The plan was to take a long, relaxing last hike in the Chuckanut mountains the day before scheduled ankle surgery (Friday, 1/26). I created a four-hour window in my Thursday to get out one more time before the usual post-op round of casts, crutches, and, eventually, a walking boot. The lack of mobility is hard for anyone and especially for someone who loves the outdoors and movement as much as I do. I wanted to have as many hiking miles in the bank as possible going in to the surgery.
Unfortunately, things didn’t go quite as planned.
Thursday morning, I awoke at 11:30 p.m. As in, really still Wednesday night. I’d gone to bed at 8:30 Wednesday night, so that represented three solid hours of sleep. But that’s not enough or practical for healthy living and I lay in bed for nearly 2 hours more, trying to get back to sleep. I listened to a 30-minute sleep meditation and tried to calm my wild mind. But with too many topics swirling around my brain and knowing that time was running out before yet another surgery and winter on crutches (my fourth in a row), further sleep was elusive. I finally gave up and got up at 1:30 a.m.
The quiet of early mornings appeals to me, no question. But not that early. That early and the brain feels foggy and unproductive. I admittedly feel a little crazy in the head. As my Dad would say, “The demons always come out at night.” Me and my demons made coffee and ate breakfast, pretending like everything was normal, trying to gear up for the day.
But there are a lot of hours between 1:30 and daylight, marking the “official” beginning of the day. In those long hours I fell into a dark headspace. I doubted my sanity more than once, letting the reality of long-time insomnia shake my inner confidence. I let myself feel overwhelmed by all the projects and new things I have taken on. Feelings of inadequacy overtook my usual optimism. I wondered what, if anything, I have to offer to this world, both to readers of my blog as I move into expanding content on the site, to future clients of my emerging health coaching business, and to readers of my memoir that I’ve been working on for over a year now. Old stories of not being good enough and feeling like a fraud crept in. Overall, I got myself worked into an emotional tizzy and accomplished little in the way of productivity. That made me feel doubly bad about myself.
By 5:00 a.m., I felt sick with worry and my stomach hurt, so I went back to bed. I set the alarm for 6:30, and hoped for some restorative sleep. It was immediately clear that wasn’t going to happen and I got up, again, at 6:00. I ate a second breakfast and drank strong green tea, not because I was hungry, but because it felt like I had to start the day all over again.
I had a walk with a friend scheduled for 8:00, which I thought seriously about canceling. A part of me wanted to cancel my whole day, stay home, do nothing. But I KNEW that would be a set up for disaster, and I really wanted the last day before surgery to be a good one. So I forced myself to leave the house fully prepared for whatever might happen, including that hike I wanted to take after my walk and errands.
After the easy 2.6 miles around Lake Padden with my friend, getting crutches, and doing other last minute errands, I made myself drive to the Lost Lake parking lot. It was drizzling off and on and temperatures were not much above freezing. Already waffling on the hike, the weather offered a great excuse to bail. While I knew I had enough clothes to manage a hike in rain, I had only brought a tiny backpack to carry anything in. I sat in the car, trying to gear up, eating useless calories I didn’t need, a response to stress more than anything else. Honestly, I didn’t want to go out into the rain and cold and do a long hike, but deep down, I KNEW I would find the tranquility I was seeking if I could just get myself organized and step out of the car. Sometimes, I’ve found, that is the hardest part of anything that is good for us. Just getting started.
The Hike — Fragrance Lake to Lost Lake trail to Rock Trail — 10.5 miles round trip.
I hiked the entire 2.5 miles up to Fragrance Lake in a world of private desperation. I was tired, sluggish and worried. Worried that I hadn’t brought enough clothes for the hike, worried I would get wet and cold and not be able to warm up, worried I wouldn’t get back in time for my massage at 3:30, worried that, even if everything went ok, I would still not find the solace I sought. I felt desperate to arrive at the peaceful place I was seeking, AND I was deeply afraid that this time my efforts might fall flat and I wouldn’t get there.
I saw a total of five hikers on the way to the lake, the most cheerful being a mom and her two young sons. They weren’t crabby or lost in serious thought, they were just out on a rainy hike with Mom, great attitudes in check. I paid attention. When I reached the lake, the rain was starting to look like snow, and it was coming down hard. Clearly, no sun breaks on this hike. I considered turning back, but I knew it was too soon. I wasn’t clear in the head yet.
I kept going. Up the Lost Lake Trail, switchback after switchback, the trail muddy with all the rain. I had to pay attention to my surroundings and to my footing. Gradually, almost imperceptibly, the trail and conditions coaxed from me present moment awareness. I noticed that in embracing my surroundings, I began to let go, step by muddy step, of the heavy burden I was carrying. The sadness and despair slowly lifted as I moved through the beauty of my quiet surroundings.
When I reached the junction of Rock Trail, I turned onto it. I had just enough time to do that trail before turning around at the two hour mark. Rock Trail started innocently enough, but soon rain turned convincingly to snow. It was really coming down, and before I reached the top, the trail was covered in snow. I found a dry spot under a boulder to eat my sandwich.
As I sat in the quiet, snowy, solitary presence of ferns and massive boulders, I thought about life. About why I’m perpetually called to the comfort of nature to feel complete. What magical attributes does Mother Nature’s embrace offer that restores calm to my world and allows me to move forward with a new attitude and confidence about life, each and every time I seek her out?
Here is what I came up with, why I think the magic works:
I heed the call to present moment awareness.
When I am out in nature, 99 times out of 100 the sheer wonder of that overwhelms whatever troubles I bring with me. Whether I’m up in the mountains, wandering among lakes, hiking ocean beaches, or just walking in a local park, there is something about being outside that makes me feel alive in the moment like little else. Especially when I move in that environment. I breathe deeply, feel how my legs work, and revel in the fact that my body can do what I ask of it (most times anyway). Out in the thick of it, there is not much else to focus on other than what is going on around me. Sometimes it’s about staying warm, or being careful with footing, or simply noticing plants, animals, and geological formations. When I focus on those things that exist with such simplicity, the emphasis on my problems diminishes. I feel a part of something bigger than myself, and hence much less self-absorbed.
I walk or hike my way into a better frame of mind.
When I first started the hike to Fragrance Lake, it was out of pure desperation. It felt like the only option I had to keep from having a bad day was to get out and hike. I don’t like to hike under those circumstances, but occasionally I feel so ungrounded that I have to literally place my feet on the ground to reclaim my stability. What I found on this hike is what so often happens. If I can just stick with it, be patient with my frustrated self, the feelings of despair eventually start to fall away. I shift to viewing myself as a hiker and not someone trying to escape herself. I remember why I came! I let myself feel strong, awake, and invigorated, even before I fully feel those things. Stepping into those positive feelings makes them a reality. Sluggishness and lack of energy disappear completely and I find that I AM strong and confident. Those feeling states carry over into other areas of my life at the completion of a good hike.
I rise to the challenge.
This almost always happens, even when I have doubts. If I have a time challenge, or a weather challenge, or something else that I worry I may not be able to manage, taking that on shakes me out of my doldrums and allows me to rise to the occasion. Perhaps it’s an innate competitive drive to master or to prove to myself that I can do something I fear I can’t. But most times, at least with exercise, I find I can do it. Put in the miles, endure the conditions, keep to time deadlines, while still maintaining a sense of fun and at least some ease. Frankly, I wish it were so easy for all things as it is with exercise. That discipline is generally easy for me to take on, while others are much more difficult. Frankly, a part of what I hope to achieve in this upcoming post-surgical downtime is a transference of good habits and discipline to other non-active parts of my life.
Sandwich consumed and contemplation returned to the present moment, I carefully cruised the miles back down Rock Trail and to the car. Snow turned into a rain that never let up but somehow didn’t bother me. I arrived at the car at 2:45. With a full change of clothes in the car, and I cleaned up enough with a towel before re-dressing so my massage therapist wouldn’t feel like she was massaging a sweaty body. I was relieved to be warm and dry, and I felt happy and invigorated as I drove to my massage. I hit the massage table with a huge sign of relief, my mood and spirits lifted completely up and out of the morning’s gloom and despair.
In addition to checking out into relaxation, my massage therapist and I spoke of the ongoing quest for balance. Specifically, that the pendulum will soon swing, and that I will be facing a period of inactivity and seeking peace from areas other than the great outdoors. What that will look like, and what that will inevitably bring up for me are all on my mind as I move ahead into this next phase of life.
Last Call leads to First Call for Change…
My commitment to myself and my readers and as I reach out to find new readers, has always been to be authentic and real, and hopefully, to provide useful information. Thus far, that has mostly been about hikes and various adventures. For months, I’ve been wanting to expand my reach, and I did not know how to introduce that idea, let alone make it happen.
Now I find myself with a website builder willing to help with my blog, time on my hands following surgery, and motivation to be real about what else goes on in my life that isn’t about hiking. It seems like a worthwhile time to look at what I am seeking peace and solace from, as perhaps the themes are similar to what my readers also grapple with. Sometimes it still feels like I have a whole other life, the one where struggles with sleep, acceptance of self, insecurity, body image, and so many other demons take up residence and live.
Those are some areas I want to explore in my blog moving forward. How it all ties together into these multiple passions, not just for the great outdoors, but also a burning passion to help others find what really turns them on. Through health and life coaching, through writing, and through having the best quality of life possible.
I am ready to put myself out there, to see where all this goes. To get vulnerable in ways I previously couldn’t imagine, to be real, to share some of my struggles with the idea that readers will be able to relate and know that we are all in this together. I don’t have tons of answers, but I do have worthwhile experience, and a willingness to share.
I have no idea where this new path leads…but I am looking forward to exploring it with you in this next phase!Feel free to share!