“Sometimes you eat the bear, and sometimes the bear eats you.”
Today, I really hit a wall, kids. Mt. Baden Powell threatened to flick me off of its wet, hairy backside, and I relented. It’s rare that I have to turn back after planning an adventure or setting an intention. I’m big on research, train appropriately, and my fearless tenacity is one of the things I pride myself on most. But today, I had to turn back in a big way, and I learned a lot about myself in the process.
First off, I embarked on my hike knowing that inclement weather threatened to dismantle the whole thing. It promised to be 40 degrees and raining for the majority of the day, but I wanted to push myself and test my gear, plus it’s nearly impossible to tell from a weather forecast exactly how much rain is going to be spraying you in the face/fingers/pants, so I pressed on. After an hour and a half drive to Islip Saddle to try my hand at the 16 mile out and back ascent of Mt. Baden Powell, I leapt out of my car to the most harrowing sounds of wind ripping through the pass, slamming my car door shut. Fuck. Me.
Wind, for some reason, has always made me nervous. It severely intensifies cold, it can knock you over or slow you down immensely on a trail, and it makes solo tent set-up hilarious or annoying, depending on your mental state. Needless to say, after hopping out of my car to some seriously intense gusts, knowing full well that I was about to charge into a freezing rain storm at altitude alone, I immediately gave myself permission to turn back at any moment, but I was going to try as hard I could in the meantime.
It’s quite difficult to look at a forecast and accurately predict the speed of inevitable wind gusts slicing right through every mountain saddle. I’d been a little shaken by wind on this trail before, but today, once the weather system blew in, visibility dropped to almost nothing about 50 feet in front of me, so it was incredibly isolating. Rather than feeling like a badass and pushing through the windy bits, rewarded by sweeping views of the San Gabriels and The Angeles National Forest, it was like hiking inside a foggy snowglobe that some sadistic giant kept shaking. And THE SOUNDS. Being the only hiker around for at least a ten mile radius and hearing the raw power of air cutting through rock while the ancient wood of Lodgepole and Limber Pines creaks around you is haunting, to say the least.
So, shaken, but trying to keep my wits about me as the rain intensified, I pushed past the notorious Windy Gap and through two more blustering moments before coming to a terrified halt at a wind break just before the chunk of trail that would send me packing. The noise of the wind rushing over the mountain was deafening, and I waited for a few minutes to see if it would let up, hoping that I had merely come at a bad moment. When it failed to die out, I barreled into the fray, head down, only to nearly be blown over. I took refuge under a gnarled pine and sprinted back to my friendly wind break with an audible NOPE.
That was it. I had failed. I got my ass handed to me by a freezing, windy rainstorm on the side of a mountain, and, to make matters worse, I had to sit with my own company for the next 2 hours as I made my descent. As I was climbing back down the mountain, pondering over whether or not I could have pushed through safely or if I’m ever going to be strong enough to do a thousand mile trail solo, my brain landed on a lot of recent conversations about self-care and how it’s kind of my nemesis.
I think that I, too often, mistake self-care for “hanging out doing nothing,” which is really a terrible way of looking at it. Self-care is all about the conscious intention of doing a kind thing for yourself, even if it’s small. Because, if you don’t release a bit of tension here and there by giving yourself a little mental hug, you’re going to eventually explode. The best part is that self-care can be as simple as making your favorite snack, drawing a warm bath, scheduling an hour to read a comic alone, or calling a friend to vent about a bad day. Apparently, for me, self-care is a lot louder and messier. I need to scrape myself raw and bloody before I’m willing to settle down and make a bowl of soup at home.
So, yeah. Self-care at 8,500 feet is apparently learning to back the fuck off when a mountain threatens to eject you. Driving home from the experience, fingers tingling and feet soaked, I realized how proud of myself I was for having that moment of reckoning where I decided that continuing on was not in my cards. Pressing right up against a boundary is a hell of a learning experience, and I’m certain that my comfort level with altitude, weight, rain, cold, and wind all just went up a heroic dose today, even if I did not complete the mission. Winding through the city streets as I made my way back to my apartment, I had a strange and poetic moment in which I felt incredibly separate from the measured rigidity of the modern world and, in a way, yearned for the wilderness that had so recently just chewed me up. I think I long to be humbled by her lessons, and that is why I, and so many others, keep coming back.