The past few days, I hiked the Backbone Trail. Not all 67 miles, but 37, which is enough if you ask me. And the whole point of this blog is to catalog my travels and sometimes, those travels aren’t so grand. In fact, they can be pretty pathetic. Because here’s the deal: I cried.
I cried a lot. I cried because, sometimes I was scared (okay, like all the time). Like in my tent at night, when the coyotes are howling in the distance. It sounds like every demon has gathered for the solstice. I cried because my dog had a limp, and her hot ass wouldn’t stop panting beside me in the tent. I cried because I couldn’t sleep.
The nightbirds were shrill and angry, fighting one another for whatever night birds fight for. This was no beautiful song, but a viscous, spiting trill. They kept me up all night.
Brush crackled from all around me. I saw faces in the night. I watched trees move, and thought, perhaps, that I was high.
Night is scary when you’re all alone. When you’re perched at the top of a mountain, your pack there beside you, inside the flimsy little tent with aluminum poles to make it seem like it weighs less than it does. You sleep with a knife in your hands. You wake up to every sound, and when the dog growls, you sit up and wait. Wait for whatever may be coming.
If it’s a person you have the moves rehearsed. You just completed EMT school you know where every major artery is located go for the femoral so they can’t chase after you. If it’s an animal, blow the whistle tied to your pack to scare it off. If that doesn’t work, ensure that you stay upright because they always go for the neck and head first. Try to get a swift cut in before they get to you. It’s muscle memory. I’ve replayed the moves in my head time and time again. But that doesn’t mean I’m not afraid.
And it’s too hot to seal the tent so you have to sleep with just the screen, meaning everything around you is visible and it should be beautiful because of all those stars. My god, those stars. Galaxies hung like mobiles above my sleeping form. But, instead, I’m looking at those damned trees, silhouetted there against a glowing midnight sky, taking the form of men, moving slowly back and forth.
But dawn is like the answer to your prayers. It’s like forgiveness, the first shades of pastel hues that paint the sky. It’s like your second chance, because everything is hunting you at night. Every hour when you wake up you say to yourself that you’re almost there. It’s almost 5. Four more hours. Then three more hours. Then two more hours till daylight. Till safety.
And when the day comes, you strap on your pack, and wince as it presses up against sore shoulders. Your blistered feet burn like little fires from the confines of your shoes. You brew coffee, and think about the miles you have to go.
And you want to stop. But you want to conquer. You want to find what you came looking for although you don’t quite know what that may be. Perhaps it’s strength. Perhaps it’s a piece of yourself that you have lost.
And so you push on and persevere so that, at the end of the day, you have proved that you can. That’s all it really is. Proof. That you are strong, and more than this world tells you that you are. That you can pitch a tent while crying, and cook your food with the waters of your tears.
Because yes, sometimes, you cry. You crave home and the safety of a bed with a fervor you did not know that you possessed. You imagine it all. The one you love, tucked there beside you in the sheets. And, more than anything else, you want to return. But you carry on. To the tops of mountains, where you stand. Overlooking the world. From the ocean to the canyons you dance upon the lining of the mountains in between them.
The Backbone Trail. Built upon the backs of mountains. And your own back is tired from the weight of all this water. And the heat. In case you haven’t cried enough the heat makes your skin release its own tears. Salty, sunburnt skin.
And at the end you wonder if it was even worth it. If it was worth the blisters and the bug bites and the friction burns upon your shoulders. If it was worth the many miles.
But nightbirds aren’t the only ones with strength. I am weak, but strong. I may cry, but I carry my pack. I place the tread of my boot upon the trail. I move forward, onward, never ceasing. To persevere past tears is conviction. It is determination to be better than you are. It is the beauty of a thousand miles beneath your feet. It isn’t a conquering of self, as much as it is an acceptance of it.
I walk in the wild. The beautiful, glorious, sun kissed face of the wilderness. It isn’t easy. But nothing worthwhile ever is.
And when I cry, or when I fear, I know that dark is strongest just before the light. That, and there’s always a beer waiting on the other side.