“Stop looking at me!” I screeched as I crouched into a windbreak to clumsily remove a used tampon from my body with a sharp tug. My boyfriend, Ben, didn’t know how to turn off his joke faucet, especially on a long thru-hike, and he was darting from rock to rock like an untamed marmot. My nerves were getting raw. It was lunchtime on October 3, 2017, and the closest thing I had to comfort was a granite ledge perched 2500 feet above the Kern River Valley, wind whipping my face as I teetered, bloody-handed and sore. I couldn’t believe it was 33 degrees in the sun. I couldn’t believe that I was sick, depressed, and on my period, either. I squinted pathetically as a raven flew overhead, twisting my neck as it soared out of view. A sharp pain seized my stomach like a petrified child. Everything felt wrong, and the only way out was to climb over Mt. Whitney.
Dear fellow badass,
You don’t need to adventure to impress a man; you are just as ruthless and rugged as they are. Your supreme beauty is matched only by your raw ferocity in the wild. You lick blood off your scabs and snot rocket while trail running. You peel dead skin off your feet and forget to shave your legs. You are a walking contradiction; one minute, astute and poised in heels at an office, the next, you’re tearing up your Civic on a backcountry dirt road, praying that it doesn’t get stuck in the mud. You are the glorious master of choosing conscious dichotomy. You are a fireball.
The moment I catch my first glimpse of Dead Woman’s Pass between ragged breaths in the thin air of 13,000 feet, I smile with relief. Perched atop massive stone steps, slick with jungle rain, I can barely make out the fluorescent sheets of plastic adorning ant-sized tourists up top to shield them from the downpour. My hiking partner, Rosie, and I are way out front of our group, preferring to put our heads down and charge forward until our heart rates soar and we stop to gasp for air in the crisp mountain morning. 828 feet later, I stagger up the final few stairs to the top of the notorious pass, beaming. My fingers go numb as I wander around snapping a few photos, the wind-chill dipping into the mid-twenties. I can feel the blood coursing through my capillaries as I take in the taller peaks and wait for my crew to catch up. The hardest part of the trek was behind me, I was higher than I had ever been with a full pack on, and my mom was somewhere just below, crushing it on The Inca Trail.
The first time I soloed a long trail, it almost broke me. Being naked and shivering inside my sleeping bag with nothing to shield me except a tiny backpacker’s tent quickly twisted my thoughts into a thousand worst case scenarios, my mother’s voice echoing loudly about hypothermia, snakes, and career-minded decision making. It was 42 degrees outside, and I could hear the percussion of rain lapping against my tent as I trembled in my down sack. Below my precarious perch on Saddle Peak’s mud-covered switchbacks, the constant whoosh of traffic pulled at me like a trail of breadcrumbs. Civilization was just a mile away, if only I would give up.
“It’s not me, it’s you,” I whispered as the wind whipped a red tangle of hair around my left ear, punctuating the sentence so that you could feel its weight. Forgive me, but these days my mind often wanders like a teenager at a job she no longer sees as necessary for survival. You are no longer necessary for survival. I was always a fan of cinematic moments effortlessly captured in the day to day of the default world, and I guess giving a breakup monologue atop a cliff in Yosemite beneath a full moon seemed too good to pass up. “I’ve found someone else,” I declared, insistent. “Someone more stable and diverse and with a bigger heart than you could ever possess. I’m breaking up with you to date mountains.”