Reflections on Pregnancy and a Cross-Country Move

The night before I moved over two thousand miles away from my hometown in Chattanooga, I found out I was pregnant. I broke the news to Caleb the next morning, before we loaded our last things in the U-Haul and set off from Tennessee to Oregon. It was early August. Since that January Caleb and I had worked towards moving out west—the land of wide-open beauty and wilderness untouched. We had quit our jobs in April and embarked on a three-week road trip in my gunmetal-gray Scion, scoping out various cities along the way—Fort Collins, Missoula, Bozeman, Boise—the hope being one would call out to us, in a whisper or a shout, telling us we’d reached our home.

After fourteen days on the road, however, I was exhausted from sleeping uncomfortably in our compact car at highway rest stops; I was dirty from bathing every few days in the hot springs and rivers we passed; and I was discouraged from not yet finding the place where we believed, perhaps too romantically, we’d belong. Then we approached Bend, a town in Central Oregon surrounded by the coniferous Cascade Range and Three Sisters Wilderness. The sun was setting over the mountains as we cruised down Highway 20, the only car out with a show of violet light and glowing peaks before us, a gentle answer to our burning question of where we should live.

Back in Chattanooga, we got to work, strategically planning our move to Bend in a way that wouldn’t leave us penniless or on the streets. Everyone we contacted who knew anything about Bend told us the same thing: the job market was impossible to crack into, and housing was limited and overpriced.

Several weeks went by of unanswered job applications and of us being added to waitlist after waitlist for apartments in our dream town. I began to lose hope that Bend would work out. However, Caleb, who is a master networker and one who, when he puts his mind to a thing, never backs down, didn’t doubt we’d get to our chosen home. As a result, in June he scored a job as a production engineer at Nosler, a major ammunition manufacturer located in none other than Bend, Oregon.

It seemed like everything was falling into place. I was days away from releasing my memoir, Mile 445, which chronicles my epic solo adventure on the Pacific Crest Trail where I met and married Caleb. Caleb had been offered a great job, a sweet victory amidst our many Bend naysayers. And now we were going to have a baby—a sort-of surprise, but one we welcomed with joy.

We even landed an affordable apartment the day we arrived in Bend, our few belongings and Siamese cat in tow.

“I told you everything would work out, Claire,” Caleb sweetly said as we lay our heads to rest that night on our blow-up camping pads.

“You were right,” I said, full of excitement and eagerness for all that was to come.

Little did I know that what was to come would make me daily question why on God’s green earth we made this move at all.

***

Be careful what you wish for. This thought started jabbing into me like a splinter too deep to remove two weeks after we moved to Bend. Caleb had started his job, and my morning sickness had kicked in. Of course, morning sickness is a misnomer. A more accurate name should be all-day sickness, or, how about, twenty-four hours of hell, seven days a week sickness.

I hate to be dramatic, but for eight straight weeks from sunup to sunup, that was my life: a hell of nausea and weakness and vomit, where the devil himself appeared before my sense of taste and smell in the form of poultry, pork, and beef—raw or cooked, unseasoned or pan-seared with spice.

For eight straight weeks, all I could stomach were bananas, bagels, eggs, and saltines. I tried ginger chews, peppermint tea, sea bands, lemon water, and more to try and reduce my extreme nausea. But nothing worked. I lost six pounds as well as my desire to do anything. I spent my days in bed, pitiful and sick. I became lonely and depressed, dwelling on the fact that I had moved all the way across the country to a place where I had no family or friends, and a husband who was away at work all day. I felt sorry for myself, and I felt like a colossal loser. Never in my life had I been so debilitated by the way I physically felt, and never in my life had I been so unmotivated to work or play or write.

I’m a producer by nature, a go-getter, an athlete, one who loves to explore and work hard, sink my teeth into a thing. As such, I felt punished by my pregnancy, paralyzed by it, at a loss. Then I felt ashamed of myself: sleeping during the day instead of applying for jobs and promoting my new book; watching Netflix or reading nasty campaign gossip instead of going for a walk outside; letting the dirty dishes pile up (as the sight of caked-on, soggy food fired up my queasiness and sent me sprinting for the toilet). Caleb never once made me feel bad about any of this. He told me to rest and take it easy. He asked me what he could do to help. He reassured me over and over again that I wasn’t worthless, that I was growing a life inside of me—something he could never do—and that for me to be doing that right now was enough.

I didn’t listen to Caleb. Instead, I clung to my own damaging wisdom, comparing myself to all the women in my life who, I assumed, never let their pregnancies drag them down. I dug a hole for myself in my sorrow, then filled it in with my thoughts of self-pity. Why did we move here? I miss my family. I want to go home.

I cried on the sunniest of days. I distanced myself from my loving husband. I prayed to God to please let me feel better. I shook my fist at Him when He didn’t.

I knew I was reacting terribly to this whole thing. And yet, I reacted terribly anyway. I wish I could say I had this profound epiphany in which I decided to change my attitude and simply be thankful for all I’d recently been given instead of bitter and sad about it. But the truth is it wasn’t until I was fourteen weeks pregnant, when the nausea finally began to abate, that I began to perk up. Not before then, unfortunately—except for the brief moment two weeks earlier when I was at my doctor’s appointment and saw my baby for the first time. My doctor had turned off the lights in the room for the ultrasound. Caleb leaned forward in his seat. Then the doctor had me recline in the hospital chair. She wiped the cold, clear gel on my stomach and then rolled the transducer probe over it. And like magic, a black and white figure of a tiny being—head, body, and a little bent leg—popped onto the computer screen next to me.

“So there’s really a baby in there,” I said, mostly to myself, in awe. I didn’t want the doctor to make the image of this real, live child go dark.

The doctor gave Caleb and me the ultrasound photo. We tacked it to the middle of our fridge. Now, when I see this photo, I see it is a picture of hope—a picture of a purpose far greater than the pain I have and will endure on this nine-month journey. It’s a picture of life. The life I now carry. And this is my profound epiphany. That it’s not about me anymore. It was never supposed to be anyway. And I’m sorry, truly sorry, that I spent so much time sulking about as if it was.

I’m sixteen weeks pregnant now, and I hope for a clean slate. I hope for a healthy and happy baby. I hope I do a good job at keeping my baby safe and comfortable as he or she grows. No deli meat. No wine. No hot baths. No taking out the kitty litter (sorry, Caleb). Yoga and water aerobics (even if it means I stick out in a class of all old ladies). A strong and positive mind. A thankful heart. A peaceful soul. An unshakable love for this gift of life inside.

Mile 445 Book Release!

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I’m incredibly excited to announce that the day has finally come. Mile 445 is now available on Amazon as a paperback. The Kindle version will be out in less than two weeks, at which time I’ll send you an update with a link.

So … buckle up for a wild adventure of love, loss, and life in the mystical mountains. And please help spread the word! Thank you for staying tuned during this process of publishing Mile 445, and I hope you enjoy the journey!

Click the link below to access Mile 445 on Amazon. Happy day!

Mile 445 on Amazon

Round 2 for the Win!

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It’s a happy day here in New Jersey (where Caleb and I are currently visiting his beautiful family). My editor returned Mile 445 to me with the second round of edits complete. She gave a great review of the book, saying, “I would be hard pressed to find any downside to this fascinating story.”

Maybe I’m tooting my own horn by sharing the above, but in the words of my granddad, Papa, “She who does not tooteth her own horn, may never have it tootethed.”

Really, I’m excited and eager to share this upbeat and encouraging news that those in the literary world find Mile 445 to be an incredible adventure and quality read. I can’t wait to get it in your hands. Just a few more steps/weeks and the book will be ready for its release.

In the meantime, here’s a snippet of what my editor, Cindy @ CreateSpace, had to say about Mile 445:

“Mile 445 is a lively, engaging story of one woman’s hike on the Pacific Crest Trail. I would be hard pressed to find any downside to this fascinating story. What could have been dull, descriptive text was created in a lively, fresh narrative, with lots of interesting—and very well defined—characters. The “hook” in the story is her meeting the love of her life and getting married. The dialogue is real and fresh, and the reader continues to wonder what happens next, right until the very end.”

Stay tuned!

P.S. the cover photo was taken last night at Seaside Boardwalk on the Jersey Shore … a must visit!

Part of the Process

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Good morning!

This is just an update on Mile 445 to let you know the first round of edits for the memoir has been returned. It’s like receiving an essay back from your teacher … only comments and corrections are done digitally rather than with a red pen. Editors serve to catch what a writer missed, offer a fresh, unbiased perspective, and strengthen the writer’s work as a whole. They are crucial players in this writing game, and I am thankful for my editor and her thoughtful and thorough efforts.

Now I get to go back in to polish up Mile 445 based on the editor’s suggestions. What a process! But I love it. It’s about the process anyways, the different layers of work and the hours you must put in. You must love the process of writing to be a writer, I think. For me, it is great and rewarding! At the same time, I can’t wait to get Mile 445 in your hands.

There will be a second round of editing once I do my part to finalize the first round. Mile 445 is still on track to be released this summer, and I am very excited about the quality of this book.

You’re in for a great adventure, so stay tuned! 

The Windshield Washer

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In Oregon, gas station attendants still pump your gas. Caleb and I were on our way from Boise to Bend. Caleb was driving while I lay half asleep in the passenger’s seat, my chair leaned back, bare feet spread out on the dash. I heard the voices when Caleb got off Route 20 to fill up at a Sinclair. But I was in a dream state, not really aware of what was going on. 

I cracked my eyes open. A guy, 25 or so with shaggy hair and baggy pants, was washing our bug-splashed windshield with a squeegee while our empty tank guzzled gas from the pump. I closed my eyes again and the squeak from the squeegee ceased. 

“Thank you,” I heard Caleb say when the attendant finished his job. It was time to get back on the road, return to the hot afternoon asphalt. But Caleb didn’t budge. And right before I fell completely asleep, I heard the sweep of the squeegee start up again, and a voice of a different guy say, “It bothered me that there were still smudges on the window.”

I didn’t think anything more of this highway-stop exchange until two days later, after Caleb and I toured around Bend (which is a beautiful and lively town with a tight and loving community outside the Three Sisters Wilderness). It was Monday, and we were back on the road, our quest for home keeping strong. We went out the same way we came in to reach Bend. A few hours into the evening drive, the gas gauge sank into the red. 

“We’ll need to get gas at the next exit,” I said, driving. 

This reminded Caleb of something. “I didn’t tell you this before. But you know how you were sleeping when we were driving into Bend?”

“Yeah,” I said. 

“Well, when I stopped to get gas, I tipped the attendant two dollars.”

“That’s okay. I guess that’s what you’re supposed to do,” I said, neither sure of proper protocol for when someone pumps your gas, nor of what Caleb was getting at.

“But what you don’t know is that after the first attendant pumped the gas and washed the windshield, another guy came over before I left and rewashed the windshield because the first attendant did such a poor job.”

“Oh,” I said. “Yeah, now I remember hearing someone say the smudges on our window bothered him or something.”

“Right. That was the second attendant. He had just finished pumping gas for the truck in front of us when he ran over to our car to pick up his coworker’s slack. He didn’t have to do that. And then I just drove off after he made our windshield shine. But I should have tipped him like 10 bucks and said, ‘Nice attention to detail.'”  

“Ah, I see,” I said, understanding Caleb wished he had better expressed his gratitude to the one who genuinely cared, who went above and beyond not for glory, but for service. “Maybe next time.” 

“Maybe next time,” he said.

I took the next exit and pulled into a Sinclair. 

“Hey, this is where we got gas last time,” Caleb realized. “And that’s the guy there, the second attendant, the one who rewashed our windshield.” He pointed to the young man approaching us. 

I rolled down the window and handed the attendant our credit card. He pumped our gas and washed our windshield in a courteous and professional manner. 

“This is your time of redemption,” I whispered to Caleb so the attendant wouldn’t hear. 

“It is,” Caleb said, digging through his wallet. He slipped me a 10 dollar bill. When the attendant finished, I handed him the cash and Caleb leaned over me to say, “Great attention to detail, man!”  

The attendant graciously accepted the tip. If he knew we were the car he rewashed a few days ago, he didn’t let on. 

“Oh, thank you. Thank you very much,” he said, his face a picture of humility. 

He tipped his Sinclair hat at us then walked away, off to the car behind that had just pulled in for gas.

Up from the Ash

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At Craters of the Moon, flowers grew up from the ash. It was afternoon, hot and dry on an Idaho June day. Over the last two days, Caleb and I had traveled east on one-lane highways from the snowcapped Sawtooth Range to the national monument. All in all, we had been on the road two weeks, camping and living out of our car, searching to find a home. 

I hadn’t showered in six days, since the hotel we splurged on in Bozeman. As we drove to today’s destination, the car stunk of overheated bananas and sweaty socks–even with the windows rolled down. The ice in the cooler was melted and our plastic-wrapped meats and carrots floated in cold water. You could hear the jumbled slosh when we took a turn too fast. 

We were in the high desert; mountains without trees and sagebrush painted this part of the world. We passed a sign saying Craters of the Moon was ahead. That’s when we pulled off on the side of the highway, behind an RV with Arizona license plates that read, “HotDang.”

“Time to wash up,” I said to Caleb as we walked a short trail from the road through black rock and brush. 

The trail led to Wild Rose Hot Springs, a natural pool four feet deep and 12 feet across sizzling at 111 degrees Fahrenheit. A ridge blanketed by long yellow grass surrounded the pool. Globs of dark lava rock made up the walls to the hot water flowing up from an underground stream. The water was clear as a clean window. 

Caleb and I wouldn’t have had a clue the hot springs existed if not for the guidebook our friend from Chattanooga loaned us before we left. Sometimes, the best things around are right in front of your face and all you need is a little guidance to see them. That was this book for us. It showed maps and illuminated information on hot springs in Idaho, Washington, and Oregon. As it turned out, though we were in an area of great sun and little water, many hot springs thrived throughout this part of the Gem State. The water bubbled out from the reedy marsh as we stripped to our underwear and dipped in, soaking our bodies whole in this place of seeming drought. 

It felt like a bath from above–perfect and pure. The owners of the RV we parked behind were asleep in their portable home, so we had the pool to ourselves. The breeze blew the water to ripples like music to a dance. The pool warmed me to the bone. I picked up some rocky silt from the bottom and scrubbed my travel-worn skin. The guidebook said the springs were on public lands, but the actual pool resided on an acre owned by the Milford Sweat family. Fortunately, the family allowed the public to use the pool so long as people respected it. No soap, no shampoo, no glass, said the guidebook. Pack out what you pack in. Swimwear advised. 

Back on the road, black fields of lava rock spread out from the highway as far as the eye could see. It looked like the earth had exploded and the rubble had been soaked by tar. Though, this moon-like land really resulted from a series of volcanic eruptions that released their blazing wrath between 15,000 and 2,000 years ago. We learned this at the Craters of the Moon visitor center after we arrived. The ranger standing outside, next to a telescope pointed at the sun, recited what he knew. 

“All you see before and around you is cinders and hardened lava,” he said, the sweat glistening from his face though his full brim hat shaded that part of him. He went on to say the lava erupted from the Great Rift, this intricate grid of deep cracks that snake out from the visitor center for over 50 miles. “During the eruptions,” the ranger said, “the lava fields flooded the land, 618 square miles of it in all, leaving this landscape of burnt crumbled rock and hills of fruitless ash.”

But the incredible thing was this: the hills weren’t fruitless, but filled with colorful life. As Caleb and I drove through and hiked around the park, we kept seeing it: the out of place vitality. Upon the cinder hills spitting up from this scorched and scarred terrain, thousands of flowers blossomed. They were small and low to the ground, a carpet of purple, white, and yellow petals sprouting from the ash. Hardly anything else grew. A bent-over pine here and there. But somehow these tiny wildflowers thrived. 

For me, it was a sign of hope. With 14 days on the road behind us, I was getting weary, burned out, from my and Caleb’s quest to find a home out west. Already, we had checked out several towns where we felt we didn’t belong. Thus we kept on our journey. It was good and eye-opening, a time of freedom and exploration. But it was also draining. Living out of a little car for miles and miles and miles without knowing where we’d end up had sparked the eruption of my doubts.

Then came the flowers.

“They shouldn’t be here,” I said to Caleb as we crouched on a cinder hill to better see their rooted strength.

Caleb nodded his head. “They defied their adversity,” he said.

Yes, I thought as we stood among their humble radiance. They followed their truer calling to grow  towards the sun instead of wither in the soot. Their soil is cinders, but they latch to some deeper, some more powerful Nutrient none of us can see, I thought. It was like a picture of faith, these flowers. It was like they believed they could survive and even flourish in these harsh and challenging realms, and so they did. And they do, I marveled. They were victors of the greatest kind. The ones that pushed through the tough times–the soil of hot cinders–to ultimately shine in a hardened land for all to see and reap hope from. 

And with that, our quest for home continued.

Fantastic Things

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Blodgett creek sings through the yellow-rock canyon. We’re in Bitterroot National Forest in Montana. Caleb is napping in our orange portable hammock, swaying in the breeze between the pines by the water. I’m writing in my journal at the wooden picnic table at our campsite, which is really the day use area, but because all the other spots were full, the camp host with a beer belly and missing teeth kindly told us to set up down here by the creek, which is really much nicer than the gravel pads the campground offers.

It is early evening; the sun shines between the passing clouds. Summer light here stays out until 10 p.m. We’ve been in Montana for four days, scouting out potential homes in Bozeman, Helena, and Missoula. Before Montana, we checked out Devil’s Tower in Wyoming. It is the most striking formation in the natural world I’ve ever seen: a gray stone pillar textured all the way around with geometric rock columns standing roughly 1,200 feet above the Missouri River, watching over the red clay hills and soft green pastures of the Black Hills like a visible god.

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During our time at this wonder, we learned it is a sacred place to Native Americans, where they pilgrimage to pray and give homage each year. On a plaque in the field called Prairie Dog Town–below the tower, near where we camped–there is a quote from one Native who wrote, “There are things in nature that engender an awful quiet in the heart of man; Devil’s Tower is one of them.” And this is true.


We also learned how Devil’s Tower came to be. According to Kiowa legend, seven sisters and a brother were at play one day in the field. The brother was struck dumb and fell to his hands and feet. Fur grew over his skin; claws ripped out from his fingers. He transformed into a vicious bear and tried to kill his sisters. The sisters ran for their lives, eventually coming up on the stump of a great tree. “Climb up me!” the stump said. As the sisters obeyed, the tree started to rise to the sky. The bear scratched and clawed at the rising bark but could not snatch the sisters. When the tree stopped growing it placed the seven sisters in the sky, and they are now known as the stars of the Pleiades. What placed them there is Devil’s Tower.


The Natives originally called this unique growth Bear Lodge. It was Colonel Richard Dodge—leader of the military quest for gold in the Black Hills in 1875—who named it Devil’s Tower, a name American Indians dislike because of its negative connotation since, to them, the tower is a place of profound power and holiness. Regarding this, Arvol Looking Horse of the Cheyenne River Sioux Tribe said it is “a very sacred ceremony place, it’s like a church, it’s a way of life here.” And I felt the truth of this as well.

The night we camped there–at our country’s first national monument–Caleb and I walked the trail to its colossal base, which is 1,000 feet in diameter. At one time, Devil’s Tower was believed to be the core of an ancient volcano. Now scientists consider it an igneous intrusion—a process they say involved the rising and cooling of molten magma underground, then the erosion of sedimentary rock over millions of years.

The sun had disappeared behind the hills when we reached the rock rubble (which looked like remnants from where the earth’s core seemed to have exploded into the sky) surrounding the formidable tower. Rock climbers were starting to come down. I read in the park map that some 5,000 climbers travel to Devil’s Tower each year to rope up and reach the teardrop-shaped peak. The Natives find this act disrespectful. In 1996, Arvol Looking Horse said, “It affects us psychologically and spiritually…When people climb on this sacred butte and hammer metal objects into it, the butte is defiled and our worship is intruded upon. It is like they pounded something into our bodies.”

But climbers don’t see it this way. They worship the tower not on bended knee from the bottom, but with gripped fingers in the rising skin of the stone. They offer reverence to this sacred site not through peaceful prayers, but through pounding hearts and pouring sweat.

Caleb and I revered this spiritual place by laying on a rock at the tower’s base and scaling it with our eyes. It seemed so out of place, like a tumor of the land, only majestic instead of awful. The stars appeared one by one as we gazed up in silence, our contemplation ablaze like a crackling fire, like the glowing sky. When the total night turned the tower to a giant silhouette, we got up and walked the road back to our site. The stars became brighter and brighter on our walk, and Caleb pointed out the Milky Way, which he calls Galaxy Dust.

He ignited his flashlight every few minutes to illuminate our surroundings, but we mostly walked in the dark, led by the stars and soaring steeple of stone. One time when Caleb turned on the flashlight and swept it across the road and land, something rustled high in a tree. Caleb directed the light towards the animal and we saw a rodent-like creature scamper up to the tallest branch. It was small and sweet looking and afraid. But it had a plan of escape. Before our eyes it jumped up into the air, spread its furry wings, and glided to the evergreen across the road.

“Whoa!” Caleb cried, chasing the magical critter that kept flying from tree to tree with his flashlight.

“A flying squirrel,” I said, rapt by its precise and graceful moves.

The animal gained a spot on our list of the fantastic things we keep finding out here on the road.