Aging is Awesome.

I love getting old.

Well, “old” is subjective.

But I don’t feel like a kid anymore, and I’m certainly not a young adult. In fact, most of my hair is white. Even though I keep it died black, the roots are getting brighter and brighter. After I die it, I have a subtle brown streak — which is actually a spot of very white hair underneath it all. My mother had something very similar. It was her skunk stripe, and it was next to impossible to permanently color it. We also both went grey very early on.

I appreciate every moment when I realize how naive I was when I was young, and a revel in the moments when I recognize that I am gaining the wisdom that only comes with age and life experience. I am finally able to calmly absorb criticism and get excited to learn something new. I only wish I had more time to do and learn more things. I no longer feel like there is so much life ahead of me — instead I feel as if I’m in the thick of it, and the time to really live is not only right now, but every day, always. I say yes more often. I face my fears more frequently.

I move slower, but I’m more honest with myself. I’m finally able to embarrass young people by mocking them. I wear “old lady” shoes because they are comfortable, rather than because they are fashionable. I don’t mind being silly or ridiculous in public, and laughing is more important that looking good.

That said, I find myself pulled in many directions as I fight to fit in all the things I want to do every day. Some things are obligatory responsibilities, others are an investment in my health, and the rest ignite an amazing passion within me … or maybe just because they are more fun that the alternatives. That leaves me taking breaks from blogging, even though I have always loved to write.

However ….

I have started filling my notebook with ideas again. I have been taking notes, starting drafts, talking about ideas and directions and I’ve very excited. This summer I want to talk about adventures, what I’ve been learning, how to be inspired, and how to stay safe. I will also have about a million photos and adventures to share from the French Alps in a few weeks!

More and more I have been learning and growing from the outdoor community around me, and I am increasingly and continually in awe, oozing with appreciation, and building my motivation. There is so much wonderful out there. I aim to experience as much of it as possible. Stay tuned.

Shorts, Mountains and Goals

I’ve been binge listening to the She Explores podcast and you should, too. I surprisingly discovered it recently through the Luna Grey Fiber Arts Instagram account. Episode one hit me like a ton of bricks. I completely related. If something scares you, you should probably do it.

I kept listening and more and more I found myself moving from intimidation to understanding to connection. I continue to find myself comparing my life to the lives of others, always placing myself at a deficit: not good enough, not skilled enough, not experienced enough, not brave enough. But that’s not reality. What is real is that I am adventuring in my own way, in my own time, and my life is not comparable to others, just as others’ are not comparable to mine, or to each other. We are all individuals, mapping our own journeys through life, discovering our inner-most selves and figuring out what makes us tick. I find that I oft surround myself with people who I think push harder than I do — but I realized that maybe I am pushing just as hard. They motivate me to keep going, to make it to the next level. They have more experience and more fitness than I do right now, but that doesn’t make my effort worth less.

Two weekends ago I attempted a climb that I wasn’t sure I was ready for, but I had a distance goal and an emotional goal. Five of us set out to climb the Mt. Whitney Mountaineers Route as part of our training for a trip to the French Alps this summer. I was out of my element and I was nervous; the others had their own goals, which I found more admirable than my own (and part of my goal was to be emotionally comfortable with this variance). To my surprise however, we met someone else with an entirely different goal; someone who upended my entire emotional outlook for this trip.

We met Harrison only meters from Iceberg Lake. He rounded the bend in shorts and tennis shoes with microspikes. We were head-to-toe windproof, waterproof and insulated; just a handful of gear junkies obsessed with every winter gear sale on the internet. Harrison bought his REI shorts second-hand. How was he not cold?

I looked at my friends and said, “he’s going to Canada.”

And Harrison was indeed going to Canada. By foot. In shorts.

We camped together next to the frozen, snow covered lake and I learned a little about Alaskan salmon fishing, and a lot about myself. I don’t know if I’d call the snow hike to Iceberg Lake the hardest physical thing I’ve ever done — maybe yes, maybe no, and maybe it is all relative — but it was hard emotionally and mentally. Very hard. My knee is healing and I’m stronger than I have been in a very long time, but training in the gym or in the comfort of familiar places did not prepare me for the alpine environment. Breathing at 12,000 ft, with no appetite, everything tasting like cardboard, forcing myself to eat and drink and take deep breathes; fighting anxiety, a bout of depression and claustrophobia … it was the same roller coaster I went through on Baldy two weeks ago, minus the extra knee pain and multiplied by a hundred.

I didn’t summit on Sunday morning. I didn’t even make the attempt. My goal was to make it camp, to get comfortable with the environment, and to be comfortable on my own. I almost didn’t make it that far. After our first big ascent on Saturday, I collapsed in the snow next to Lower Boy Scout Lake and lost it. I cried tears of delusion, crashing hard from a lack of calories, gasping to breathe after overexerting myself in the thin air, blubbering on about my wonderful, awful life until the energy chews that were force fed to me took effect. What a nightmare. Now I know what this is all about.

Later that day, as the group was setting up camp, building a snow wall, flattening ground and racing the sun, I sat exhausted, trying to muster up what energy I could to pitch in. It felt like forever before I could move my body, doing my meager share of the work. I managed some duties, warming up as I moved around, very slowly eating dinner, then laying in the tent, chatting, trying to relax. I managed a full twelve hours in the tent without a claustrophobia induced panic attack.

But I was okay. I didn’t summit, and I was okay. Half of our group came back from the notch around noon, the other half returned from the summit about an hour later.

And Harrison. He had attempted the traverse over the ridge and returned late in the morning, shut down by weather and making a smart choice to descend for a reassessment of gear. In our time lounging at camp, while the others made their summit bids, Harrison made a comment to me about reevaluating life … the choices we make; what we do and how and when. I could tell he was less than happy with himself for turning back, but no one can judge him for that choice. We know the right choices for ourselves, and only we can honestly evaluate our goals, and our perceptions of our goals are our own, for us to determine how they fit best into our lives.

I later heard in an episode of She Explores: The only thing that can ruin a hike is your attitude. I needed to reevaluate my own life, my own goals; my attitude. I came home happy with myself for pushing for my own goals. Our goals are our own, independent of others and we are each mapping our own journeys.

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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.

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.

Confessions of the Insecure

I need to confess my insecurities.

Sometimes I just reach a point where my insecurity exhausts me so much that I just stop caring about being vulnerable. I stop caring about being strong. I’m too tired to keep trying to do anything. I exhaust myself emotionally until eventually I reset myself and start over.

That part leading up to this point is misery. I am up and down; justifying my feelings, I cry a little; I question everything. I second guess my relationships, my job, my life. I wonder how I can feel so broken, and yet continue on, comparing myself to my past selves, trying to gauge if I’ve made any progress at all — If I’m any closer to becoming the person I choose to be.

It’s too much thinking. Too much analyzing. I need to remind myself to just be and yet the feelings remain, just begging me to wrestle with them.

To expand: My parents passed on at a relatively early age. I have no siblings, an no other family that I’m remotely close to. The cousin I talk to the most lives in Australia … so far away that it’s not even the same day when we talk to each other. We’ve never even met in person. Less than four years ago, I didn’t even know he was alive. Everyone else I’m related to lives in another country. I don’t have children. And it feels like it’s been eons, waiting on my divorce to become final. I often feel completely alone. I was very close to my mother. She was my best friend — we talked almost every day, and I drove the 300 miles to my parent’s house as often as possible. I took friends with me to visit; my parent’s home was always a comforting place; it was my refuge in the desert. And so quickly, she was ripped from my life. Cancer stole her from me a mere four months after her diagnosis. I saw her only a few times before she was overtaken by the disease. I would never wish this fate on my worst enemy. Cancer is a horrible beast. Treatments are difficult, and not always effective. Hands down, this was the hardest time of my life. I can’t even compare it to the time spent ending my marriage and moving on. Watching someone you love suffering leaves you feeling helpless in a way that is different than internal suffering. After ending my marriage, I spend a lot of time alone, wishing that life would just end, not having the stamina to follow through with it on my own; remembering that was my father’s choice, and thinking of how people would talk about us in the end. I knew I could get through the pain. I have suffered through many bouts of depression, and every single time I have come out on top. Sometimes this is the only way I know that things are going to be okay — because they always are.

Sometimes I need the magic of someone else telling me it will be okay. It really is magical. When someone I care for and respect tells me this, it’s gold. It brings me out of my head and back into the world — normal people think it’s alright … it must be! It’s grand.

So I believe I’ve perhaps been sidetracked. I was discussing my insecurities, and I’ll connect the dots now. Being alone — feeling alone, completely alone — can really contribute so much to my insecurity. I no longer have my parents in my life, telling me each and every day how much they love me. I live alone; there isn’t anyone to kiss me goodnight and say I love you before bed anymore. I wake up to an empty house. It feels alone. Not everyone finds this to be an issue, but this is new for me. I feel alone. I’m not used to it.

My mind wanders. I second guess everything. I have a wonderful boyfriend. He goes on a trip without me and all of sudden my mind is telling me that we’re growing apart. He doesn’t want to be with me as much as I want to be with him. I’m broken, I’m clingy, I’m insecure and need reassurance. He’ll send me a random text message and all is well again. A picture of something fun? It’s the end of the world. Another message and all is well again. Nothing changes on the outside — my head is just on a roller coaster. And in the end, it’s always okay. 

My boss often tells me what a great job I do at work. I don’t see it. I guess I’m doing alright; I feel like a slacker. I feel like my work is sub par. I feel like I’m just floating through, no matter how hard I try; and some days trying is the most difficult thing. Clearly, I am not seeing the world in the same light. Again, I’m broken. Up and down. But in the end, it’s always okay. 

Some other things that are not really true, but find their way into my thinking:

  1. I’m not attractive. My body is awkward and uncomfortable and I don’t know how to dress it.
  2. Relationships. I always think my friends are my friends out of pity. My boyfriend could leave me any day without warning.
  3. No one loves me. And if they say they do, it’s just to make me feel better.
  4. I’m not really all that smart. I am not that observant and I struggle to learn things.
  5. I’m not actually even good at anything. Everything I do is sub par.

So I continue on  … feeling okay, and feeling insecure, up and down for now. In the end it will be okay, I know this. This is fact. But today, I’ll just allow myself to sit with my feelings, to get through them, and to know I’ll feel better soon.