570 Miles, 8 Weeks In, Rain Life, Matt’s Birthday

570 Miles, 8 Weeks In, Rain Life, Matt’s Birthday
May 22, 2018 Heather Starbuck

5 straight days of pummeling rain. On Thursday night, right as I started putting up my tent, the downpour began. I tried to coordinate and ninja the under rain sheet shimmy to get my tent up, ideally maintaining a dry floor in the actual tent. I failed miserably. As Theo sheltered himself from the onslought underneath the rain fly wrapped around the tent pole frames, I attempted to click the actual tent hooks underneath the fly to the poles.

I started front to back… first mistake. So then I had the front of the tent ready to rock but Theo sitting stubbornly behind it, still under the fly, refusing to move. Aussies are wonderful but oh, so very stubborn. I was stuck now underneath the vestibule, the tent front hanging between me and Theo as a barrier. I had no choice but to get back out in the pelting rain, coroal Theo grumpily out from under, around, back through the vestibule and into the half put up tent. Dog now fully wet, shaking water everywhere in the crumpled sad little tent space.

Once I got him in, I ran around the outside frantically trying to get under the rain fly in order to fasten the back half of the tent, having to unbuckle the rebuckle, taking the corner ties of the rain fly off and on trying to scurry back under, meanwhile dropping pools of water from the now loose rainfly through the mesh of my actual tent, all while avoiding poor little Theo taking a snooze.

Eventually, after doing this process probably four times, one for each middle side, then the back corners the tent was up. But loosely, and the walls caved in a bit allowing the rain splashing to once again continue pooling little puddles within my mesh tent.

When I finally got back to the vestibule, I had the agonizing realization that as soon as I put my sopping wet body into that tent… it was going to get even wetter. Probably beyond hope for my 5×5” camp towel. So I sat in the mud under the vestibule trying to get my rain coat, then my soaked shorts off before crawling my way in. At this point, my underwear were also soaked through and immediately upon sitting down a small pool of water formed, matching the two little puddles in either corner of the tent.

As I sat there, looking at the tent walls so poorly pulled, not even close to taut, I knew I was going to have to get right back out there and re do the tent stakes. My shorts were soaked and hanging on the outside of the tent frame, along with my rain coat. They were simply not an option. And so, I ran out of the tent in my undies, hoping it was still only scissors at this campground, hustling, but fumbling around in the dumping rain redoing each stake as I went so as to not have to do this clown run a second time.

When I got back in my tent, I laid out the only two dry items I had as a small island on the dampened floor (thank you trash bag liner) my sleeping pad and my sleeping bag liner. And there I staid until morning, hoping that some miracle would dry out our tent overnight? Nope.

The next day we woke up to more rain. Through some grace of god it paused for about an hour to which I threw the sopping wet tent into the bottom of my bag, crammed a power bar down the hatch, eyes now honed in on getting to town, getting things dry and facing what I knew was going to be a super challenging day, Matt’s birthday. But the break from rain was temporary, and soon Theo and I found ourselves gradually walking through heavier and heavier downpours…. culminating in what became a literal sheet of water slamming down through the trees, like we were under a small weak waterfall. At this point, I conceded, surrendering to the rain and the complete inevitable wetness… not even wearing my rain jacket I just let the rain wash over and through all my clothes now completely sopping.

The wall of water pressed on, for at least an hour. The craziness of it elicited a spiritual experience for me honestly… I felt so connected to being in that moment, blockading any other thought really, embracing it and surrendering to the powerful rain storm that we had no choice but to press forward in. Both Theo and I got a little…less domestic… in the rain. I screamed at the top of my lungs, just because, probably three times. It may have been the closest I’ve felt to Matt and whatever divinity that is the universe this whole trip.

In those two hours I felt like the rain was washing everything off of me, my resentment, confusion and the guilt that has been building up steadily. I thought of the toxic people who I’ve had to cut out of my life in the wake of this tragedy in order to frankly, survive. Finally feeling free of the negative effect they’d had on my psyche in how I am dealing with this. Letting go of the close friend who wouldn’t think positively for Matt while he fought for his life in the hospital, and then completely abandoned ship through my darkest hours afterwards. Letting go of the awful things I replied with to her in my time of debilitating pain and grief, clawing to get her to understand and be there as she knew me and Matt together most. Letting go of the distant relative who spewed hurtful judgements about me to my family and said my grieving process was selfish and overly dramatic. Letting go of the anger I still feel for those who made Matt feel small his whole life. Letting go of the endless circling of guilt I have for every misstep I may have made, or preventative measure I somehow missed that could have, at least in my mind, saved Matt. Washing those feelings away, and in that moment I really just was existing free of all of it. I felt liberated for the first time.

But like all things, it did not last. As the powerful rain started to subside into a light rain, then into a drizzle, my mind diverted back to thinking about how wet my feet were… the blisters now developing from my sopping wet socks and shoes. I realized I had six more miles left. I felt like I’d just been on a rollercoaster and was beyond ready to de-board and relax. But I pressed on, painstakingly, through what really were six flat miles. State of mind is truly everything out here.

The next day, I woke up at 2AM streaming tears. It was Matt’s birthday, he would have turned 31, and my body already knew it. It’s so perplexing how we even grieve in our sleep, there is no break from it. This time last year I was getting all the final details nailed down for Matt’s day of surprises. It was his 30th birthday and a huge milestone for him. I never forgot how Matt told me once he never thought he’d live to thirty. He’d accomplished so much since those dark times, turning his life around after only a few years in Colorado where he came bearing a backpack and twenty dollar bill. He’d built a career, a family, a home and helped so many in the community. He’d made it, more than he ever thought he would. And above all, he was so incredibly happy, his life radiating in joy and ease. We went out to dinner for fresh crab, his favorite, I surprised him with tickets to Iceland and rounded out the evening with a surprise party at our house with his friends and coworkers. He shed a tear that night saying how during most of his twenties, his birthday had gone not only uncelebrated, but often unnoticed by those who he had in his life at the time. I’ll always remember his face during the festivities, he felt so loved.

I planned to take the day moment by moment, being gentle on myself throughout. My hike for Matt ended up being a calm stroll followed by time spent with my feet in the river, crying, talking to him, and processing. And though the day was littered with random breakdowns: laundromat breakdown, hotel room breakdown, breakfast breakdown, dinner breakdown, breakdown watching a documentary on Princess Di, and pre-sleep tear streamy breakdown, I found that the world around me was so gentle. The hotel staff catered to our random errands, we hitchhiked through Marion with no more than a five minute wait, the Princess Diana documentary reminded me of my beautiful Matt (they have similar characteristics I’ve always thought). My friends reached out, some hiking for Matt and bringing up sunflowers to our favorite hike. And I got plenty of rest to get through the emotional day.

Days like that remind me how lucky I am to have the people I have in my life, particularly in such a challenging time. I have a supportive family, who has done everything in their power to pick me up when I flail and fall back to the ground. My childhood friends operate as a coordinated support group, when one hears I’m having a hard time, they all quickly reach out to me to ensure I never feel alone and feel surrounded in love. And as I continue my journey, so many beautiful souls continue to reach out to me, understanding on this deep level how hard our loss of Matt is, and providing encouragement for us to continue sharing his story and honoring the life he had.

To those of you who hiked for Matt and hiked for recovery Saturday, thank you from the bottom of my heart. I was so moved to see people getting out, and showing support in literally all four corners of the US. I continue to feel so much compassion reverberating through my community, big and small, and it makes me feel so much more connected and supported through this awful grief. So thank you again, it means so much and helps me keep going, even on days where it seems that the sun will never shine again.

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