I’m officially in my mid-forties. That happened this spring. It couldn’t be any “midder” – at 45, I am poised between “I’m still young” and inescapably, no excuses or apologies, and no weaseling out of it using math or science, middle-aged. I don’t feel different than I did when I was 20, except that I think I’m in better shape now.
Being this age and arriving here via the path I’ve taken means that I can do things like go hike 3 mountains before lunch on a Saturday in May. There isn’t anywhere else I have to be, and I’m ready, on all levels to do this. My child is self sufficient and safe; my husband will catch up with me later. My time is my own, I have gas in the car, and the chores that come with home ownership have been put off or evaded. I can do this.
But hoofing it up that first ascent, the thought worms its way into my awareness: self-doubt. Can I do this? Three whole mountains? I’m tired, I’m sweating, my legs hurt… And so starts the internal dialog. I don’t have to do this, I tell myself. I can stop any time. I will just get up to the first view point and then decide how I feel. I’ll keep an eye on the dogs – they may get overheated and need to stop… Baloney. This is the mental game, the psych out. I do my psych out at warp speed, powering up the hill while thinking about all the reasons why I can’t or shouldn’t be here. I keep up with the dogs.
The trail takes me along a stream, crossing a couple of smaller streams before rising steeply for a while and then crossing above the stream’s source. I read the terrain, listening to the water, noting the deep ravine, anchoring my sense of a bearing: I’m heading south, ravine is to the west, mountain # 3 is on my left… and then I grin. I’ve been doing so much trailless navigation, it has become second nature to be vigilant about my surroundings. Today I am walking on a trail. I can just look at the pretty flowers and follow the trail markers. Today navigation is not part of the effort.
I take photographs. Lots of them. I marvel at the carpet of foam flowers along the creek, filling all the interstices. I am breathless at my good fortune: I catch a rosy twisted stalk in full bloom. Snap snap snap. The dogs are patient. The running commentary in my head has shifted. I am no longer hiding behind “I can’t.” Now I’m chattering silently about weeds and officially making art in the woods with my camera. I’ve started writing the trip report in my head. I’m happy, but I can’t relax.
After the trail junction, things get more athletic and I put the camera away. Single point of focus: whatever the next step/handhold/foot placement is receives 100% of my attention. Breath fills my awareness for a few hundred feet. Two of the three dogs are a bit cowed by the ledges and the need to leap. The oldest dog, approximately 75 in human years, shows the others how it’s done. Her grace and confidence inspires me. I lift and cajole, praise and support the others. They get the job done.
I always forget until I am there, in it, how much easier it is to walk the ridge. I arrive at the top almost two hours and two miles after I started. I arrive at the second summit twenty minutes later.
There is no one out there. I am alone with three dogs moving through a magnificent landscape. I am breathless, drenched, filthy already, and my heart is singing. I can do this.
I have been here before, several times. Most recently I traversed this ridge with a friend, and I replay pieces of that hike as I cover distance and make time. I remember moments, vignettes triggered by visuals: this is the spot where the two brown dogs chased something into the brush and the two black dogs stayed with us, waiting patiently. This is the spot where we started talking about sex and then came upon a group of men who must have heard our views on orgasms and intercourse. This is the spot where we laughed at “how short the trees are” because we were standing on five feet of snow.
Today there is no hilarity or camaraderie. There is just movement, breath, a monkey mind, and an observer.