The Tioga trail is nestled a couple miles westward of the Continental Divide. There was only one other car in the trailhead’s parking lot. It was height of summer and temperate beauty. Tourists and amateur hikers flocked to the best morning trails. Mosquito swarms had followed suit. Being alone in nature is the truest of all holy rituals. A sojourn I wanted to walk through alone, unencumbered, spirited away from fellow hikers or any pair of probing human eyes.
The solo wanderer’s mantle is one I needed to carry that day. One that has followed me since.
This solitude has served me well. How is it in the subtle pursuits of adjacent tasks, we often get exactly what we asked for?
The path started down by a picturesque lake, two distinct mountain peaks rising in the distance past a winding two lane road.
I gathered my belongings, boots double-tied, my heart loosening its notches.
Quickly the hike turned steep. The path was made zigzagged to lessen the sudden intensity of the arduous climb and to sidestep giant trunks felled by beavers, others downed by the National Forestry’s army of rangers.
My breathing found the rhythm of the mountain, and I let my cares go. A week-and-a-half away from the unexpected turmoil my leaving of Texas had created.
A few miles in, I found a clearing overlooking an adjacent mountain. Flowers and green swept across the one hillside. I walked in a little further and sat to breathe in beauty- this wide open serenity I was lone witness to. The tinkling of an unseen stream could be heard cascading seasonal life throughout this ecosystem.
I felt free, calm, inspired. I took my Canon Rebel out and snapped frames of the wild chill-tinged air. Then I put on my camera’s timer, leaping in ecstasy and in a blue dream and mountain haze. I took a photo that would later become the cover to my first book. I meditated and mindfully sat in joy, soaking in a sunlit gratitude, enjoying the call of blue jays and cardinals singing, the bees and butterflies breezing beside my yogic form.
And in the joy, as we often do in states of bliss, I felt the time was now and to move forward.
I sat up and gathered myself, deciding to take a separate path. One led down the mountain I had just traversed, but instead desiring the path suddenly unfamiliar. True to nature I chose the complicated hike that found me lost and turned every which way around. Stuck for hours somewhere in a long wilderness loop in the Rocky Mountain National Park.
Colorado keeps calling me back, an unintended disciple. The lessons becoming easier to learn as I let myself be broken by each teaching.
Cell service had not worked for days. The trail map in hand made no sense. Summer rain began falling and the sky grew darker. Two hours of daylight were left. I sought refuge within a clearing and canopy of Pine and grove of Aspen trees.
Aspens are connected by an underground root system. They are able to communicate via this bio-psychic link. “Aspens, god, Steve Jobs- can you please lead me out of here?” It’s funny the ones we cry out to when we need saving.
There may be no atheists in the foxholes, but I’ve come to believe that everything is connected. A pantheist in panic is either delusional or onto something. I’m still out to find that answer.
It’s like we’re always on the cusp of knowing, like that point in your day drinking a coffee and laughing with your best friend, or on that cerebral scatterfying acid trip when you figured out the universe, or close to the vital orgasmic climaxing- the constant verge of almost knowing. Then all flows ephemeral again. Wisps of genius coursing back into the void. The curse of peering into secret ethers is forgetting it all. Truths we weren’t supposed to learn.
The winds picked up and they began swaying together in a primal dance. A pattern choreographed by an ancient unconscious evolution. The years that have brought these trees, this breeze, this wind blown self to now.
The path out of that forest was not straight. The signs had fallen into disrepair and disuse. They were eroded by the sheer artifact of time. A path alone indeed. Perhaps this was part of the path, or at best a brief panacea- a way to come to peace with a journey that seems so unsure and unguided. I got what I wanted. I sat and ate a sandwich I had packed before my hike.
At least I have food and water, an emergency poncho, a hatchet, flashlight, journal, an iPhone, and a joint. My own bewitching self-determined survival guide.
I tell myself “this loss and lostness is temporary. I have learned that from all the times I’ve lost my way before.” Still I wanted to give up. Not so unlike where I feel my life has now brought me to today. Back into America. A book I am proud of but brought me to a near penniless state and no direction nearer to where I want to build a home, yet again.
We must lean into the thoughts and feelings that align, that are contributing to our desires. The number one chance of survival in the wilderness is your mindset. If you let yourself get tangled in the mire, in the fear of not surviving your chances of making it out plummet to 50%.
There were lessons in the losing of my way. But I thought I had already been through all that. Maybe finding yourself is never finished. I’m the last one to know these answers.
This setting forward, breathing the pristine mountain air, thick with pine. I was breathing in life in pure thin oxygen. Exhilaration pulsing in each expanded artery increasing with each mile in my trek. The sinews of the rooted forest trees were formed steps in an upward direction due to the sheer genius of seeds grown along the natural incline of earth.
So I waited and breathed, and smoked a joint. I looked for signs of flattened straw, quiet openings in the brush.
I retraced the steps and boulders I had climbed until I came to a misshapen sign post pointing in two directions.
One leading me back through the wilderness camping I had already surmised was a dead end to my purposes this evening.
The other pointing downwards- the white painted markings had peeled away offering no specific guidance.
The infernal teasing of being human.
Life offers us half-shapen sign posts when we are asking and searching for a billboard to scream to us the way. But do we even listen? Hardly.
We, the frequent rebels, to ourselves. Arguing, blaming away our greatest joys.
In that moment the sign post was all I needed. I had already trenched the arduous climb marked and telling me the way I was already going. I just needed to see that there was something up ahead. Hope upon the horizon.
Why must I always choose the hardest of these journeys. My stubborn tenacity has mellowed out. I’m seeking the path of clarity, the easiest way to get to where I am going. The complicated adventures, I leave those for another time.
I seek simplicity and grace and the things inside of me that make those around me know that they are loved. To reflect this love to others’ and shine back their brightest light to you.