While it may seem like my year (life? writing project?) is about resolving some kind of existential angst…in reality, I’ve been told (and often feel) that if I were a dog, I’d be a golden retriever — blonde; determined; always gladly, doggedly chasing the next tennis ball. Generally, happy. Sometimes, frustrated.
(Have you noticed that I love adverbs? If I could, I would name my first-born an adverb. If I ever have children, I just might.)
Whereas my writing project has been busy tackling tough questions of life and love and moving on, my life-in-real-time has been about preparing for a Mount Whitney climb, and living in awe of the miracle of the capacity and limits of the human body.
You may recall that in December, I wrote that the thing I wanted most to achieve this year is to climb Mount Whitney. In April, I found out we’d received the permit to climb. At that point, my arm was still in a sling from the car accident, and my wounds were still raw from being rejected, and then the hike then became about the healing, too. Each of us travelling to climb has a need to take on this challenge. I can’t speak to the other women’s reasons for it, because they are wholly personal. But if I may borrow a cliche, the journey is the destination for each of us.
So we decided, this weekend, to do a practice climb in the Berkshires.
What are you doing that for, my father asked, everyone knows you don’t have mountains on the east coast. You only have hills!
(My father, a Pittsburgh native, who still says “talls” instead of towels, lived in Philadelphia for a number of years; spent a good long time travelling what my finance colleages obnoxiously call “Australasia.” His worldliness notwithstanding, he has become the consummate, insular Californian.)
We have to hike sometime, Daddy.
(There was a silence on the other end of the phone that indicated my father’s unspoken “touche”)
Early Sunday morning, a small contingent of the Women of Winesday: Strand, Kat and I set off for Massachusetts to climb Mt. Greylock, the tallest peak in the state. We’d chosen to reach the summit by way of a trail called “Thoreau’s Footsteps,” supposedly the way Henry David Thoreau had climbed the mountain in 1844 (and had recounted in his book “A Year on the Concord & Merrimack”).
We scrambed up some aggressive inclines; through fairly dense brush; gained over 2,000ft in elevation. While this hike was no walk through the Sierras or the Alps, it was fairly difficult and it was a moment to get our feet wet. We needed an opportunity to taste sweat and DEET and swallow bugs and beat back strange plants and to stumble — and opportunity we had!
(It did not, at the start, seem like it would be as challenging as it ultimately was)
I smell like bug spray and perspiration.
You smell like achievement.
I want to bottle this and wear it every day. What’s that fragrance you’re wearing? Eau de Mountain Climbing.
This hike reminded me of how I am constantly in awe of the human body: how it works; what it can do; how we can work with what we are given. When you go from having nothing — when you have been broken and helpless and your body once gave up — those moments when you stand on the top of a mountain or cross the finish-line of a race…well, you are filled with more than a sense of accomplishment; you are filled with a sense of immense gratitude. Perhaps, relief.
When you have experienced those moments of living a phoenix-or-Christ-metaphor (since this is a day of heavily borrowed metaphors and cliches) you often want to look at everyone around you who says “Can’t” — the people who say “I can’t; you can’t; we can’t” — and remind them that we are each filled with an incredible capacity for “can.”
(View from the summit)
Nearly ten miles of scrambling and stumbling ascent later, we climbed back down the mountain from our point on the Appalachian Trail, presumably each meditating on the road that remained to our Mount Whitney climb in August. Then we drove back through the Berkshires to Connecticut and back to the City on a stunning summer afternoon.