Hiking, for me, has always been end point and return driven. Whether strenuous climbs or long level trails, I was always on the way to something spectacular or to accomplish something. I have done as instructed by Nature enthusiasts; to stop along the way to take in the beauty on the trail, to snack and drink water, but my thoughts and attention were always swirling away to the peak, swimming in the alpine lake, finishing the loop. Even while stopping, my mind was calculating time and distance to the the endpoint and the amount of time left in the day to take care of stuff, once returning home.
Or the hike was something to talk about afterwards, on the way home or with folks in the days to come, or to say “Yeah, I did that hike.” as if I had just completed a job or a sexual conquest. I have images in my mind of many hikes, and pictures to prove I was there. I even have some feelings of awe that rise up in memory of standing in stillness, dwarfed by majesty. But, most of what I recall is about having completed them and very little about the way there or back.
There was one hike, a pretty strenuous 10 mile round trip, peak hike, that I embarked on during a time when I was experiencing a deep pressure in my right leg and a bit of a catch in my left lung when I exercised for more than 20 minutes. The hike was relatively level except for the last 1.5 miles which were steep switchbacks to the peak through a dense forest that opened out above the tree line for the last 200 yards of elevation. For the first time in my experience, I found that I had to stop several times on the trail to catch a breath and ease my leg. Still I kept pushing through. I thought, if it gets too bad I’ll turn around. (Yeah, right!) I came to the final clearing and was breathing heavily, so I sat down in the shade to rest up for the final push. Rested, I began again and saw that the last stretch of switchback, that began about 100 yards away, was even more of an intense grade and seemed longer than what I had experienced up til then. I looked at the peak across this grass covered incline and thought that it would be easier to just trail blaze directly to the top. So, I went, at first upright, then lower to the earth, then slower until I was slothfully crawling, breathing hard, catch in the lung, leg throbbing. I kept pushing myself to a small copse of shrubs that would provide some shade near the peak where I could rest, eat and recover for the return hike.
By the time I was near the copse, I was dragging my body with the hope that I would reach the shade before lapsing into unconsciousness to die from exposure in the mountain sun. Arriving in the cool, I collapsed and after sleeping on the crunchy, stone strewn, incline, I woke refreshed with most of the pain and pressure subsided. I sat for a while and contemplated dying on a mountain. What a great place to transition; 360 degree views obscured only by a taller near peak to the South, dense ocean of sky above, deep, moss-like forest below. And, maybe for the first time in my agenda driven hiking life, I sat in quiet absorption; taking in what I thought might be my last perceiving in this life.
Then the mind set in: “Better get going.” It was a slow descent with many stops and time to take in the surroundings. My mind, all the while, calculating the distance and time until I would be home to soak in a tub and spend time on the Net researching leg and lung pain.
After that hike, I soon learned that I had deep vein thrombosis and pulmonary endema. One of the larger veins in my right leg was mostly occluded from calf to hip with possibly small clots in the lung. Both situations can cause strokes, and death.
Hmmm… Would I remember that lesson?
Three months ago while planning for this gratitude journey, I woke up with excruciating pain in my sacrum that radiated down to the ankle of my right leg. I could not stand or walk with out significant pain. Of course this trip was going to be a lot about hiking, scaling peaks and trekking deserts and forests that had offered teachings. I had imagined going on days long treks of 20 miles, scaling peaks or trudging through dense forests or striking out across the sands to get to those places that had shared teachings with me. Now after A very slow process of three months of care and therapy, I don’t have as much pain but my walking is hampered, and sometimes I have restless sleep from joint stiffness. My mind spinning out scenarios of how the trip would have to be different and how I would adjust or compromise or maybe even cancel.
I am writing this on the third morning of the Trial Run, leaning up against a moss covered hemlock friend that stands sentinel on the banks of the Hoh river, about 400 yards from my campsite. I had planned on a six mile hike up the river to a trail that winds through a forest of old growth moss giants. I made it to here, being forced to go slowly, seeing more deeply, absorbing the gifts of splendor that this place has. Its teaching orchestrated with river rocks playing the Hoh and the percussion of insects buzzing, accompanying a birdsong that I have never heard before supported by a chorus of my black feathered guides from the realm of KA.
I have arrived, I am always arrived. There’s no place to go.
I wonder how long til I forget.