A year ago, today I was hiking up & down Mt. Whitney, a near completion of the John Muir Trail. It was stormy, dark heavy clouds & loud echoes in the basin from thunder at the peak. People looked at me like I was crazy going up the countless switchbacks, no option to turn around away from the relentless storm ahead. It was one of the most difficult days. Steep climb AND steep descent & it didn’t help my motivation forward that I didn’t actually WANT to finish. I grew accustomed to life on the trail & felt comfortable in my daily routine & was not quite ready to give it up for the “real world”, which I was harshly introduced back into in the wilds & endless farmland & commercialized society of southern California.
A year ago, today I had no idea how I’d get from the trailhead to San Francisco to catch my flight home a few days later. I ended up asking two other hikers, a father & son who I met a couple days before, if i could ride back to the Bay area with them, while we crouched underneath a boulder to escape the afternoon rain. They said yes & invited me into their world for a couple days. Connor & Stephen.
We finished the day together & set up camp around a familiar (to them) group of hikers. We were joined by a couple Aussies, men in their 60’s who had traveled the world & were here, also having just completed the JMT. They of course did it in half the time I did. Two weeks & 214 miles. I took 30 days, on purpose. I wanted that entire month. Needed it.
We shared dinner, because I had run out of food & they had an overabundance. Chicken tortilla dehydrated dinner. We sat around together on logs, sharing food & water & adventure stories. Connor, only 14 I think, was already training to be a pilot & had so many great stories to tell. They lived slow, which I appreciated & yes, even got a little annoyed with at times over the next couple days traveling with them.
Not sure why I was ever in a hurry, but a sudden sense of urgency flooded me that I hadn’t felt in well over a month. As much as I wanted to stay, I wanted to be home – my inescapable paradox. That night I didn’t sleep well; tossing & turning in a red sleeping bag, anxious for the day ahead.
We left early after coffee & began the hike to Whitney Portal where the promise of pancakes bigger than our heads awaited. REAL FOOD! The day-hikers were coming up, already out of breath & I couldn’t help but laugh with compassion & a knowing of what they were doing & what I had just done. Few of them looked especially happy, a stark contrast to my elation.
We reached the portal, a little slice of civilization & desert heat late morning & placed our orders. I chose a #6 – ham steak, four fried eggs, hash browns, two pieces of wheat toast & bottomless coffee. Everyone else got the pancakes that were not exaggerated in size. I shamelessly ate all of mine AND some of their pancakes. Shopped around for stickers & trophies for our accomplishments, hitched a ride into Lone Pine & stopped at the post office. They had just closed for a lunch break so I desperately banged on the glass door, pleading with the mailman to let me in for my last hope of letters from loved ones. At first he said there was nothing & my heart dropped so low I started to cry. He saw my heart break & agreed to check again. When he came back out he held two letters – one from my mom & one from Brooke. Sacred treasures. I cried when I read their congratulations & ached for a reason I couldn’t grasp.
We drove back unhurried, stopping to see any sights that caught our eye. Spent the night in a fancy hotel that took the very last of my money, but it was so worth it. Two hot showers I still felt dirty after, a long bath, king-sized bed & privacy to be naked all night long. It felt like a haven & a prison at the same time. It took a while to adjust to the pace of life & normalities no one questions, unless of course you just spent a month in the wild alone & suddenly none of this world made sense.
A year ago, today I achieved a monumental dream without a single sense of accomplishment. I didn’t have anyone to share in that moment of victory & I knew I would never be able to relay all I had experienced out there. What I did was brave, sure. A little risky, too. But through my journey I never seriously doubted my purpose & destiny to be on that trail. Divinely guided each step of the way.
Every day seemed to be a swing of emotion & experience. Trials & victories. Mountains summited & the effort & will it took to get there. Endless snowfields & high water crossings. Friends met & moments shared always brief. Each day held a new surprise, a challenge, a peace, frustration, getting lost, getting found, relaxation, reflection. Waking up each morning to bird song & mystery, knowing all I had to do that day was walk as far as I wanted & make home in a new place. True nomadic living. Assured direction of a single trail, making faith an easy commodity to come by. Freedom like I’ve never known. Solitude like I never want again. A coming to know myself & a learning of how to care for & nourish my body in exchange for all the hard work it did every day.
A trip like that cannot help but transform, for that is the purpose of any great pilgrimage. I realized that even once I left the trail, I wouldn’t ever leave my pilgrimage. That shifted the way I move through life; one foot in front of the other, one step at a time. Trusting. Allowing. Slowing down. Seeing every person I cross paths with as special. Seeing every scene like it is my first & last time.
Today, I am still on my pilgrimage. Doing what needs to be done & playing through it all. Seeing the rituals I have habituated into my daily routine – cooking, yoga, dancing, reading, writing, socializing, meditating. Trusting that these habits are the momentum carrying me towards my current dreams – aerial yoga teacher training, hiking the Wyoming CDT & eventually the whole trail, gaining experience in the kitchen, being a student of life, moving from Wyoming in the fall to live somewhere new. Traveling. Performing in circuses. Teaching. Learning from relationships & seeing if I can find out what LOVE really is.
I am where I am & I am happy to be HERE!
Where were you a year ago, today?