Colorado Trail: Panic! At The Grocery Store
I found myself on the floor of the Safeway in Leadville, Colorado, with my back pressed against a grotesquely large selection of various shampoos and sunscreens. I wasn’t thinking about how ridiculous or concerned I might appear to bystanders or Safeway employees. In that moment, the very notion of formulating thoughts was incomprehensible. I was overcome with the sensation of panic, of intense dread. Minutes earlier, I had sensed the onset of what I vaguely recognized to be a panic attack.
One moment, I was trying to decide which protein bars I wanted and what to pack for dinner, the next I was on the floor trying to fight against a singular, all-consuming feeling of angst. A feeling that I genuinely feared had the immutable power to snuff out my very existence. I didn’t hyperventilate or sob. My entire body went still. My gaze, glassy and unfocused, weighed heavily upon a thousand different shades of hair dye in their nearly identical little boxes. I felt inconsolably alone; insecure, undesirable, and small. I knew, in a way that was purely intellectual and not the least bit of consolation, that it would pass. It did pass. It always passes. But for a while it was there and it was awful.
I suppose my panic attack on the floor of that Safeway was not entirely without precedent but my morning had had such a blissful beginning. Bruce, one of the hosts, made blueberry pancakes for the guests. Brian, Matt, and I gorged ourselves on coffee and pancakes alongside a couple of other hikers; two young women named Jackie and Skids. The weather outside was grey, misty, and chilly which amplified the coziness of the Colorado Trail House. Jackie and Skids expressed their plans to zero, meaning they were going to stay in place and hike zero miles that day.
Their decision not to hike suffused their demeanor with a kind of luxurious and intoxicating sense of leisure. Skids, a boisterous blonde who felt disinclined to censor herself, and Jackie, a gracious and graceful brunette, reclined into the massive couches in the sitting room to digest their breakfast like gorgeous Grecian dignitaries insulated against the demands of the world around them. Faced with the prospect of leaving that spell-binding abode in order to hitch-hike back to Twin Lakes and charge up the notoriously miserable Hope Pass in the bitter cold, I felt envious of their decision. However, the choice to take a zero day so early in the hike was an affront to my puritanical sensibilities.
Brian and Matt, however, were effortlessly persuaded by the girls’ logic and the comforts of the Colorado Trail House.
“Why don’t we stay?” suggested Matt without any trace of the anxiety that particular prospect induced for me.
I considered the cold showers, which intermittently turned into flurries, falling outside. I thought of the successive 25 mile days Matt and I had hiked with relative ease. I thought of how delightful it had been to have a private suite with Matt where we could read, write, and make love without the added layers of cold, dirt, or hunger.
“Yes, let’s stay.”
But from the moment I agreed to that decision, I was wracked with a pervasive anxiety. I tried writing as a method of warding it off. I tried smoking, hoping the high would distract from the hydra of misgivings swirling in my gut. I felt at odds with my body, its shape and all that I had fed it. Even after days of perpetual exercise, a brief period of stagnation was enough to set me off. Although, even now I find it difficult to discern if the tension I felt inside my body was the source of my psychological distress or simply a byproduct of it.
Eventually, Matt left to go on a run and I took the opportunity to call Luke. Sitting on the cool tiles of the bathroom floor, I listened as he told me about life at sea and his responsibilities on the boat. About his crew-mates and the friendships they had formed. He too was pushing his body and mind to their limits, growing through discipline and exertion. Relying on camaraderie and nicotine to sharpen the frayed edges of his nerves and his mind. I was happy for him, sincerely, even as my heart longed for our circumstances to be different. In turn, I told him about my long days of hiking and my new companions. I told him about Brian and Matt, which felt cruel, because I knew at some point I would tell him how much Matt had come to mean to me.
When we got off the phone, Brian and I went to resupply at Safeway, walking together through the gentle rain. He spoke to me about his recent breakup, a big one that he would be working through for a while. Though in the next breath, he was expressing interest in various women and detailing his plans for their seduction. Something in his words struck a chord in me, and all at once, I felt off-kilter.
“I’m feeling kind of emotional and needy right now.” I told Brian as we collected our shopping baskets and stepped inside.
Brian looked back at me with a mixture of bemusement and annoyance.
“What? You want a hug?” He deadpanned and then walked off to do his shopping.
After my episode in the cosmetics aisle I collected myself, finished resupplying, and returned to the Colorado Trail House with Brian in tow. The other hikers and I soaked in the hot tub as frozen crystals fell from on high and the silvery afternoon light turned a dusky shade of periwinkle that reminded me of the wildflowers blooming in meadows and mountain sides along the trail. Even after just one day away, I missed the wonder, silence, and serenity of the trail. I was stoned and secretly agitated but I tried with all my mental fortitude to pretend the hot water lapping at my bare skin was capable of soothing whatever worries were disrupting my desire to be present.
That night, as I laid in bed, Matt read aloud to me. This practice had become something of a ritual between us. He would read me poetry in the mornings or late at night, just as I was waking or verging on sleep. I enjoyed the cadence of his speech which rose and fell inside my ears like rolling, undulating terrain. He read various selections from William Butler Yeats while I lay with my head in his lap, eyes closed, dark ringlets of hair spread messily across him.
A pity beyond all telling
Is hid in the heart of love…
I repeated that line back to Matt who looked mournfully back at me and confirmed, “Love’s a pity.”
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