“And into the forest I go, to lose my mind and find my soul.” ~John Muir
Thing 1 heads back to college next week. In between packing and getting in last-minute visits with high school friends, he’s been trying to fit in as much time in the great Colorado outdoors as possible. This summer he climbed three 14ers, rode his bike over Vail Pass (10k feet), and this past weekend he and his father rode from our house to downtown Denver and back again (56 miles). He and I had discussed going out to climb another 14er today, but decided to sleep in and hike a little closer to home. So this morning we went to Roxborough State Park. It’s one of our favorites and it’s ten minutes from our front door. We’ve been hiking in the summer and snowshoeing in the winter at this park since the boys (I can’t get used to calling them men) were young.
Since the original goal was to climb a 14er, we decided to hike Carpenter Peak, the park’s longest and most strenuous hike. During the past few weeks, Denver has been inundated with smoke from the fires in California; today the skies were crystal clear by comparison. We started hiking around 8, but it was already quite warm. We found ourselves lingering longer in the shady spots than we might normally. Joe was patient, waiting for me when I had to stop to catch my breath. But finally I was spurred on by the rising heat to push for the summit as quickly as possible, and we started making good time. When we finally made it to the top, we were rewarded by being the only ones there and having the clearest views we’ve seen in a while. And when the hike was finished we’d logged over 7 miles and climbed about 123 flights. It was a nice morning workout.
I will miss having Joe around to kick my butt into gear, but maybe I will be able to use today as a springboard. Then when he comes home for Thanksgiving, we can do this hike again and I can show him the progress I’ve made.
How many times have you talked yourself out of something because the situation didn’t seem quite right? I have done it thousands of times. I am the Queen of Justification. I can talk myself out of anything. This also means, though, that I have the ability to talk myself into anything. It seems easier to avoid than attack, though, which is why I have let so many opportunities in my life slide because it seemed like they might be too much work. Today I decided to challenge myself to go forward rather than retreat.
Three weeks ago, my friend Brooke and I planned to hike on May 4th. So, this morning I woke up ready to hike…until I looked out the window. From my bedroom window at 7 a.m., I saw low hanging clouds, wet ground, and not one patch of blue sky. I texted Brooke to see what the weather was like in Boulder. Light drizzle, she said. I have traditionally been a fair-weather hiker. I try to avoid hiking in the rain when possible because I am not a big fan of being cold or wet or muddy or especially all three things at once. So many reasons not to hike today and only one reason in favor. The forecast for the rest of the week in Denver is rain, one to four inches of it. I decided light drizzle might just be the nicest weather all week. I grabbed my rain jacket and my waterproof hikers and headed to meet Brooke.
On the drive, I tried to convince myself that it was as good of a day as any to hike. I pulled out all my zen and told myself the only moment I have is this one. I can spend it whining about the weather or I can pretend that I’m above it all. By the time I got to the trailhead parking lot, I was convinced this was a good idea. I parked in a giant puddle, zipped up my rain jacket, stuffed my iPhone into one of my waterproof pockets, and embraced our adventure.
True to what Brooke had said, there was a light drizzle. I couldn’t actually tell if it was drizzle or just mist from low hanging clouds. Either way, there were no drops of rain. We started up the trail, planning to do a 4 mile hike I’ve done many times with my family. As we turned to head uphill, the path beneath our feet became increasingly muddy where rain had rushed down, following gravity’s lead all night long. For about three-quarters of a mile, we hiked uphill through heavy mud, trying to walk on rocks when we could, scraping our hiking shoes off when we’d gained an extra pound per foot. My mind wandered back to how these shoes had hiked the entire Inca Trail without getting wet. They’d survived four days in the Andes with hardly anything to show for it. I was making up for it now. I blocked out the notion that it would take me an hour to clean them when I got home. I kept on trudging.
I realized about two miles in that we were not on the path I had intended to take. Oops. No worries. We’d figure it out. We kept heading uphill, towards the trees, hoping that once we got into them we would find a trail that had been protected from the moisture. Around the point that we hit four miles, it was clear we had wandered further off course than we’d planned. I pulled out my phone to view a trail map so we could get our bearings. We were two hours into the hike. We’d passed two people. Although the views weren’t much because of the fog, the rainy weather had afforded us a hike in solitude. The only sounds were a gurgling creek running full with rain from higher up the foothill, some frogs chirping, and songbirds flying in and out of the bushes around us as we passed. Being a fair-weather hiker, I’m used to sharing the trail, to catching silence in between polite greetings with groups of fellow hikers. Today there was none of that. There was just peace.
We figured out which trail to hit and began our descent. We stopped to take photos and enjoy the less muddy section of trail. We paused to appreciate the scenery, limited though it was, and revel in the isolation. Eventually we passed one more set of hikers before we reached the parking lot. By then, the stats on my Fitbit app were impressive. We had logged seven miles in 158 minutes and climbed the equivalent of 116 floors under less than ideal conditions with mud-packs as ankle weights. And to think I had nearly given this up morning workout for an almond-milk latte indoors. Craziness.
I’m going to make a concerted effort more often to go with the flow, even if that flow is from rain. Despite all the mental excuses I could come up with today to skip our hike, nothing bad that I had imagined actually came to fruition. The rain held off, I stayed dry, and most of the mud fell away from my shoes on its own. Even when we realized we were off our intended path, we found our way back to where we needed to be. Everything worked out because everything always works out one way or another. I spend too much time imagining the worst, meanwhile missing out on what might have been the best.
“Life isn’t about waiting for the storm to pass. It’s about learning to dance in the rain.” ~Vivian Greene
I am supposed to be training for our Inca Trail hike in July, but this week the spring weather has been wholly uncooperative. Monday and Tuesday were very windy, which left me indoors to practice yoga and put time in on the spin bike. I considered that better than nothing, although it was not what I was hoping for. This morning, though, I looked out and noticed it was sunny and fairly calm. I thought the weather might be handing me a small break. I would take it.
By the time I had dropped the boys at school, loaded my pack and the dog in the car, and made my way to the trailhead parking lot, I began rethinking my decision. The skies were darkening, and the car thermometer registered all of 50 degrees. While pulling my pack from the trunk, I noticed the winds were picking up. I hate wind. I reached for my GPS-enabled sports watch only to discover it was low on battery. Of course. I would not be tracking today’s workout. I had also forgotten my headphones. Seriously? It was starting to feel like I should just turn around and find a warm yoga studio instead.
I decided to soldier on and in the end I was glad I did. While the weather wasn’t perfect, it was a great day to be on the trail. It was mostly empty and I was able to enjoy my own private hike. Without my headphones, I was privy to every little sound. Movement in the underbrush uncovered a couple spotted towhees hopping through the crumbling leaves. Bees and hummingbirds whizzed by my head. The wind whistled heavily in several spots and yet I noticed other areas the wind completely missed. Several times along the way I confronted memories of my sons, paused with their backs to me, still as stone fountain boys peeing into the wind. It was a solitary, contemplative hike filled with sensory experiences. I was 100% in the present for an hour outdoors, and it was lovely.
On the way down, I thought about how easy it would have been to look at all the negatives gathering on the balance sheet before the hike and scrap it all together. I thought about this Bunny Buddhism quote:
I would rather hop and see what happens than sit and worry about what might go wrong.
Too often we imagine scenarios that keep us from doing something we could easily accomplish. We find reasons not to do something we determine might be unpleasant. We don’t give ourselves a chance to face the situation and see how it plays out. I’ve been ruminating on this thought lately. We have a choice. We can either make excuses or we can make progress. Sadly, it’s easier to make excuses than it is to risk vulnerability. And this is where we get stuck. It’s easy to let the clouds fool you into expecting rain when none is coming.
I put myself out there today in a small way, and it paid off. Now if I could just convince my inner self to be brave enough to make progress on my book idea, then I’d really be getting somewhere. Baby bunny hops, I guess.
Simple things can be extraordinary to the bunny who chooses to see them.
As part of our training for the Inca Trail, we took a family hike today in advance of the changing weather tomorrow. I wasn’t all that excited about going, but I knew I wasn’t getting out of it. When hubby sets his mind to a plan for exercise, there’s no stopping him. I tried stalling by nursing my latte and spending most of my morning tucked in bed playing on my laptop. But when he came back upstairs at 10:30, fully dressed, and carrying his backpack, I knew I was doomed. I sucked it up, pulled on shorts, a t-shirt, and the hiking boots I need to break in, and made peace with the situation.
We planned a 6.5 mile hike at a nearby state park but had to regroup when we got there and were turned away because it was “full.” On a gorgeous, spring day in Colorado, this wasn’t surprising but it was disappointing. We fell to our back up and headed toward another hike approximately three miles due west of our home. We told our boys we’d do the 3-mile hike we usually do at this spot, but when we got there I decided on a trail we hadn’t taken before that would take us a bit farther.
Along the way on our new sojourn, we enjoyed colorful wildflowers, numerous birds, and the gurgling of spring run-off filling what is usually an empty creek bed. Small spiders scurried across the path underfoot. Squirrels barked their warnings at us from the trees. In one particularly breezy spot, I watched a fuzzy caterpillar alternate between creeping along under his own power and tumbling along windswept. I hoped the wind was carrying him in the direction he was trying to go. A small insect landed on Joe’s shirt. It was something akin to a box elder bug. It had a simple and perfectly symmetrical criss-cross pattern on its back in red and black. I examined it for a minute, sharing its magic with the boys before it flew away. For such a seemingly insignificant creature, he was impeccably adorned. The diversity of creatures on this planet and the spectacular ways they are put together are nothing short of miraculous.
I so often rush through life without looking around and noticing the simple things. A hike is an ideal opportunity to acknowledge the intricacies of our planet and to appreciate the wonder around us. Even when I am forced to drag my reluctant and sorry butt out of bed on a sunny, Saturday morning, I inevitably find awe in and gratitude for what I have seen outside. Being in nature reminds me that I am part of a much larger picture, no greater or lesser than any other creature, just a part of the grand scheme. I like that thought. It puts my life and my struggles into perspective. I mean, it’s a little humbling when a small, flying insect has a cooler outfit than I do.
Looking out our eyes day and in and day out, it can be an epic challenge to remember that we are not the center of the universe. When we are open to things outside ourselves, however, we can discover through the countless natural miracles around us that the things that vex us are unimportant. The only way to take ourselves less seriously is to realize how many smaller things are truly great. To get the best view, sometimes you have to take the focus off the immediate and look around you at the bigger picture.
This morning, my crazy husband and I awoke to our alarm clock at 4:30 a.m. We got dressed (long underwear underneath our clothes), made lattes, woke our sleeping children and dressed them in warm gear, and were on the road at 5:40 to head to the mountains. Our plan: to summit Grays Peak, elevation 14, 270 feet, with our friends. Using a book called Colorado’s Fourteeners as our guide, we decided that our route should be up the eastern slope of Grays. According to the book, this was a shorter climb that was just a bit more difficult than the more heavily traveled climb up Grays’ western slope. With three kids between the ages of 9-11 in tow, we thought the shorter route might be advisable.
At 8 a.m. and only 38 degrees we left our cars and, laden with filled personal hydration packs, we began the trek to the trailhead. The book said the trailhead was .3 miles from the parking lot. It was not. It was over a mile up a 4-wheel drive road before we began seeing markers for the ascent. This was definitely going to put a damper on the “lower mileage” we were hoping for. The kids were slow to get started because of the cold. As the heart-pumping climbing began to warm us, we shed of layers of gloves, knit hats, wind gear, and fleece jackets so we could continue. We reapplied sunscreen and tried to fill up on snacks. We were stopping as much as we were moving, which was not a good sign. Still, we trudged along, taking several false trails before finally deciding on a direction to head.
By the time we had reached 13,251 feet on our climb (we’d started at 11,095 feet), we had been traveling nearly four hours. With all the stopping and starting, we had exhausted most of our water supply. Luke was complaining of a headache (dehydration related, I’m sure), Joe was starting to freak out because there was no clear cut path to the summit, and we weren’t sure what to do. We estimated that it would take us about 2 additional hours to reach the summit because there was no clearly marked trail. We’re smart parents, though, and knowing we were low on water and patience we decided the best course of action would be to pack it in, so we began our descent without ever reaching our intended goal.
Three years ago, when he was just 8, Joe climbed his first 14er (there are 53 mountain peaks in Colorado with elevations in excess of 14,000 feet, affectionately called 14ers). Two years ago, when Luke was just 7, we attempted to summit Mt. Sherman, but high winds and children with fear of heights kept us from that goal. We had hoped today would mark Luke’s first ascent over 14,000 feet, but it was not to be. I wanted to be upset because we did not accomplish our goal, but I wasn’t. We’d climbed 2,393 feet (all at high elevation) and walked nearly 7 miles, sometimes on slopes so steep that we were leaning into the hill to climb. The kids scrambled rocks and scree and were sure-footed as little goats. They made me proud.
As we were walking down, I could tell our friend’s daughter was a bit disappointed that she wasn’t going to be able to finish the climb because our boys had wanted to call it quits and we had agreed. Then I heard her repeat something to her dad. He asked her about the priorities for the day.
“Number One: Be Safe. Number Two: Have Fun. Number Three: Reach The Top,” she recited.
That got me to thinking about how often in life we feel that if we don’t reach the goal, the effort was wasted. But, that’s not really the case, is it? Was it a waste of a day because we didn’t summit Grays Peak? I don’t think so. I mean, we were on a mountain with three kids climbing at high altitude for a long distance. None of us got hurt. We all returned to the cars without a scratch. Item Number One: Check. Although the climbing was difficult and we all took turns being slow and stopping, we had fun. We laughed, commented on the gorgeous scenery, and appreciated the Rocky Mountain High views. We had great conversations with people we truly love. Item Number Two: Check. We didn’t reach the top, but that was the last priority.
After a long day, we went to Beau Jo’s for some Colorado-style pizza and beers (microbrews for the adults, root beers for the kids) to celebrate. We returned home 12 hours after we’d departed, exhausted and a bit sunburned, but feeling good about our effort. We will make some changes next time we attempt this climb (and we will attempt it again). Still, today really did prove the Chinese proverb, “The journey is the reward.” We may not have reached the goal, but the time we spent with our children and our friends, the beauty of the Colorado back country on a cloudless day with deep blue skies, the joy of seeing mountain goats in the distance walking around on Grays Peak, and the serenity of the nearly vacant east side of that awesome 14,270 foot peak made the journey worthwhile. It really comes down to perspective. You can beat yourself up over not reaching your intended target, or you can stop to enjoy what you discovered along the way. The choice is yours.
This is my second post in two days about my husband. He is not all that happy about it, but he’s made some suggestions about ways I can fix things between us. Most of them revolve around me “owing” him. (He might have left some letters off that word when he told me that, but this is a rated PG blog so we’re going with it.) Anyway, to repay him for what I am about to disclose, I decided that what I owed him was the best, homemade banana bread in the world. So, that is my olive branch to him. I’ve already eaten half of it (because it is the best banana bread in the world), but I figure that’s about right because he only gave me half my inspiration today. The other half of the inspiration came from Aron Ralston but he’s not here so I ate his half of the bread. You snooze, you lose, Aron.
This morning I decided I needed some exercise. I decide that every morning, but today I actually committed to getting off my lazy butt and getting some exercise rather than simply deciding it would be a good idea to get some exercise if I got around to it. Subtle difference. Anyway, I pulled out our books on local hikes and began rifling though pages looking for a 3-4 mile jaunt that either we had not yet done or that we hadn’t done in a long time. I narrowed it down to three possibilities and then, being the kind and thoughtful mom I am, I allowed my boys to have some input into which one they thought we should do. Of course, they both picked different options. Luke wanted to go to Boulder and Joe chose Morrison, so I made the unilateral and unalterable decision to go to Evergreen.
As is my custom, I made sure to inform hubby of our plans because he is, after all, Safety Dad. He doesn’t like it when we go on hikes without letting him know where we will be. I suppose this is just good practice. I mean, look what happened to Aron Ralston when he went off to do some canyoneering in Utah without letting anyone know where he would be. I don’t think any of us need to lose an arm over a little hike. I texted Steve.
Me: I’m going to make the boys do Alderfer/Three Sisters with me.
Steve: Cool. Take the bear spray. It’s in my nightstand. Your rain jackets are in the yellow cube in my office.
Now, what Steve didn’t know at this point was that what I was laughing about was the fact that he actually thought I would take bear spray and rain jackets on a 3 mile hike with the boys in a heavily traveled hiking spot in Evergreen on a day with hardly a cloud in the sky. He clearly does not know me at all. While I am in many ways in my life quite organized and good about planning, the kids and I more often than not fly by the seat of our pants all summer long. We get a wild hair and go with it. We do not plan. We do not organize. We do not pack well. We simply go.
Steve: Are you laughing about the bear spray in my nightstand?
Me: I’m laughing about all of it. You are on crack. I even forgot the sunscreen. We’re still going. We live on the edge when you’re not around.
Steve: Love you.
I love that he thought it was necessary at this point to tell us that he loved us…as if we would not return from our journey alive. I’m sure it would be in all the news stories. He would tearfully report that he had told me to bring along the bear spray and if I would have listened to him perhaps he we wouldn’t have been ingested by that black bear. And, as I was having that thought, another thought hovered in the recesses of my mind, waiting for its chance to get some attention.
Me: Why is the bear spray in your nightstand drawer?
Steve: In case a bear breaks in, of course.
I assumed he was joking about this, but wanted to make sure so I tested the waters.
No reply from him.
Me: The kids want to talk to you about the bear spray in the nightstand.
At this point, I think he realized that he was in trouble.
Steve: You do NOT get to blog about me tonight.
Me: Too late.
Steve: Then, you’re going to owe me.
And now we’re back to the banana bread. The sad part is that this entire story is all true. Every last word. I actually checked. The bear spray, swear to God above, is in his nightstand drawer as I type this.
The boys and I had a great hike. No one lost a limb or got attacked by a bear or even needed a rain jacket. I did get a tiny sunburn on my shoulders, which I deserve for forgetting the sunscreen. Still, I think that somewhere between Aron Ralston’s missing arm and my husband’s bear spray in the nightstand is a happy medium where most of us live. We try to be good, we do our best, and we cross our fingers. Sometimes we get a little sunburned, but it all evens out in the end.
“Yielding means inner acceptance of what is. You are open to life. When you yield internally, when you surrender, a new dimension of consciousness opens up.” ~ Eckhart Tolle
Yesterday, Steve and I decided it would be a great day for a family hike. So, we loaded up the car and headed up to Boulder. I found a 4+ mile hike just outside of Boulder near Eldorado Canyon on Trails.com that looked promising, so we went for it. Because we got a late start on the day, it was already 82 degrees when we pulled into the South Mesa Trail parking lot around noon. I knew the boys would whine about the heat, but we were there and Steve and I were bound and determined to get the exercise.
The boys, usually quite able bodied and semi-amenable to hiking, were in rare form from the start. Joe had consumed so much water on the drive up that he was wanting to mark his territory every half mile. Luke, a kid who hates to be either too hot or too cold, was moving slowly and in a constant state of whine about how sweaty he was. Being not the world’s most sympathetic person (understatement), I told them that if they’d stop using so much energy to complain they’d have more energy to hike faster and finish sooner. True story.
The first mile was a bit rough as the boys complained and dragged their feet, hoping we would suspend the exercise. We were annoyed but persisted in our determination to complete the hike. During the entire second mile, I was fairly certain my husband (who is one of the most patient people I have ever known) would eventually strangle Luke, who could not seem to tamp down his whining. If there’s one thing I’ve learned about children, it’s that they’re like animals; they can smell hesitancy and fear and will use your weakness against you. Luke was working it.
As Luke whimpered and cried foul, Steve went from grimacing about it to full on bitching at him while I went to my happy place. I’m not sure what it is about Boulder that makes me so dang happy, but I’m at peace there. As the war between Luke and his father began to escalate, I became increasingly calm. I took turns talking to both of them, positioning myself in between them as a buffer, and trying to resolve the situation with a positive attitude. The more they bickered, the less I seemed to care. I was able to focus on the beauty of the landscape, the pine scent rising from the trees, the cool breeze on my sun-warmed skin, and the joy of being somewhere that I love to be with the people who mean the most surrounding me. I escaped from the negativity of the situation by focusing on what I loved rather than on what I disliked. It was very zen of me, I thought.
As we got into the third mile, we hit the forest and Luke was shaded enough to stop whining a bit. Joe had at last peed himself out. Steve had nothing left to feel frustrated about. The hike became what I envisioned it would be, a fun little walk with my family somewhere new. I’m not sure if it was my attitude that diffused the negativity or the negativity that changed my own attitude, but something made the whole experience positive rather than negative and we ended the 4.5 mile hike feeling good about it overall.
How often do we tense up when things aren’t going the way we want and in our tension merely compound the situation? Sometimes, the best thing we can do when things get rough is to let go of expectation and relax. And, as we yield to the way things are rather than dreaming of the way we wanted things to be, we make peace with the present moment and life begins to look not quite as bad as we thought. Occasionally we waste too much energy on a battle when we should surrender instead. Sometimes making peace with a situation is not a defeat at all but a victory in disguise.
Steve and I like to hike. It’s been something we’ve done together since the very beginning of our relationship. When our boys were small, we took them along in Baby Bjorn carriers and then eventually the toddler carrier backpacks. It was brutal, but we refused to give up on hiking. When they were between 2 and 5, I would take the double jogger stroller to Roxborough or Waterton Canyon and push them through the hike so I didn’t have to carry them. Eventually, we accepted that they needed to be walking the entire time, so we slowed our pace, knowing that if we wanted them to become good hikers we would actually have to let them hike. Gradually their skills improved, and the distances they were able to travel increased.
Last year was a watershed year. They were finally able to do 7 mile hikes without getting too tired. We were thrilled. On our hike up Carpenter Peak, we’d have to play crazy games to keep them motivated (the boys yelling, “Stop…you separatist dogs” the entire time) but they were doing it. Although we were happy with the distances they could go, we weren’t pleased with the bribery that would have to take place to keep them moving occasionally. One day I promised them Sonic for lunch if we could get through a three-mile hike with a moderate climb in just an hour. We made it in an hour and two minutes; I had a cheeseburger and a strawberry slush that day for lunch.
Today, we hiked about 8 miles through Arches National Park with them. We never once had to beg them to keep going. In fact, we couldn’t get close enough to them to talk to them. We had to keep yelling ahead telling them not to run out of our field of view. You know what that means? It means THAT day has come…the dreaded day when you realize the torch has been passed and you can no longer keep up with your kids. This notion is especially depressing when you stop to consider the fact that you’re in the best shape you’ve been in for years. How can we be so good and yet not good enough? I’ll tell you how. We’re old. It’s official.
I guess my point is be careful what you wish for. We were so excited to have kids who could keep up with us. Last year they did. This year they’ve surpassed us. If there’s a silver lining in all of this, however, it’s that in a couple years they’ll hit that sullen, resentful, grumpy teenage phase where they come along and begrudgingly shuffle their feet and complain the entire way. I’m thinking when they get to that phase, we just might be able to out-hike them again. That’s something, right?