myself and recharge.

Hey Mom, I’m Quitting Microsoft

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It was past my bedtime. My three sons and some of their college friends had come home to run the Hickory Oktoberfest 10K. The plan was to wake up early in the morning and head downtown before the race started.

My husband Mike was already in bed for the night while I was puttering around the kitchen in my nightgown picking up.

My eldest son Kerry was sitting on the bench at our harvest table and began talking to me as I cleared dishes at the sink. Kerry and his younger brother Dayton both interviewed at Microsoft when Kerry had just completed his junior year at UNC and Dayton has ended his freshman year.  It seemed like a wonderful dream when Microsoft offered Kerry a job and Dayton a summer internship.

Which is why when you think your children are aligned for safe and successful careers, you jump when they say:

“Hey mom, I’m quitting Microsoft next year.”

I paused. I was processing his words. I was waiting for him to elaborate.

“I want to hike the Appalachian Trail. There’s never going to be a better time, you know. It might never happen if I get married or have kids. I think now’s the time.”

I agreed with his logic. I appreciated the way he had thought it through and was being intentional. I told him he had my blessing and headed to bed.

That night and many to follow would be restless.

He had activated an alarm within my being that seemed to go off about every seven years. And when this happened, I knew to expect changes in my life.

Do You Have a Personal Strategy?

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The word strategy is derived from a Greek word meaning “the art of the general.”

At a basic business level, a strategy is the unified concept of how an enterprise accomplishes its goals.

A strategy involves choices and is intentional.  What you choose to do is as important as what you don’t.

What about a personal strategy?

Write down answers to the following questions:

  1. What are your strengths or passions?  This should be easy if you think about what brings joy in your life.
  2. What do you value and are willing to sacrifice something else for? This is an indicator of what is meaningful to you as an individual.
  3. What do you want to accomplish?  This is not a short term goal but rather what you would like to be said at your funeral.

The answers to these questions make up your personal strategy.  Watch out for lists or the word “and” in any of the answers.  That could be sign that you do not have a strategy but are trying to be everything to everyone.  Be bold and choose.

Having a strategy will do two things:  First, it will help you recognize what you should stop doing to free up time to focus on important things.  And second, it will give you the courage to overcome the anxiety associated with new endeavors if they are aligned with your strategy.

Evaluate what you do every day – where you work, how you spend free time, what you are saving for, planning for, and thinking about.  Is all of this in alignment with your personal strategy?  There should be no judgment about past decisions.  That is not the point.  The point is to be intentional about how you live your life now.

Eliminate the possibility of any regret for things left undone.  Ask yourself today, are you a soldier following orders or the general of your life?

* This article is copyrighted property of EDGE Coaching LLC.  To reproduce, notify and reference EDGE Coaching.   For more Coaching Corner articles, visit www.edgecoaching.com

How to Use a Life Puzzle

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A life puzzle is an example of how spending 20 minutes writing down your personal and professional goals can increase your ability to be successful.

Most  people  don’t take the time to write down their goals.

Or the goals they do write down are due to a job requirement and may exclude personal components or a sense of genuine interest in the process.

Not taking the time to assess where you are and where you want to be is a costly mistake that is easily avoidable.

So what is a life puzzle?

A life puzzle is a template with empty spaces where you can write down your professional and personal goals.  It can be as basic or as elaborate as you choose to make it.  The purpose is to create a visual representation of what you want to accomplish.

3 basic tips to remember:

  • Make goals clear and specific
  • Start with a draft, then rewrite a final version
  • Look at and re-read on a daily or weekly basis

While there are no rules as to when to use a life puzzle, the beginning of a new year or the beginning of a new chapter in your life is an excellent time to get started. Some individuals fill out an annual life puzzle; they save and use puzzles for tracking and monitoring progress.

If 20 minutes made you  more successful, would you do it?

Visual documentation and regular focus on your goals will give you an excellent edge on life and it’s free.

To help you get started, use the attached life puzzle and see the pieces of your life come together:   Life Puzzle

* This article is copyrighted property of EDGE Coaching.  To reproduce, notify and reference EDGE Coaching.   For more Coaching Corner articles, visit www.edgecoaching.com

I Want a Divorce

Edge CoachingCounseling

Topic: Marriage

Question: I am tired of the constant arguing. No matter how much I try, I don’t think my marriage is going to make it. He thinks I am emotional and over reacting. I think I would be better off alone than always angry and unhappy. Thank God we don’t have any children. Do you think there is any hope after ten years of a bad marriage?

Michelle’s Take: The problem with getting a divorce is that neither you nor your spouse will be learning how to change. It may sting and feel unfair but it is important to see the joint responsibility for this unhappy tango. You have the free will to throw in the towel, but I caution you against going this route before looking at what you are being called to change.

Whenever a couple comes in for counseling, I quickly explain that each person will be committing to individual change. Healthy marriages consist of each partner taking care of their own needs, which includes learning what their needs are and then effectively communicating with their spouse.

I like and often recommend Gary Chapman’s book The Five Love Languages as a starting point. Gary was a marriage and family therapist who noticed some very important core needs that he refers to as love languages. His book is eye opening in its ability to help couples stop judging each other and start understanding what the other needs.

Give it a try and also consider finding a local therapist who can offer a supportive objective perspective.

Warm regards,


P.S.  Your comment can positively add to this discussion.  Please share how marriage difficulties have effected your life and any tips you have learned.

Drinking Has Become a Problem

Edge CoachingCounseling

Topic: Substance Abuse

Question: My wife’s drinking has become a problem since our children have left home. She does not work and judging by her level of intoxication when I get home at night, she is drinking all day. I have approached this topic more than once and let me just say, she is less than responsive to talking about it. I love her but I do not know how to help her.

Michelle’s Take: First off, let’s be clear that you are dealing with alcoholism.  Alcoholism is a substance abuse problem that is effecting your wife on physical, mental and emotional levels. She is self medicating as way of coping with hurt and pain she does not know how to handle.

She needs counseling to deal with possible depression and adjustment issues.  However, the initial phase of treatment will involve assessing and treating the alcoholism.  This can be in the form of intensive out patient services or inpatient services at a treatment facility for multiple weeks.

There are differing opinions as to what constitutes alcoholism.  However, here are some basic questions:

1)  Is alcohol a daily part of your life?

2)  Do you ever binge drink?

3)  Has a friend or family member commented on your drinking?

4)  Have you said or done something to cause harm when under the influence?

5)  Do you hide your drinking?

6)  Have you received a DUI, lost a job, or lost friends/family members as a result of your drinking?

7)  Are you secretly worried you may be an alcoholic?

8)  Is there a history of alcoholism in your family?

9)  Do you have past pain that alcohol helps you to temporarily forget?

10) Have you failed with previous attempts to stop drinking?  

If you answered yes to more than one of these question, take pause.  This is about being honest with yourself.

Healthy models of substance abuse are effective at removing the guilt from the condition while providing new coping skills.  Groups can be very effective for providing support and educational information.

It is important to recognize that you are only responsible for your behavior, not hers.  I would encourage you to find a local support group or visit:  Al- Anon 

Warm regards,


P.S.  Your comment can positively add to this discussion.  Please share how alcoholism has effected your life and any tips you have learned.

How to Stop a Panic Attack

Edge CoachingCounseling

Topic: Anxiety

Question: My doctor who has been prescribing anxiety medications for me said that I should find a counselor. I have panic attacks on a daily basis and do not see how talking about them is going to help me feel better.

Michelle’s Take: Your doctor is probably aware of research findings that show counseling can be highly effective for treating panic attacks. But be sure to find a counselor having specific training in anxiety disorder and success working with actual clients. Do not be discouraged by past failure.  Instead, know that there are excellent techniques that really work!

Are you ready to learn something new?

Anxiety disorder is the most common mental health disorder in the United States.  Affecting 40 million adults and costing $42 billion dollars a year in medical costs, it is important to know about different kinds of anxiety disorder.

Clinicians look for specific criteria found in the DSM, Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders, in order to diagnosis an anxiety disorder.  Clients typically fall into one of the following categories:  panic disorder, generalized anxiety disorder (GAD), social anxiety disorder, specific phobias, obsessive-compulsive disorder (OCD) and post traumatic stress disorder (PTSD).

The good news is research shows an excellent prognosis for anxiety disorder.  The bad news is that only 1/3 of individuals suffering from anxiety seek treatment or find successful coping strategies.

Let’s focus specifically on panic attacks (clinically know as panic disorder) to better understand the panic cycle:

SYMPTOMS   ↔   BEHAVIORS (Panic & Anxiety)   ↔   FEAR THOUGHTS

Notice the two way directionality of the arrows?  It means, regardless of where the cycle begins, each component compounds the panic attack to create more panic.  Knowing what the cycle looks like offers insight into how to stop it as we will look at in just a moment.

To anyone who has experienced a racing heart, shortness of breath, numbness, chest pain and other common symptoms of a panic attack, having someone tell them to “stay relaxed” is counter-productive.  More helpful is learning how to engage in an alternative cognitive activity that breaks this vicious cycle.

A simple and highly effective technique to use with a individual having a panic attack is to hand them a sheet of paper and a pen.  Grab a book or magazine and start reading out loud.  The person having the panic attack is instructed to write down what is dictated.  The person reading should keep a pace slightly faster than the content can be written.

While the person having the attack initially feels incapable of performing a simple request, if they force themselves to listen to the other person’s voice and actively write what is being said, within 2-3 minutes the panic attack resides.  Hand writing returns to normal.  Physiological symptoms, which it is important to note are not life threatening, subside.  Cerebral blood flow returns to normal. All this because the cycle is effectively broken.

With anxiety disorders remember: the treatment goal is to do the opposite of what the disorder wants.

As mentioned earlier, it is important to find a specialist who has specific training and success working with anxiety disorders.  While tension reduction and breathing activities are good to know, they typically are not enough for individuals having a panic attack.  There are other effective techniques that a counselor or therapist might use.  These can include cognitive therapy and exposure therapy.  In many cases, increasing a client’s symptom tolerance can reduce the anxiety to manageable levels.  However, I have found inducing and then stopping a panic attack with the technique described above goes a long way to helping clients take back control.

Anxiety is not always a bad thing.  When the anxiety is real, it can warn us of danger. But individuals suffering from anxiety disorder are responding to irrational fears.  This can be changed.  And when simple changes are made, the world becomes a brighter safer place.

A good workbook you can order while learning how to overcome anxiety is called:  Mastery of Your Anxiety and Panic

Warm regards,


P.S.  Your comment can positively add to this discussion.  Please share how anxiety has effected your life and any tips you have learned.