According to my “plans” I’d be heading West now across the United States in Van Go, stepping out to see the river in the Shenandoah National park with my friend Bridget from graduate school. I would then be on my way to the Blue Ridge Mountains, connecting with my friend Tamara, and then off to the Great Smokey Mountains in Tennessee. I’d be meandering along in my 1982 van until I got to Colorado in time to see the Aspen leaves turn golden, and to visit my brother and my dear sister-in-law.
Instead, I’m home.
My “epic” trip, the one in which I prepared myself to face my fears, has landed me home.
Well, as I see it, I did not follow the advice I’ve been doling out for 15 years to my students. “Listen to your body. Find the edge, but don’t push beyond that edge. Remember Ahimsa – do no harm.”
Yeah, well, I didn’t listen.
I was in Glacier, and I’d driven 45 minutes on the Going to the Sun Road to get to the hiking spot I’d chosen – the Siyeh Pass trail. The day before I’d met Mike who told me it was an awesome hike – lush in the beginning and astounding views at the top.
I was in.
I arrived at the trailhead and the moment I stepped out of the van, I felt the muscles in my back twang. I took note, strapped on my aqua colored daypack and hit the trail. It was early in the morning and I was solo on the trail. I was more concerned with bears after all of the warnings I’d heard. “Don’t hike alone. There’s been bear activity all around Glacier. Get “big” if you see a bear. Make noise.”
With each step, my heart pounded harder than usual with the looming thought of bears. I tapped my walking stick on the rocks and in moments sang out loud to myself. (And if you know me, this is NOT something I do – the singing thing is a last frontier for me!)
I didn’t really pay much attention to my back until I was into the hike for a few miles. With each step, I felt like I was in a magical forest filled with cream colored ball shaped flowers lit by the morning sun. Peaks popped into view through the trees. I was in heaven.
I reached a fork in the road, and the thought of turning back swept through my mind like a buzzing mosquito. I swatted it away. No way!
At this point, I could feel the right side of my back was a bit tender. “I’ll just walk slowly. It’ll be fine.” That was compromise enough for me. I felt like I was strolling. I told myself it was fine to go slowly, that way I could relish the scenery.
With each passing step, more snow covered mountains peaked out from behind evergreens, then disappeared again like mysterious maidens.
Another fork in the road came. The pesky thought to turn back slipped into consciousness. “Be mindful of your body. Yeah, but I’m only here now. When am I going to be back here? Just walk slowly. You can do it. It’s not THAT big a deal.”
And up this time. I was headed out of the tree line and up the rocky, craggy side of the mountain. I pulled out my fleece sweater, my hat and gloves. The crisp air chilled me and I was so proud of myself to have all the things I needed in my bag.
As I kept raising my legs to chug up the mountain, I felt my psoas muscle tightening and my back muscles beginning to get angry and irritated. Taking deep breaths started to feel painful – not just uncomfortable.
But I was determined. Lured by the majestic beauty laid out in front of my eyes, I felt like a crack addict who just had to do another line. I mushed on despite the signals from my body to turn back. In fact, I blatantly ignored them.
“It will be fine. I’ll just go slowly.”
The incline got even steeper. Each step began to feel like I was harming myself. I still wanted to get to the top. I’d always been fit and able. I’d always relied on my body to do what I wanted to do.
As I reached the top a vast range of peaks stretched out so wide and high that my heart did a little flip. I felt like I’d found a new lover, pain be damned. Pride bubbled up as I sat in the cold noshing on my Lara Bar for energy.
“I did it. Wahoo! I was slow, but I did it!”
At the top I ran into a young couple in their early 30s who were hiking this trail, then going on for 10 more miles to get to their base camp today. “Impressive,” I thought to myself. Damn! I told them about my Van Go trip and they loved it. Little did I know at the time that I’d be on a whole different track right after I met them.
The descent was arduous – on the knees, but mainly on my back muscles that began to seize up, making the trek down less than pleasurable. All I wanted to do was get back to the van. The joy of hiking had now dissipated and morphed into the pure will to get through and down the trail to my safe place: Van Go.
When I finally reached Van Go, I was so relieved that I could relax. But each time I reached for something in the van nervy twinges shot through my back muscles and I realized I could barely move.
So I positioned myself in child’s pose to relieve some of the pain, and gave into having a little cry about it, which lasted all of 5 seconds because each heave of crying wracked my back with searing pain.
“Ok, ok, Diane, Stop crying. You cannot cry. It’s too painful. You need a plan. You’re here alone. You’re 45 minutes from your campsite. You can’t move without searing pain and you have to drive yourself out of here. Think! Think!”
In those few moments on the floor, I devised a plan. And that is whole other story!