Vices

I want to preface this by saying the entirety of this entry actually has zero to do with the outdoors; but I can assure you we do find ourselves there in the end. If you’re okay with reading about things unrelated to my blog’s typical theme – carry on! It’s not very lighthearted, however.

I missed out on our February Mastermind meeting due to a bout with the flu that was going around my house. I was so weak and tired I couldn’t even keep my eyes open. I think I got at least 40 hours of sleep that weekend within 3 days.

After getting a meeting recap from Sara Beth, she informed me of some of the topics of conversation during the call; one being to challenge ourselves to compose a post that is a little different from the norm. To share something that makes us uncomfortable. I thought long about this. There is a part of me I have never exposed before, anywhere. I’ve been vague about it or perhaps referred to it, but really only the people who were going through it too hold this knowledge.

“I think it’s a good idea to ‘get comfortable with getting uncomfortable.’ I have always felt that pushing myself outside of my comfort zone encourages growth.”

-Jessica “Dixie” Mills // Triple Crown of Hiking Finisher

*I do not feel like it’s a necessity* to share this information with the public and with my readers, but I think as life goes on and I am constantly trying to become the best version of myself, I should shed some layers. Carrying burdens can be difficult. I want you to know and understand me. More importantly, I want to know and understand me. And maybe, my story can help someone.

Trigger warning: recollections and details of drug use, substance abuse and self injury.

We all have a past. I just don’t want mine to make you think less of me.

If you know me, you’re probably aware that I am fairly introverted and don’t like being the center of attention. I don’t typically offer much on the subject of myself. If I’m asked I will absolutely share, but it’s a struggle for me to divulge in person sometimes; I’ll trip over words and draw blanks. I’m just not one who speaks well, but give me a pen and paper or a keyboard and I can spill it in intricate detail.

I’ve journaled for as long as I can remember.

I try not to be ashamed of things I’ve done or been through, as I have taken those experiences and learned from them. What I’ve survived isn’t super outrageous or completely unfathomable by any means. Do I fear and think that you may possibly view me differently after this entry? Yes. I guess that’s a chance I’m willing to take.

My parents know everything I’ve ever done at this point in my life. In fact, my mom has pushed me to share this. We try to be very transparent with each other. But they’re my family and they love me unconditionally. I did some pretty terrible things to people I loved and cared about and to myself. I sabotaged friendships and relationships.

I’m going to massively condense this; as it carries on consistently through half of a decade of my life.

I remember my first rock bottom.

There’s a couple rock bottoms, but this one defined me. Parts of it are still with me physically.

It was October 2006. The Cardinals were in the World Series playoffs and I spent all day downtown drinking and celebrating with friends at a rally. I somehow decided it would be okay if I drove home after all of that and…the next thing I remember a couple hours later is sitting on my kitchen floor alone, T9 texting my sister for help with my flip phone in one hand and a disposable razor blade in the other (I liked the challenge of peeling apart a cheap, disposable razor and using the tiny, lightweight individual blades); my left shoulder and arm covered in my own blood. This would be the reason 7 years later I insisted to wear sleeves on my wedding day. The scars from that night still ever present to this day.

It wasn’t the first time I ever did it; self harm. I found comfort in it. I had a ritual. But it was among the worst yet. My sides, thighs, ankles and arms had already been victims of my self injury sessions for years. I had learned where to place my cuts to hide them, some deep and some shallow; out of the view of others.

I remember the ugly damp dish towel I was holding. I was sticky. Red.

It was only 10pm. My middle sister was at my door in no time; her 18 year old self. “Jennifer!” She belted as she cried with me, just as confused as I was. She helped me gather some things and drove me to our parent’s house where I spilled my guts, detoxed and cleared my head for a couple weeks.

See, 7 months before this…

When I was 21 in March 2006, I took my first “recreational stimulant” – a tiny orange ecstasy pill with a Superman emblem stamped on it. I then spent the next 200+ days consecutively in an intense downward spiral. Anything in pill, powder or liquid form was ingested in more ways than one to keep me numb.

Ecstacy. Cocaine. Pure MDMA. Xanax. Percocet. Vicodin. Mushrooms. Oxy. Liquor. And I’m pretty sure I accidentally ingested heroin in pill form one night. Twice.

I mixed them. I took them at all hours of the day or night, sometimes for days on end. Coming down was a nightmare. Sometimes I was lucky and avoided it when taking a dose of something else to counter it. Through it all, I functioned. I still made it to work, I paid my bills, and nobody knew any different. That is kinda scary.

The people who did take notice were close friends who didn’t condone this newfound lifestyle (rightfully so…) and reluctantly stepped away so they didn’t have to witness myself and others disintegrate. The people who encouraged and enabled the situation…well, we stuck together. We understood one another. My friends weren’t all bad people. In fact, a few of them I’m still acquaintances with. They’re doing just fine. Some of us have fallen away from each other. I wish them well.

Some of us, both friends and family, unfortunately didn’t make it through the haze and have since passed. I’ll love and miss them always.

In the meantime, I abandoned a 6-year relationship with my very kind and patient high school boyfriend for drugs and the people who gave them to me. I missed both of my sisters’ high school graduations. (Well, I was there for one of them; but I was not present.)

The apartment I lived in became a party palace. Constantly trashed and infested with handfuls of people I never thought I would surround myself with. It smelled of stale smoke and apple cinnamon candles. I felt invincible and disgusting all at once. My roommate and best friend at the time of all of this moved out after 5 months, feeling the heavy pressure of what we were doing and the negativity we created in that space.

What if. What if? What if…

To be honest, I still sometimes can’t stomach watching the sun come up. It’s a reminder of days where sleep never came. I would lie awake clenching my jaw, staring at the ceiling just…waiting. The gray blue cast of light that coats everything before the sun peeks over the horizon often makes me feel very uncomfortable. There were weeks where the only thing I could eat was watered down oatmeal and bananas, because my stomach was so messed up.

I remember sitting in front of a mirror one of those nights where I lived alone, impaired beyond measure and speaking out loud to my reflection. “Who are you? This isn’t me.” I touched my face. Looked into my own eyes. Cried. I went to a family Labor Day bbq the next day, after getting no sleep. I did clean my car out at 6am though. Spotless.

From 2006-2010 I silently struggled off and on with many forms of substance abuse and feelings of guilt. I put myself in sometimes very dangerous situations.

With 2006 being the worst of the drug use, 2007 and 2008 were purely alcohol fueled with recreational drug use here and there. When I say alcohol fueled – I mean easily a fifth of liquor every night or every other night. Mostly rum, vodka, whiskey and wine. Shots with a chaser.

2009 was a prescription pill battle as I moved on from drinking so much. Still loved that whiskey and wine. Developed an incredibly painful stomach ulcer.

Near the end of 2010, I finally decided to wrap it all up. It had been quite a while since I had taken anything, but in November that year, I had one last hurrah with a literal pile of MDMA and I have never looked back. It’s been 9 years since I’ve touched any of those things or even had the desire to. Any thought of it genuinely makes me nauseous. It was all so bad; and I am lucky to say I made it out.

Nature vs. Nurture?

Here’s the thing. I wasn’t raised that way. I grew up in a very happy, healthy environment; wanting for nothing and constantly surrounded by a loving family. I made choices. I was placed inside a living “Choose Your Own Adventure” story and I went along with it. I could have said no at any time, but I didn’t.

Top – Age 22 in November 2006 just a couple of weeks after the 7 month long bender.

Bottom – Age 34 in 2018; happy and healthy at Rocky Mountain National Park.

That being said, I don’t know if what I went through actually counts as true “addiction” because I actively stepped away anytime I knew it was getting worse. But I think that’s the whole thing. You don’t know or think you’re an addict. I felt like I always had somewhat of a hold on it and I definitely recognized that it wasn’t good for me. I just kept doing it because it made me feel good.

I am beyond thankful that my grandparents owned a couple rental properties in my hometown. Like it was meant to happen; a renter of theirs moved out of a tiny duplex they had in a quiet neighborhood. I moved in mid-2010, paid rent like any tenant would and slowly got back on my feet.

Along with B becoming a permanent fixture in my life in 2011, I truly believe that moving “home” is what saved me. I will never look at resorting to go home at any age as a failure. Home is safe. Home is familiar.

Today, I can totally go out for drinks and be fine. I can take a pain pill for actual pain. I have smoked or had an edible where it’s legal for fun. I know my limits. I do greatly suffer from severe anxiety which I believe is a side effect from those years of drug abuse and living in a constant altered state of mind.

I have been able to successfully silence a lot of those resurfacing feelings through nature therapy.

I like to think this is why I now strive to live my life with intentions of doing good and giving back. It took me a long time to get there, but I try to always be positive. I spent so long being miserable and terrified and living in a blur that to feel raw feelings and experience emotions in full force is a new kind of high.

The sometimes painful and difficult experience that backpacking gives me makes me feel truly alive. It’s given me something to chase and it fulfills me in ways that a drug never could. Mind. Body. Spirit. It makes me think and solve problems more than I ever have and it forces me to believe in myself and while pushing me to the next level.

It IS my drug.

Now ya see me.

So, what’s your vice?

J

If you are struggling with addiction and don’t know where to go next; please feel free to reach out to me. I WILL encourage you however, to reach out to your family. I would never have known my family would be so supportive if I didn’t try to get help. They didn’t know I was struggling. Maybe yours doesn’t either. You are not a burden. You are so loved – let those who love you help you!

CBD and Me

For the last few months I have been experimenting with CBD oil and edibles as another natural way (outside of hiking) of easing my anxiety. Along with my anxiety comes restlessness and mild insomnia.

CBD comes from the same plant as marijuana – where THC is also found. BUT – CBD and THC are two different compounds. CBD is not psychoactive, meaning it doesn’t alter your state of mind; but studies show that it does have beneficial effects on your body.

In the time I’ve been using CBD; I have noticed a drastic positive change in my sleep patterns, metabolism, restless legs and most importantly – my lifelong anxiety. CBD gummies are a must for backpacking trips. I take one in the morning before setting off and one before bed for a restful nights sleep (and it helps aches and pains!)I have tried many different brands to find what works best for me. Some aren’t pure CBD and some brands are even cut with melatonin to give you that relaxed feeling.

Before I do any type of review, I ask for ample time to use the product, feel it out and come back with an honest opinion. I genuinely look for the pros and cons in anything that I’m asked to try. I would never give a highly rated review to something I didn’t actually believe in. I’m coming at you today with GoGreen Hemp products and I’m giving them a solid 8.5/10.

The product quality, the customer service and the effectiveness of their product is on point.

The only reason it’s not a 10/10 is for their price (remember – you do get what you pay for) and for some people, the taste of some products. Personally, I can look past that but I wanted to be honest – if you’re expecting super sweet peach rings, these will not be the “candy taste” you’re looking for. To me, that CBD taste = a pure product.

The oil itself doesn’t taste bad at all. The orange is rather tasty! I love the unflavored with my morning coffee. Three weeks ago I started using GoGreen Hemp products. I was sent a balm, 2 bath bombs, 2 CBD oils, and a container of peach rings.

I came home from a camping trip and found my little care package waiting on the porch. I was experiencing a mild headache so when I opened the box I applied the balm (it smells so good!) on my temples, between my eyes and behind my ears and ate one 25mg peach ring. Within 20 minutes my headache subsided. I was relieved!

The GoGreen Hemp peach rings are the first CBD edible where I can actually taste the earthy, bitter compound and the first CBD edible I can feel a genuine physical effect. My muscles relax, and my thoughts quit racing and no feeling of sleepiness.

I ingest CBD multiple times a day, even during work hours and function perfectly fine. I enjoy many mornings taking my oil drops on an empty stomach and then drinking my normal 2 cups of coffee.

I am highly impressed with this brand of CBD, and I have tried roughly 4-5 different brands since the end of September.

I’d love to offer my readers & followers a 15% off code to use for the holidays! If you’d like to treat yourself or a family member to the gift of CBD – visit GoGreenHemp.com and use code JENNYTHETRAILHEAD at checkout.

Have you used CBD before?

Black Friday and a Fun Announcement!

Hi y’all!

I’m just popping in for a quick catch up. I hope everyone had a nice Thanksgiving and GREEN FRIDAY! Did you opt outside on Black Friday?

Turkey and I led our 2nd annual Black Friday #OptOutside hike with 52 Hike Challenge and REI. We were set to have 25 people but only 8 came; (10 including me and Turkey) and we had the best day! The weather was showing rain and snow and I feel like it kept people from making the trip out. It was a little cold but we didn’t hit any precipitation until the drive home that evening.

Some familiar faces from last year, and a few new ones which was wonderful. Thanks to Neal and Vicki for being gracious guides; as it was my first time at Matthiessen! Here’s a couple highlights!

It’s always so much fun to explore new places and meet & talk with new people while doing so. I hope everyone had as much fun as I did! Matthiessen is beautiful. I would love to go back sooner than later.

Another fun thing I have to announce is my Amazon Storefront! If you read any reviews or are curious about gear I’m using that you’d like to check out – you can shop my personal storefront on Amazon!

My favorite list right now is gift suggestions for outdoor lovers!

More posts to come; have a great week!

River to River Trail – 32/160

High Knob Campground to ShawneeMart, Eddyville IL, October 20 – 22.

Kirstin and I left town around 8am on Saturday to meet Heather at High Knob. Heather started her section Friday morning (after camping out solo at Elizabethtown, the Eastern terminus of the River to River Trail on Thursday evening.) She got stuck in cold rain, but hiked about 18 miles to High Knob where she arrived after dark. The campground owner lodged her for free that night which was just one of many kind gestures the people in the surrounding Shawnee National Forest would express to us that weekend.

When Kirstin and I arrived after 2 and a half hours of easy driving, Heather met us at my car where we grabbed all of our gear and walked back to where she was lodged for the night. A hostel style cabin with many rooms and beds; probably room for 20 people total – all to herself. High Knob is an equestrian joint. The entire campground was filled with horse trailers and RVs; along with very friendly people.

Heather had her gear strewn about in front of a space heater, mostly to dry her pack from the relentless rain she endured the day before.

After we filled our water bladders and bottles and fit everything on us comfortably; we set off on the trail. Our first pitstop would be 4 miles west at Garden of the Gods, and our campground about 2 miles further on top of a bluff.

It was very chilly when we were breaking; but the sun was out and the day was beautiful. One challenge that we immediately decided was for the birds (or this case, horses…) was a chewed up, very muddy trail. The R2R is both a footpath and an equestrian trail. While I love and respect horses, sharing a trail is not my favorite pasttime.Sucking, mucking, thick wet mud and horse poop; the color and consistency reminded me of the chocolate river on Charlie and The Chocolate Factory. At one point I was damn near Augustus Gloop. I slid in slow motion butt first almost into the muck, saved by a trekking pole and an arm hooking a slender tree and we laughed til we cried.We took a little break at a beautiful feature along the trail. We finally stopped for lunch and a water refill at the Garden of the Gods campground, which was expectedly busy on a Saturday afternoon. We probably spent a little too much time at this stop; a good hour and a half we sat and ate, refilled our water, used the toilets and then quickly walked through the GoG.

We chased the sun to our camp site and when we arrived there was a lone tent. We heard small grumbles coming from inside. “Is someone snoring?!” Heather whispered. It turned into barking.

“A dog!” We set our packs down and heard some rustling from inside the tent. A girl around our age emerged with a small dog named Ira that looked just like Cash! The girl introduced herself as Jennifer, and we all chatted enthusiastically while we set up our tents. We caught a beautiful sunset and even saw a bald eagle!

It was really cool to meet another woman out on the trail, especially one who was hiking solo. She shared with us she completed a chunk of California on the PCT, but had to get off the trail due to an injury after the Sierra. We all relished in trail stories, ate dinner and broke out the cans of wine we packed in. We didn’t get to make a fire that night but the wine and company kept us warm. Tunes from Kirstin’s little speaker drifted into the evening and we checked each other for daddy long legs before we said our goodnights.

I slept amazingly well that night, the cold wind rocking me to sleep. We had a long couple days still ahead of us but knowing the weather was going to stay lovely and the company as well; I wasn’t worried about miles in the least.

When I backpack I wake with the sun.

We packed up our dewy camp quickly, said our farewells to Jennifer and Ira and left early to get a start on the days miles. The plan was to hike the few miles into Herod and eat breakfast, fill our water and keep westward to One Horse Gap. Little did we know, Jennifer would be the last person we would see on the trail for the next 2 days.

We ate in the lot right next to the Herod Post Office, around 10am. Cars passed us and if it weren’t a trail town; I’m more than sure they’d think we were actually bums. After breakfast began a stretch of road walking, which we decided we rather enjoyed. The walking was pretty easy on a wide gravel road. This section also met up with the American Discovery Trail!We heard a car behind us slow down and then eventually pull up next to us. It turned out to be the infamous Shawnee/R2R shuttle driver and guide Bart Lane. After talking for a bit, he wished us well, handed us a card and let us know he’d be happy to assist us at any time if we needed to give him a call.

We stopped a little while after to refill our water before the trail headed back into the woods. We did a pit stop at a beautiful overlook about a mile before our stopping point. We were tired, a little grumpy and ready to stop. Our packs were really weighing us down. We ended up indeed camping at One Horse Gap (SO. MUCH. MUD.) but in retrospect, probably should have pressed on a few more miles to right before the cemetery, where we’d have camped by a creek and only have (what we thought was) 10ish miles to Eddyville, instead of the near 16 we inevitably had to do.

Hunger and laziness won Sunday evening. We knew our fate. Monday we’d have to crank out almost 16 miles back to the car. While we weren’t looking forward to it, we just simply didn’t acknowledge it.

We all spent about an hour to ourselves in silence at camp, setting things up, changing into camp clothes and enjoying the scenery. I think all of us worked on trying to start a fire with very damp wood for a bit before giving in. We finished off our wine, ate and shared some delicious dinner and then I turned in to one of the worst sleeps I’ve ever had while camping.

All night I tossed and turned. I woke up every hour, despite my melatonin intake. It was FREEZING. I woke up shivering a handful of times even though I was sleeping in a thermal base layer shirt, a fleece sweatshirt, my Ghost Whisperer puffy, fleece leggings, wool socks, stocking cap, Brian’s 30 degree sleeping bag with my 20 degree quilt wrapped around that and lying on top of my insulated pad. I never sleep cold; and I always sleep well at camp but that night was miserable. I would drift off, then either have to get up to pee in the 20 degree night and come back to try to warm up again or I’d finally get comfortable, doze off and wake up shivering.

Morning came fast.

Packing was difficult as we were all doing the hiker shuffle. I was sleepy, cold and I think we all wanted to get a move on as fast as possible. After such a sleepless night; I should have known it would undoubtedly lead in to the hardest mental day I’ve ever had on any trail. It tested me (all of us, really…) from sun up to sun down; where we eventually had to hike with headlamps. Darkness comes quick in late October. We have about 9-9.5 hours of solid daylight before it begins to get dusky.

Our morning started rather strong, see. We hiked to the creek and stopped for breakfast and refills which was an easy 2.5-3 miles from One Horse Gap, then we explored the cemetery and continued on where we found a sign.

10 Miles To Eddyville?

The first sign we’d seen in a long time appeared with mileage, and I let out a “Woohoo!” It was 10am, and 10 miles was nothing. Looking at mileage and maps though; it didn’t make sense. Where were the remaining 2-3 miles? (Come to find out, on the trusted River to River Trail compilation website that sign was apparently wrong.)

After I prematurely celebrated, I realized we’d only hiked about 3 miles and still had a long way to go. I decided even though I slept like crap and I was achy, I was going to try to enjoy the day. Heather expressed her concerns about entering Lusk Creek Wilderness due to it not being well blazed and having many spurs that lead to different areas.

We did get turned around a couple times, but quickly retraced our steps. We also came across some creek crossings. The first 2 weren’t bad at all. The first one was actually quite fun, bopping across the tops of flat river stones in a shallow but wide creek.

The second one, we had to get crafty and walk off trail to find a way down into the creek bed so we didn’t have to get wet.This is way, way steeper than it looks!The third one came later; after we got lost. LOST. I pictured the floating LOST intro on a black background; wishing and hoping for Jack Shepard to come out and lead the way. Instead, Avenza maps and screenshots of maps saved us! It turns out, we were walking on the old R2R route, and what gave it away was faded blue spray paint on a tree. The trail was still there but overgrown. We may have been off our intended route, but we followed the GPS Avenza map and kept cross referencing it to the screenshots and ended up intersecting back with the trail we needed. We kept our cool, discussed our feelings we had experienced in the last 25 minutes (rage, exhaustion, tears of both rage and exhaustion, pain, slap happy laughter…) and found our second (…third?) wind.

And then. It happened. The thing that made all of us break a little. A creek crossing with no way around it but to get wet. I mean, the trail went straight into the water, which was shin to knee deep. Truly, not a big deal. But when you just want to be done and there is obstacle after obstacle presented in your path – you hit a breaking point.

“Eff this.” I said. “Let’s just effing get on with it.” I took my boots and socks off and put my Crocs on, and didn’t even wait for the girls before I started across. The coldness of the water took my breath away. It was so cold, within 5 seconds my feet were completely numb. I won’t lie, while I was entirely pissed this was happening, it felt amazing on my tired legs and feet to take an icy cold dip.When I made it to the other side, I turned around to capture this moment. It was the moment we all kind of snapped; where we saw each other’s true colors. Impatient; tired; crabby. Our mental states severely tested. But some of us (me) shoved the second Snickers of the day in our face and carried on.

Not long after; we left Lusk Creek Wilderness. I think we all shed a happy tear.

It was a little after this point we moved on to the last map. We had 3 maps to go through this final day; and we reached the last one. Just about 3 miles left, after we hit the Lusk Creek Trailhead. It was getting dark, and we now had about a mile, mile and a half of road walking to get to the ShawneeMart.

We made it.

A solid 2 and a half days of hiking, 30lbs on our backs, a range of emotions, a new level of friendship achieved, and very stiff, achy bodies. When we made it to Heather’s car, we sighed in unison, in relief. We each had a few hours drive home, but decided that the most important thing at that point was stopping for sodas and snacks.

We were starving, wiped out and smelly, but the short drive to the gas station before Heather dropped us off at my car was so enjoyable. We recounted all of the ridiculous things that happened over the course of the last few days and swore we’d never make our longest day our last day again.

All in all; this was one of my favorite trips. It was so much fun, but it also posed me with a great challenge. I wanted to give up multiple times. I didn’t think I could do it. But I did. And it felt awesome.

I took this picture of myself right when I got home and before I got in the shower just to document all my crazy feelings.Proud, dirty, excited and ready to plan the next section with these girls on the R2R.

J