The Struggle I Choose
You can’t run from Mother Nature.
At least, I can’t.
I grunted up miles of switchbacks, tracking thunderheads as they flexed their fluffy might maybe a ridge or two over. Now above tree line, a judgment call grounded in so much alpine weather-watching leads me to the pass. I let out a small victory cry, then begin speed walking down the other side, a familiar rumble filling the very same air I struggle to inhale.
Puff, puff, puff. Hustle, hustle, hustle.
I drop down, then curve around several small lakes until I spot a clearing for my tent. Thunder booms directly overhead and then the rain starts, gently for a second, then it pours. Racing to set up my shelter, I use a rock to hastily pound in stakes until I strike my middle finger instead. Blood spurts out in a small geyser, splattering on my tent and the rocks around me. I have to laugh. Don’t I? A small offering for my presence here, same as any other sweat and tears I’ve sprinkled across these high places.
There are so many struggles we face in life; sometimes moving through the mountains is the one struggle I get to choose.
I spend several days in the familiar embrace of these mountains. Taking photos, writing – ostensibly doing fieldwork for my book, but also doing work on myself. I come, too, for that Sierran salve, spread thick around my soul like a layer of cosmic insulation.
When it finally comes time to leave, I’m up before dawn, drawing out the usual morning puttering. I wait for early light to strike the Painted Lady, sitting as striated prow above Upper Rae Lake, but it doesn’t happen, so I start walking. Fiery calves carry me up to Glen Pass, which I have all to myself. Perched on its knife-edge, I drink some water and smile, surveying the indescribable beauty all around, wishing I could share it with every person I’ve ever met. My heart soars, even as it thumps in double time.
On to my second pass of the day, I lurch along the ascent with waning energy. I know that only part of it is physical; the other part is the melancholy that comes with leaving. Still, I pop in a piece of hard candy and let the scenery distract until I round the corner on 11,709’ and look up as I hear my name – actually, both my given name and my trail name:
The melancholy slips away as it’s replaced by surprise and a broad smile. My mountain tribe. People I barely know, really, but am bonded to by the interminable grip of granite and dirt. We laugh and I let loose a large, bellowing holler of pure joy. I barely reject an invitation to join them in climbing a nearby peak, not just because my body has already given its all for the day, but also because I’m already higher than the summit.
Before we part ways, we all survey the sky, where late morning clouds have started congregating maybe a ridge or two over. Judgment calls are made. One party heads up, another heads down.
Mother Nature will hold her fury for a few hours at least. But when she chooses to unleash once more, it will be as it always is. The struggle is always worth it.