"Would you tell me, please, which way I ought to go from here?"
"That depends a good deal on where you want to get to," said the Cat.
"I don’t much care where--" said Alice.
"Then it doesn’t matter which way you go," said the Cat.
"--so long as I get SOMEWHERE," Alice added as an explanation.
"Oh, you’re sure to do that," said the Cat, "if you only walk long enough."
"I can't do it." That's what I told Kenny on the first hike we took last year. "I'm hot and I'm tired and I just... I just can't."
We're used to hiking in the 60s... maybe the low 70s. We've hiked in the rain and in hailstorms. We've hiked through thunderstorms with lightning striking all around. We've even hiked through snow. But this day was hot. Eighty degrees hot at 8-9,000 feet above sea level. That's rare and I wasn't used to it. I couldn't get in to the groove, and we were on an easier hike - only going a little over 3 miles round trip. Which means I'd hit a wall somewhere around Mile 1.
He stopped and took a drink with me. "I'm having a hard time, too."
"Really?" I asked. "You?"
He's climbed Flattop, Meeker, Otis and Taylor among others. He's climbed Long's Peak - 15 miles round trip, up to 14,000 feet.
"It's never easy," he said. "It's up. It's always hard."
I'd forgotten. I forget every year. We started on slowly and slowly I remembered what I know. The things that I have to learn over and over again, year after year. The things that only hiking can teach me.
I started listening to my feet.
The trails are fine gravel and the treads on hiking boots make a beautiful crunching sound. I'd forgotten that I have to listen to it and let it do all the work. Crunch crunch crunch. I find a rhythm that I like and I hike to it. It counts out the hours the minutes the seconds. A drumbeat. A heartbeat.
And I quit looking up. If you ask me at the base of any mountain if I can hike it, I'd tell you no. I just take step after step. Head down, eyes on my own work. I never focus on the whole trail. I only go to the top. "Just get up," I tell myself. "Just get up." It's my mantra. Only to the top. I give it everything I have. I know that if I get myself to the top, it's only natural that I'll get back down somehow. But I don't hike 8 miles at once. I hike 4 up. The 4 back will take care of itself when it takes care of itself. I don't listen to the voice that tells me I can't. It's not evil. It's just afraid. I tell it it can take one more step. Then one more. For hours I talk to myself, and I listen to my feet answering.
And then I remember what the top is like. The views are spectacular, but the wind blows cold against you. It's rocky and bare and everything you love is small and far away. It's great to reach the top, but we only spend an hour there. So on a longer hike, that might mean 7 hours in the trees and in the meadows and in the valleys. So I remember that I'd better love the trees. I'd better love the trail.
I'm not in the greatest of shape. I'm not the thinnest person. I don't go to the gym. I like to take walks but walking in Kansas is nothing like hiking in Colorado. Really, there's no reason that I should be able to hike the way I do except that I want to. And for me that's enough. I get out on the trail and I put one foot down and then the other. Lather, rinse, repeat.
And here's the funny thing. I like it when the mountain asks for more than I have to give. I love the tired relaxed feeling of having done it. Nothing else brings me greater peace.
That's the biggest thing I forget when I come back down.
Sometimes life is hard. Sometimes the thing I want to write feels impossible. Sometimes I can't see well enough to take pictures. Sometimes I need a mountain to remind me:
To listen to my own rhythm.
To go slowly.
That if I only walk long enough, I will get SOMEWHERE.
And that the best part isn't just at the top.
The best part - as hard as it is sometimes - is right here.