Highs and Lows
A few weeks ago in southern Oregon, I was running like a madwoman through clouds of mosquitoes while listening to a meditation podcast with hopes of finding some zen. Drenched in sweat under my bug net and rain jacket, I was flailing my arms all around to keep the blood-suckers away. In all the chaos, I tripped over a rock and face planted into the dirt.
This went on for about five days. Nearly a week passed of feeling like a ferocious tornado rambling through a mosquito war zone.
This trail isn’t always easy. Actually, it’s almost never easy.
I’ve felt weak and vulnerable and scared out here. Like when fording rivers that were stronger than I could ever be. Or when I wake up in the middle of the night to weird noises and start thinking of spooky things (mainly ghosts, not rational things). When I just plain miss my friends and family and want to give everyone big smelly hugs, but they’re so far away. When it dropped below freezing in the desert and I couldn’t even take breaks from walking because it was too cold to stop. When the heat wave hit in northern Oregon and I was so sweaty that it would run down my face and burn my eyes. When I sat on the side of a highway near Crater Lake and cried because I was stressed about things back in my real life. When my friend Beekeeper went home so listened to sad lonely songs while I hiked and shed many tears again. When I was so tired that I just laid across the middle of the trail and took an impromptu nap, only to wake up to other hikers stepping over me. (This one has happened multiple times). When the blisters were bad or my right shin hurt or my pack rubbed my shoulders raw. When I tried to pee with a pack full of six days worth of food, enough weight to make me tip over mid pee. When I ripped open my packet of gushers today and they exploded and pine needles stuck all over their little gooey bodies.
This trail is tough and painful and draining and frustrating, but these challenges are what make the rewards so great. The lows, these countless times that I feel weak and small, only heighten the rewards.
The highs are overwhelmingly steep though, enough that most of the time while I’m hiking I have a giant grin on my face or I just have to happy yell a mid-hike because I’m so excited about everything around me.
Things like running straight into alpine lakes after a long, sweaty day. Or ridge walking and wishing I had eyes on every side of my head because every direction is inspiring. Or somehow hiking a 51 mile day with Beekeeper and belting songs as we ran down mountains to keep our spirits high. Seeing Mt. Rainier for the first time. Climbing Mt. Whitney and Forester Pass. Watching the sunrise over Crater Lake. Hiking just before dawn or just after dusk when the whole world seems to be asleep. Trekking through fields of wildflowers, some that are so tall they reach my neck.
These beautiful things make me feel powerful and confident and just excited about life. They make me feel big but at the same time, paradoxically, these experiences and scenes are humbling and assure me that this earth is so so important. I’m just a tiny speck amongst all its vastness.
Then there’s the people I’ve met along the way, and these people are the highest of all my highs. After being on this trail for nearly three months, I can’t get over the power of human connection or how huge-hearted strangers can be.
I’ve experienced so much kindness that I can’t even recall it all, but here are some recent highlights: a man named Duct Tape who cooked us steak and potatoes at a lakeside campsite in northern Oregon, Beekeeper’s friends who greeted us on trail with fresh blueberries and chocolate milk and took us back to their home for a couple days. A trail angel named Geared Up who served trailside tacos and zebra cakes. A couple who welcomed us into their condo near Mt. Hood and gave us beds and showers and meals and life advice. They asked us what we thought about while we hiked and we told them, “mainly people, friends and family back home.” They responded, “Remember that. Remember that when you have nothing left to think about, you think about your relationships, not work.” Good stuff. Another random couple who paid for our breakfast buffet at Timberline Lodge. The croo at AMC August Camp who welcomed us with Mac and cheese and brisket and even better company. A couple camping for the weekend from Portland who shared their whiskey and smores with me. They even let me take their inflatable pizza tube for a morning float. Another couple on horseback who shared cheese they smoked themselves and fresh Washington apples with us on top of a mountain. A new fellow hiker friend I’ve made named Bug Juice who is twice my age and who doesn’t get sick of me even though I ask him for words of wisdom and advice constantly. Another new friend named DarthVada (her real name is Vada) who also likes to yell when the scenery is overwhelmingly pretty, so we bond over making weird noises together. And then there’s a crowd of friends and family cheering me on from back home and sending me letters and high calorie foods and love and inspiration constantly.
I don’t think I will ever be able to understand exactly why these people I love and these random strangers I’ve just met are so nice to me. I just know that I want to be so kind to other people that they find themselves asking the same question.
This trail makes me feel small and big, weak and strong, humbled and inspired, vulnerable and powerful, lonely and loved. It creates all these paradoxes of feelings, and maybe that’s where some of its magic lives. Maybe we need to have these challenges and these lows to appreciate the highs. I don’t know. All I do really know is that I thank this trail everyday for constantly beating me down and bringing me right back up again. It’s kept me on my toes and made me feel more alive and free than ever.
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