The Cost of Mt. Baldy

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This week has been an emotional one. I’ve started this blog post three times now, and the words never seem to quite make sense. I wanted to write about my experience stomping up to the summit of Mt. Baldy this weekend, the grand cycle of emotions I went through to get there, and the tears that nearly froze to my face in the frigid mountain wind. I wanted to write about the pain and injury and healing and recovery I’ve been going through. Or maybe how wiped out my obsessive goal setting has made me; and my constant creation of checklists and to-do notes. These things become words and the words don’t mesh well and I can’t even stand to read my own writing, an act that has become oddly comforting, reminding me that I can take the thoughts from my busy mind and release them, freeing them from cycling over and over in my mind, giving my attention permission to let them go.

This weekend was big. I have recognized the profound effects of supporting friendships on motivation and self-esteem; on belief in myself and the inspiration of confidence. I have recognized the profound effects of the relationship with self on the healing of the body; taking time to care for oneself, prioritizing physical and emotional needs before wants.

And I have recognized the profound effects of my relationship with nature, how it toys with my mind, taunting me deeper, and cycling my emotions. My relationship with the mountains is complicated. They call me, yet I fear them. The lure me in, then abuse me. They occupy my mind, though I oft try to set them aside. I excitedly set out to climb them, yet question my every step, only realizing the mistake was not a mistake when I finally reach a goal I never knew I had.

Mountains and I, we have a strange relationship — particularly Mt. Baldy. I hobbled onto the summit this weekend, holding back tears. Reaching the top, I could not contain myself. I sobbed. I sat and I cried tears of pent-up frustration, of joy, of relief, of disbelief. Six months ago, if you asked me if I’d ever climb up Mt. Baldy with an axe and crampons, I’d have laughed. Not only was that god-awful hill a near impossibility with the condition of my right knee, but in the snow? Six months ago a doctor told me this type of hiking was no longer an option for me. Less than three months ago another doctor told me I’d finally be able to heal again and get strong. Last Monday that doctor told me I was ready to start pushing harder. I pushed hard. Maybe too hard. Every step down to the car was excruciating. Every step down that mountain was a price paid to sit on top of it. To sit on the summit of that hill was costly. And yet I continue to pay, again and again. I’ll get stronger. I’ll keep pushing. It will get easier. But there will always be bigger mountains to climb. And there will always be a price. And I will always be willing to pay. 

Empty the Cup, Make Room

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Being injured is taking a giant emotional toll on me. I’ve been up and down daily. I am missing my connection with nature, forgetting that I don’t need activities to take me outside. Today, after much wavering, after saying I’d do it before and then not doing it, I drove out to the desert just for the hell of it. I figured I had shoes to pick up from Nomad in Joshua Tree anyways, even though I can’t wear them right now. I told myself I’d take just a small walk and snap a few photos.

It’s high tourist season in jtree right now and as I ventured on, I found myself becoming more and more frustrated, wanting be away from people. I didn’t even care where. I pulled over on the road out to cottonwood, and decided to peek my head over a short hill and take a peek at Wilson Canyon. I feel like no one goes here. It’s not the picturesque boulders and Joshua trees they come to town for. It’s standard sand and rock and chaparral.

But it is so quiet. A humming bird flew by and fluttered around the bushes right at my feet. It’s calm. It’s peaceful. It’s content.

I read a note today that I wrote myself a long time ago. I reminded myself that I don’t have to do anything. I put pressure on myself, I take the fun out of things. I push myself to accomplish and I disappoint myself. I’d rather be having fun. I can have fun by relaxing, by doing what I enjoy and enjoying what I do, removing the pressure and changing the way I see need intertwined with desire.

It’s been time for me to scale back, as my knee injury has made it all too necessary to slow down. I don’t spend enough time being slow, and observing; I forget to just be.

Now that I’ve slowed down, removed distractions, I notice I can see more. I can feel more. I’m sitting here on a rock, feeling a breeze ebb and flow, noticing the direction. I can hear birds and insects, a plane above, a car nearby. I can see a splash of color on a monotone hillside, tiny plants sprouting from the earth, subtle patterns in the clouds. Sometimes we must empty out the cup a little, to just let go, to make room for more life.

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Reflections on Meditation

I have some long overdue van updates to come, but I wanted to break from the vanlife news and share something a little deeper and more personal. I used to do a lot of introspective writing, and I have always found great joy in making connections on a deeper level … but it’s also important not to forget about all the fun in things in life! So, while I work on more posts about the Great Winter Vancation, other recent adventures, and updates on the van construction (we installed a roof vent!!!!), I will share a snippet of other things in my life:

I began leaning on a steady meditation practice at the beginning of 2015. I was going through a stressful divorce, creating a new life for myself and seeking out change in any way I could find. The results were life-saving. Yet as time went on, as I felt stronger, my practice had slowly gone by the wayside. As 2016 came to a close, I thought about the things I wanted to change this year, the person I had become, the person I want to be and my journey, past, present and future. I needed to be more steady, more focused, and less chaotic.

These past few months I have been giving myself more inward focused care, and more time to grow my meditation practice. Last week I reached a profound milestone. I have made a promise to my own heart to be a more loving being, to always share compassion with all beings. This is my new everyday — my living, breathing mantra.

Today, during my walking meditation, I imagined myself as a tree — grounded and peaceful. My feet, roots communing with the earth on each step. The hairs on my head, branches and leaves. As I walked, my thoughts and worries and stressors all streamed behind me, taken by the wind and dissolved into the sky. The breeze rustling and multiplying the love in my heart, carrying it far, and wrapping all of my worries in a blanket of compassion before sending them off into the atmosphere. The growing compassion swelling my heart and spreading to the farthest reaches of all humanity. My mind, clearing and making room for all of the love, kindness and compassion absorbed throughout my day and beyond. Like a tree, I am strong and unwavering.

This is a beautiful life I’ve been given and each moment is wasted if not filled with love and kindness.

I am exceedingly fortunate that I am able to have these experiences; that my life has provided me the opportunity to have strong and admirable teachers, mentors and friends. I am thankful for each and everyone of them — and for all who read this, you are loved, even from afar.

A Story About Rape

There are other things I should be doing right now, but instead, I’m compelled to tell this story. In fact, it’s something I should have done a long time ago.

I don’t normally talk about politics at all, but it’s now my turn to speak up and be strong for those that are not yet ready to do so. We’re all in this world together, and it’s all shit if we can’t support and love one another. Until last night, I had no idea what sort of emotions would be stirred up inside me after this election. I can’t take it anymore: I need to talk about one very specific reason why this presidency hurts me.

When I was 21, like many others, I was immature, naive and inexperienced in life. I was living on my own, in a new state, hundreds of miles from home, poor, struggling with depression, attempting to go to school and hold a job. Poor me, right? No, not really … I made a lot of terrible choices. My choices.

When someone rapes you, that is not your choice.

When I was 21, I was stood up for a date and found myself having a drink alone at the bar. But not for long. Two men caught my eye across the room and sent me another drink. Before long we were chatting, laughing and there were more drinks. My suitors were funny and charming and I thought I was having a nice time. As the night came to a close, I wandered to my car in an attempt to sleep in it, however, one of these men followed me and scared me by telling me I’d be sure to get law enforcement’s attention parked where I was, and that it would not end well. He so kindly offered to let me sleep at his place a couple blocks away.

Here I am, vomiting on the beach, with a terrible case of the spins, about to pass out. I remember the cab driver looking concerned. I think I told him I didn’t know this man and I didn’t know where I was going. He did nothing. What choice did I have? I caved and drank all those drinks; I thought I’d be fine. I’d slept on enough couches in that neighborhood, and spent enough time wandering the streets that I felt far too comfortable.

I don’t remember going into the house or even getting out of the car. I remember being in a bed, I remember gaining awareness and what was happening. Then he got up, left me laying there with no pants, went to the living room to watch TV. A little time went by. I found my cell phone. I called someone for help. My rapist heard me and came and took the phone away. I couldn’t even stand up. I lay on the floor listening to him convince my friend that I was fine, I was safe, I just had too much to drink. He came back and told me to go back to sleep and walked away.

I was frantically gathering my things and trying to figure out how to get out of the house in the dark without him noticing, when he walked back in. I finally convinced him that I was leaving, no matter what he said and he so kindly offered to drive me. This is when I realized where I was: in the dawn hours, the sun coming up, I finally saw his home, his street, his neighborhood — one where I had been so many times before. So familiar, yet so strange and now forever blemished in my mind.

I went home and slept if off. And like so many other women, I shrugged my shoulders and called it a bad night. I have one amazing friend to thank for pushing me to stand up for myself — we talked the next day and I will never, ever forget her saying to me, “That’s rape!” 

And again, I shrugged my shoulders and wrote it off. What would anyone do for me? There wasn’t anything anyone could to erase the pain, remove the scar or undo this violation. They would tell me I was asking for it. That I was a party girl, and I put myself in a dangerous situation. I would be shamed. But it was not my fault. I got to decide to make some stupid choices, but I didn’t decide to take my clothes off, and I didn’t decide to have my body violated. I didn’t decide to be used. 

However, thanks to my friend, I chose to go through the painstaking, emotional process of filing a police report, adding a strike, should my rapist ever repeat himself. I wouldn’t be telling this story if it wasn’t for her. And to this day, I don’t know if she even knows that how strong I grew to be was largely because of her.

Today, I am thinking about the women who our new President violated. I think about how I would feel if my rapist was in the White House, and I would think about all the people around me who chose this. I would think about people taking a side, supporting this man who cared so little for me — someone who cared so little about another human being, that their thoughts and feelings were completely meaningless to them. I am thinking about how isolating and painful that would feel, and I want to change that. I want every woman dealing with this to know that she is not alone. I’m completely, utterly, flagrantly insulted by so many Americans right now. We, as a country, have sent a clear message that rape culture is not going away.

We need to keep fighting. 

I Am Not Fearless

It is a misconception that some things require one to be fearless. Those who climb rocks, scale mountains, sleep under the stars … those who adventure beyond the norm are expected to be always strong, resilient, bold and brave.

I am not fearless.

I carry, always, a small seed of fear; the question “what if?” always lingering. I fear with an irrational bent. I am claustrophobic with great intensity. I have strange, random and unwarranted anxieties.

And yet, I climb on. I continue planning trips into the wilderness. Why? Because it’s brilliant to face your fears. It’s thrilling to look at what scares you right in the eye and say, “bring it.” Because I know I can do it, whatever it is, in spite of my fears. I take with me, seated right next to that seed of fear, a great ball of confidence. Confidence in knowing my capabilities and know what my challenges are. I know what I’m ready to face, and I know that I’ll always be afraid, and I know, most importantly, that I’m going to be glad I followed through; glad I took the chance. I will never regret trying that hard thing.

Yesterday I read about the missing hiker, Robert “Bob” Woodie. We were so close; maybe on the same trail, on the same day. He was okay when we were nearby. He sent an “ok” signal that day, just a few miles from where I had been. I reached out to the agency involved with as much information as I could pull out of my memories of last weekend. I want them to find him so badly. A week out in poor weather conditions is not promising for a 74 year old hiker, but I still hope. I hope for many things … for safety and health, for lack of suffering, for answers, for conclusions, for bonding the outdoor community together.

I think about these great people working in our National Parks, our wilderness areas, our SAR volunteers — people who are just average people, just like the rest of us — and I think, “what is making them so great?” Is it because they are fearless? Or are they are feeling that fear, just as I am, and going forth in spite of it?

I don’t know what, in simple terms, makes someone great. I’m sure there are pages and pages of discussion on the topic, but I don’t want to demystify it. I believe that we can all be great in our own capacity, when we believe we can, when we just do the thing our heart leads us to do.

We all have the capacity to be great.

Bob Woodie, in his way, is great. He is a human being, in his 70s, getting out into the world; being in the world. He is a human that has been really living. I don’t know him, nor do I know anything about him, but I know he went outside carrying his pack, and he was great. And I admire him for it.

If anyone was in the the area near Bishop Pass, Dusy Basin, Barrett Lakes, or Le Conte Canyon between October 13th and now, please reach out to the NPS:  

https://www.nps.gov/seki/learn/news/search-continues-for-missing-hiker-robert-bob-woodie.htm

On Backpacking

It’s always fascinating to me how carrying a pack changes the way in which I hike. Physically, as well as emotionally. I find that the weight changes the way that I step, creating a methodical, purposeful walk that carries with it the feel of a pilgrimage — something of spiritual journey; a mission of self-discovery. I put effort into the balance of the weight, minimizing the inevitable discomfort, learning through every step how to be with this experience that is so far outside of my everyday existence.

By the end of the first day, typically with the last few miles, the final switchbacks, the crest of the summit in sight, I find myself wondering why on earth I would do such a thing. I ask myself time and time again why I would venture this far from creature comforts, from the reclusive hideaway of a warm, soft home. I tell myself I shouldn’t try so hard to do this; I should find another hobby to spend my time off doing. I re-hydrate my dinner, I have a bit of chocolate, I methodically arrange my sleeping space. I fall asleep with fresh air on my face, the trees and sky visible through the tent mesh, the sound of the breeze through the branches. I turn in the night, the rustling of the wind in the tent fabric audible through the thin veil of wilderness sleep.

Before I know it, I’ve slept through sunrise. The morning air is cool and crisp and I become refreshed at the thought of another mountain day. I methodically go through my morning routine, savoring every purposeful step. I note the tenderness in my hips where my pack’s belt sits. My shoulders and back feel used, my leg muscles a little tight, my body feeling strong. I nurse my knee with some Ibuprofen and I am happy to feel it gaining strength as time goes on. I pack up my things and realize that by the morning of day two, I never want to go home.

In the wilderness, nothing matters aside from the here and now. The moment you are in is the most important moment, and the people you are with become the most important people. Everyone you see is brethren; you all share a connection that can only be gained by venturing off the grid. All of a sudden your cell phone doesn’t matter; you couldn’t care less about your inbox, or your mailbox, or your anything else. Your house could burn down and you would cease to care until you were back on the grid. In fact, it’s quite possible that you would care far less, regardless — after all, the mountains want you back.

The Simple Life – Part 2

Downsizing is hard.

Packing is hard.

Moving is a hassle.

This is pretty much how I’ve been feeling every single time I walk through my front door. As such, I have been avoiding walking through my front door. It’s not helping. I have these moments where I plow through a ton of things, tossing and donating and selling and giving away like a mad woman. And then following these moments are long lulls in activity where I’m at such a complete loss of what to do that I end up just walking away … or zombie staring at an open closet for what feels like decades, eventually closing it with nothing accomplished.

I’m dedicating my entire day tomorrow to Getting Things Done. I have a simple (yet fairly long), easy-to-follow, step-by-step to-do list that outlines the things I am confident I can (and must) accomplish beginning tomorrow and ending on Sunday. I plan to break for exercise and nourishment, and end the day with a much shorter to-to list.

Game on.

In other news, I packed my parents the other night. I found slight humor in adding their urns to a box of things; this is the first time they’ve been out of the cupboard in my bedroom since they’ve been put there. I’m also snickering a little inside thinking about which friend will load this box into the moving truck and if they will notice the label that reads, “Mom and Dad.” Maybe they’ll think that it is full of things pertaining to Mom and Dad? I suppose, in a way, it is. Maybe I should reconsider my label … “human remains?” Maybe, “actual parents?” … “ashes?” This could go in so many directions.

And of course on a more serious note, I have shed that feeling of panic toward getting rid of things and am very happily looking forward to living a more minimalist life. I’ve come to terms with easing into things and really thinking through my purchases, sales and donations before moving forward.

And lastly, I wanted to share this podcast I listened to this morning:

http://www.thisamericanlife.org/radio-archives/episode/584/for-your-reconsideration

Act three was hilarious and heartwarming. Act one was interesting. What really struck me was Act two. I won’t give too much away, but this found me at the right time. I have been struggling with just doing things, setting aside my (often irrational) fears and just doing, and this really hit home.

Sometimes you need something to remind you to get out and really live.