On Not Skipping


“Ok tell me why I should Sobo. Like convince me, I’m considering.” Bloom stops and fixes their eyes right at mine for a beat, and is so direct that I kind of glitch inside when they say, “so the people around you won’t worry.” There’s a severity here I wasn’t ready for. Normally, or in expectations land, this would be about heat, or bugs, or weather windows. It would be about steering around all the little things that plague a hike, the stuff that accumulates until intolerable and that we swear to do everything in our power to avoid next time, or next section. It is not this stark thing about the gravity of trying something that causes other people anxiety. Their magenta bangs in the evening light through the back door glow, and their face remains stern. I’m kind of lost at how to deal with this, since it’s so far outside of what I’ve come to expect of them. I think all I mutter is “Oh.” I look up to Bloom a lot; the ferocity of their choices and sense of purpose balanced with a silliness and softness that whispers the words everything matters over and over.


What’s so toxic about toxic masculinity is how, one, when it’s in you, you won’t know it, because two, you’ll think some thoughts and feelings are formed from experiences that are authentic to you, when they’re not. It’s a cultural poison that finds a host body to latch onto in the child part of desire, and says this is actually you. So like, is this that? Is this coming from  or did I buy a lie my culture pumped into my naive baby imagination about risk as courage as valor as worth, and am I walking in to or causing unnecessary anxiety for others, selfishly blinded by what I think it might mean for me? 


I talk to my mom later that night. She brought me and my friends up backpacking, has hiked thousands of miles of trail herself, and has a small library on survival stories, summit fever, who makes it out, and why. She says yeah, she’s worried, and more importantly there’s probably nothing I could do to prepare that would make her not worried. Fall off a mountain, break a leg in a posthole, get hypothermia. It’s embarrassing, in contrast, that one of my worries has been oh my god I will have to wake up at 2am for multiple days in a row. 



I tell her a story. About last year, about the hardest night we spent as a large trail family and probably the moment that we became a smaller one. A few miles below Muir Pass, with a storm coming in and the sun going down, the only other guy in the group of eight wanted to keep going. He thought if we needed to we could just stay in the hut on top of the pass. We’d just passed the last level spot a couple miles back, already crowded but with enough space for us still if we got creative with pitching our tents and smushed ourselves together. But the way he towered over the rest of us, the feeling that the group wish was split when it really wasn’t, the fact that challenge can mean something so important to people that they drive headlong over other people’s legitimate and important fear. Fear that deserves to be heard especially because it emanates from so much concern and caution and understanding of real limits. We practice so much diplomacy and cooperation in urban life that the moment these become liabilities is easy to miss.


And how the thing is, while I don’t want to be that guy, I also do want, bad, to be there for those moments. Not to seek conflict or win anything, but because the beating ripping presence of needs and wisdom and choices all comes at us at once, and then we all get to find out about parts of ourselves we’d never have otherwise seen, and the bonds that form there, the directions we grow. Our branches and roots adapting to the sudden and urgently bright and harsh mountain air, the practice of mutuality that we’ve lost to an atomized and organized world that we all independently wither within. How the heart, like all muscles, can atrophy. I’ll stay afraid of my legs and feet freezing in endless creeks, but all the fear of confrontation needs to go. We can’t only know how to relate to those we have the most in common with and expect to have thriving communities.


This also goes for the guy who sexually harassed my friends at Lake Morena, who said something demeaning and scary that they told me about after. The PCTA’s attempt at guidance on consent and abuse leaves something out: men who do this are by and large only gonna listen to and take seriously other men. So the responsibility is on we who want to be allies to interrupt and stop this. Because results matter, not intentions.


One of the intoxicating things about hiking as far away as I can from comfort and convenience with a group I come to rely on, is how every minute in that world becomes laden with god so much consequence. How it’s all very actually important, and how I, you, we, take on this inarguable demand that we bring every good part of ourselves we can find to it. I fumble through this thought to my mom, who kind of nods and says that more importantly, I’ve done my homework. I’ve had the conversations with people who did it, who know what it’s like and how to stay safe, and what they would have done different. And she says she’s seen me learn what happens when I ignore legitimate fear, and she knows I’m different now. TS Eliot said experience is the hardest of teachers, but you learn, my god do you learn. 


Miska’s gotta stay in Texas, to get injections that will tell her knees to make more cartilage, and to chill at gramma and grandpa’s and get better enough to maybe try the CDT next year. I’m driving back out to California on Sunday to the only place in the world I wanna be. I jam to Lucy Dacus and then remember jamming to it on that last trail day, on the forest road cutoff down to an empty highway that led to hikertown where we had to call a trail angel to fly over and rescue us, how up on that hill even while I saw how tired and beat she was, how her knees must have hurt like hell just then, how even then I could see in her bottomless pale blue eyes how happy she was, and how that look is worth everything and how I’m grateful for people who remind me to care about myself just as much as I do her, so that they won’t have to worry as much, or how I can carry that worry with me as a reminder that making good decisions is always and forever a way of telling the people I care about that I mean it. 

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