TALK 12 - San Francisco REI (Part Three)



The second person to walk into the room for this talk is a woman with kind eyes. There is always at least one person like this, and I’m drawn to them like a moth to a flame when I give this talk. A lot of what I discuss is heavy, and to avoid looking at the ground or doing this talk with my eyes closed, I try to identify a handful of people to whom I can deliver some of the more impactful parts of the story.

On tour, I describe the unpacking process I went through between Little Harbor and Two Harbors on the #TransCatalinaTrail. It started with me standing at the trash can with a tube of deodorant, and as I was contemplating what to do with it (turns out packing deodorant on a backpacking trip is a complete waste of time), Barry walked by and said,

“Ditch the deodorant, embrace your stink.”

I smelled my pits, and they were ripe, of course, but some important dots were connecting for me. Mine was unpleasant in that moment, but we all have a scent. It’s part of what makes me, me. So all the way up this difficult climb on Catalina Island, I worked through all the things that folks have been telling me I need to change about my body and appearance.


The first story I share from this section of the hike is about my thumbs. Growing up, and kids being kids, my sister gave me so much shit about my thumbs. At the time, it was my deeply held belief that boys didn’t like girls with toe-thumbs and it was my duty to keep my toe-thumbs hidden from anyone and everyone so I would have a shot in hell at making friends or meeting boys. I walked around for most of my adolescence with my thumbs tucked in a fist, hidden from the rest of the world.

As I recount this story, I show my thumbs to the audience. As I did, I hear a voice call out:

“Sister! Me too!”

The lady with the kind eyes is waving her thumbs at me. I’ve never seen this before. I stop what I’m doing, walk over to her, and we thumb-bump, like folks fist-bump each other as a greeting. No shit, she’s got little thumbs too.

I pick up where I left off and continue the talk. When I get to the part between Two Harbors and Parson’s Landing, I know this lady can handle it if I look at her while I share some of the terrible things people have said to me. Every time I look up from my sheet of paper to scan the room, she’s smiling. Every time I connect with her to share a line, she nods knowingly. This is the kind of nod that is shared between people who have survived some hard stuff.

I make it through the list, and when I get to my closing points, my first one is:

Get help. Treat the wound.

Because here’s the thing about trauma, it’s not a scratch - it’s an open wound. If I were sitting with you right now, sharing my story over a cup of tea, and I sustained a compound fracture on my arm - bone out of skin - you’d say “hey, cute story about the hiking, let’s get you to the hospital.”

But we don’t do that with emotional trauma. We tell folks to suck it up. Stop crying. If we’re lucky, our parents have done the work and can guide us through these tough chapters in our life. Unfortunately, most of us don’t have parents who have healed their traumas. The generations before us were stoic, kept to themselves, didn’t complain, wore their toughness as a badge of honor. On top of that, most of us don’t have access to therapy. So when we ignore our emotional pain, it manifests in different ways in our bodies.

I go on to acknowledge that not everyone’s trauma is sexual assault, and I illustrate the different kinds of trauma that folks in the room may have survived: divorce, domestic violence, bullying in school, loss of a loved one, fertility issues, car accidents, terminal illnesses, the whole gamut. Whether the trauma was physical or emotional, I truly believe we all have it. Whether or not we can look inside these backpacks we all carry (#traumapack) and start to unpack it is another story.

As I’m listing off the different kinds of trauma, this woman is nodding. Her eyes are a bit watery. I know she sees me, and in this moment, I see her too.

After the talk, she comes up to me. Her name is Jan. I’m thankful to have a name so I can properly address this woman who helped me through this talk, unbeknownst to her. She thanked me for sharing my story, for standing in my truth. She shared that she and her husband were also adventure buddies, and since he passed, she’s been continuing the adventures they always talked about taking: that trip to Alaska, hiking around Zion, and more.

When we head out to the van to give folks a tour of our home and adventure mobile, the space where Barry and I have upleveled our marriage time and time again since we sold everything we owned and went all-in on Hiking My Feelings, I’m thinking of how lucky we are to share this life together. How I don’t want to waste a single moment on anything that takes away from the joy and love and growth that is available to us in this chapter.

As I wrap up the tour of the van, Barry pulls us aside and asks if he can snap a photo of us with our matching thumbs. Jan and I get close, arms extended, thumbs pointing at the camera, giggling like children on a playground.

She may be older than me, and this may be the first time we met, but in this moment, I feel a solidarity and understanding that I haven’t felt before. Something as trivial as different thumbs took a lot of effort to hide when I was growing up, and in this moment, with Jan by my side, I give the biggest thumbs up I possibly can.

These thumbs may be small, but they are mighty. And standing in the parking lot at the San Francisco REI, standing next to a woman who truly sees me and understands a part of me that not many other people truly can, I felt another wave of relief. Another exhale.

As she gets ready to leave, we share a long hug, and she thanks me again for being brave and sharing my story.

I watch her head to her car, making picture memories in my mind and locking in this feeling of being seen. I know everything is temporary, and I want to have this moment to call on when I’m feeling down or need a bit of inspiration to keep going.

As I turn back toward the van, there is a man from the audience lingering. I can tell he has some questions.

This talk started with a bit of chaotic energy, most of the folks who signed up didn’t show up because this day was the first sunny and clear day we’ve seen in the Bay Area since we got here in May, and once again, I am so grateful for the opportunity to share this story, no matter how many people show up to hear it. Whether it’s five people or 50 people, it’s always worth the effort. I always feel incredible when I’m done.

And I’ve still got some questions to answer for this guy who is sticking around to the very end.

I extend my hand, “hey there, I’m Sydney, do you have any questions I can answer?”

“Yes,” he replies. “Can you do this talk with Chinese subtitles?”

(to be continued)