“The Road To 52”

Hiking at Dekorte Park Meadowland Trail. Lyndhurst, NJ June 9, 2018

Yes, it’s been a while since I’ve written anything. I believe December 2017 was the last time I posted. Well put on your seatbelts boys and girls, I have a lot to tell you…

As my thumbs tap on the screen, Darlene Zschech’s Your Presence Is Heaven is fading away into the background of my thoughts. I was listening to it as I walked into my office this morning. It is quickly being replaced by an inconsequential discussion about dogs and food, a loud conversation is Spanish, my boss yelling from her office for a coworker to bring her something because picking up the phone is far too hard for her to do. There’s also frustrating talks about problems and mistakes, created by miscommunication and poor management. The only thing missing today, is the co-worker who is usually speaking on the phone in Russian. What is not missing, is the loud mouth know -It -all, who sits next to me. With only 4 feet of space between us. As you can see, I’m in a ridiculously noisy environment. Thus the reason, dear reader, I haven’t been able to write… my office used be a quiet place to think, read and write during down times. Since the Loud mouth came up and was assigned to the desk next to me, I have slowly loss the freedom of concentration, read, think or write. Over the course of the year, I have become that employee that stares at their phone and plays games. Anything and everything to drown out the background noise! It’s so bad that my off time thoughts are flooded by the day’s words, discussions and pointless stories. So what does this have to with 52? You may be asking, we’ll get there… remember the title? Road to…

Atlantic City. August 2015

June 14th marked 2 years since my wife died. I spent the day extremely tired as I have been fighting off a cold this week. I ended the day by picking up some camping equipment from REI and grabbing dinner at a Japanese restaurant. As my daughter and I sat down “See You Again” from Fast and Furious 7 started playing. For those of you, who haven’t followed me or read any previous blogs, Sharol and I loved those movies. Each for different reasons and for the same reasons. We were a team and loved the undying love and devotion of Letty and Dom, Brian and Mia and the brotherhood of Dom and Brian. I was a fan of Paul Walker before his FF days, she came along later. When Paul died it hit us hard… when we saw FF7 we both teared up and eventually cried. We stayed in the theater long after the credits were done… it was Paul’s last FF film and our last one together. Essentially, our last ride together as well. So when my 15 year old mentioned that the song was playing, I strained my ears and took that emotional ride. Minutes before that, my other daughter text me that her son was a scooper like his Nana. I cracked up!!! They were eating chips and dip(a Bland family staple). Okay… here’s the backstory, Sharol and I used to fight over the dip. I would dip my chips, she would scoop! Dragging the dip into a heap on her chips. This caused me to constantly turn the bowl around to keep an even amount… or else! No more dip. Go ahead, you can laugh, you know you do it too.

Dekorte Park Meadowland Trail. Lyndhurst, NJ June 9, 2018

So as we were driving back home after dinner, The Kid found the song on YouTube for me. I cranked it up and drove off. I ended the night by kissing my late wife’s picture, thanking her for being my wife and saying goodbye…

“But didn’t you say goodbye two years ago?” I can hear your thoughts as I write this. Yes, I did say goodbye but I never left. The world around me has changed(we’re not getting into the crazies today) people have moved on, yet I remained stagnant. Most of my family is spread out across America. My immediate family is split between New Rochelle, Westchester county. The older kids have move on and made frightening new strides for their families. Moving to The Bronx, Brooklyn and now two to New Jersey. A dear friend of mines will be moving to the west coast. Former classmates are getting their PhD’s this summer, my middle daughter is getting married… and I have a granddaughter that I’m watching grow up in pictures. Even the church has changed. You know, Sharol used to say, the part about dying she didn’t like was that life and the world would continue “as if I wasn’t here”. I’ve learned you don’t have to die for the world to leave you behind. I’m alive watching it happen to me, it feels really weird too. It’s like watching a time travel sci-fi movie. Where the guy is watching his life on a screen and trying to figure out what point he wants to go back in time to…

Hiking at Sachuest Point national wildlife refuge. 3 mile loop. Middletown, RI. April 2018

The 52 Hike Challenge

While the entire family has been evolving into something different, something new for each person, my progression has been slow and at times no movement at all. I’m kind of settled into this widower’s life style. Meaning, there’s no partner to walk through life with. Over the past two years, dear reader, I have found my wanderlust again. As a child in school I spent hours staring out of the classroom Windows. Bored I guess, but whatever it was, I wanted to be out there. Out of school I spent my time playing in street, riding my bike, running through the building or at a friend’s house. As a teen, I traveled on the train from the Bronx to Harlem and Suger Hill where my cousins lived. Often times ridding my bike over the Macombs Dam bridge then back to my sister’s house in the Bronx. I’d sneak into Clubs with friends, just to dance all night and ride the train alone in the wee hours back to the Bronx. Whatever it was in me, I’d always wanted to go. Never stop just move forward…

Last year my daughter aka The Kid,and I went camping. She hated the bugs but loved the road trip and being away. This year I wanted to add to that. I joined a gym because I saw my strength diminishing. As we worked out together, I said I wanted to go hiking this year. It became my new obsession! Searching and searching, discovering that my busted knees and back may not make it. If you haven’t noticed I’m no longer on Facebook. I’ve just been on Instagram exclusively. While looking at pictures of travelers from around the world, I found the @52hikechallenge. Reading the story of the founders inpired me to go. I got my daughter to join me in this insane quest to hike once a week for 52 weeks. Yes! One whole year of hiking in all weather conditions. Feel free to follow our progress and cheer us on. The IG hashtag is #whitebeardandthekid So, going to the gym begin to take shape with a new purpose in mind. To train and condition the body, bad knees and all, to hike as high as it can go. I told her I may not have good working knees in the next few years and in a few years she’ll be college age. So hey, let’s go on this adventure. Let’s document it. She has gotten so used to travelling now, she wants to drive to Canada and hike The Appalachia trail…

Roadtrip to Pa. May 2018, pulled over in a truck stop to rest.

I had put aside my adventurous wanderlust years ago. The first life changing event was when I became a parent. I would still run off to a movie alone from to time to time. But Sharol tamed such lust in my heart. I no longer wanted to run or go, I found someone that I just wanted to stop for. No need to run off, but, I found that she too had a traveller’s heart and enjoyed the times we rented a car and hit the road. The excitement of packing for a trip or family vacation. Always finding a moment to be alone together. Before she died we had a couple of chances to get away alone. Gosh those were great and quiet times. Since her death and being on the road, it’s the only thing I want to. When I get to work Monday morning, I’m already planning where the next weekend’s adventure will be.

The hiking challenge has made it easy to go because every week there’s somewhere to be. Photos of other hikers and travellers and folks camping constantly encourage me to go out and experience the world around me. But in the beginning, I was uncomfortable enjoying myself, that survivor’s guilt kicked in again. How could I enjoy life without her? Was it okay to enjoy living? Then I found this…

From another hiker and a widow, who like me, loss her spouse unexpectedly. It took a month to settle in my heart. Mostly because I know Sharol would’ve enjoyed travelling, that was the plan after the children were gone. My daughter’s feet on the dashboard reminded me of her mother’s, who put her feet up as we drove down Lincoln Highway in Lancaster Pa. We had left the kids in the hotel and took a drive. Every time I leave the city I remember days like that and I feel such a freedom and joy…

So as I embark on this challenge and purpose to travel across this country, get outside and meet people. Most likely I will be writing about it. Will you follow along, dear reader? You were by my side when all I could think about and write about was the process of grief that first year. If you have an IG account will you follow the hashtag #whitebeardandthekid and virtually raise your pom poms to be our cheerleaders? I look forward to hearing from you. Psst! I haven’t forgotten about writing, as I stated earlier it’s been difficult.

Until next time…

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