It’s sunset, and you are watching the last of our star’s orange glow fluoresce against the horizon before it dips out of view. You’re sitting on the stoop of a 400-year-old stucco building in Cinque Terre, Italy, swigging Chianti straight out of the bottle like a college sophomore. A light breeze blows past. Giggling couples begin returning from the rocky shore towards restaurants lit with dancing flickers of candlelight, ready to gorge themselves on fresh seafood. You take a deep breath and exhale proudly, “Now this is living!”
I’m going to level with you for a moment. Sometimes, the ordinariness of day-to-day existence can feel like a big pile of dog poo wrapped up in a sparkly anxiety bow, especially in this current news cycle. When things get overwhelming and you find yourself wanting to quit, sob, or perhaps yell at the next stranger who cuts you off in the grocery store, take a moment to pause, take a deep breath, and try out one of these age-old solutions instead.
Last Sunday, I plopped onto the couch, curled up into the lap of a man I love, and did absolutely nothing but watch documentaries from morning to night while eating ice cream, laughing hysterically, and pausing for extremely necessary sex breaks. It was glorious. I felt happy and dizzy and blissed out. My joy bubbled up from brain stem to crown and left me smiling and slightly lobotomized in its wake. But somewhere, in the pit of my stomach, a familiar twinge of worry began to blossom. A faint notion of guilt for spending a day doing nothing other than resting and being happy crept across my toes and made me shiver.
I’m limping again. I can barely walk downstairs. Bruised knee and bloodshot eyes. My life in boxes. My heart in a tourniquet. Used up. Washed out. Pale moon shadow of the girl I wanted to be.
This is a love song to sing to ourselves at the bottom of the blackest pits (the ones we too often choose to leap into willingly).
It’s the question on the tip of everyone’s tongue each time I conjure the courage to spit out the idea for my latest sufferfest. Why climb over 10,000 vertical feet in a day? Why push for a summit in 70mph winds? Why waste a perfectly good Saturday waking up at five in the morning to bloody my fingers on sharp granite crystals?
People often ask me where I get my ideas from or what fuels my endless enthusiasm for the outdoors. The truth is, I stand on the shoulders of giants. In the information age, we are so fortunate to have countless images of the best mountains and trails the world has to offer at the tips of our fingers. Here are a few of the women I admire who make my heartbeat quicken on the days I feel despondent.
“I wish I remembered more of it.”
The feeling stuck in my brain like old gum to a shoe as I tried to conjure up details from the day’s climb that broke all my records, bruised my heart, and took me to 16,818 vertical feet above sea level.
Last Thursday afternoon, I bit into a bright pink apple, feeling the familiar crunch as my teeth sliced through its delicate skin. The texture was waxen at first with a cool grit the color of eggshell hiding underneath, and I paused as each flavor spread wide across my tongue. First tart, then floral, then an accelerated array of sweet, sour, base, and plant before I swallowed and began again. I paused, affixing my gaze on the small, oval sticker that bared a barcode and a cheap cartoon logo, and I wondered, “Where did you come from?”
“How much higher do you think that outcropping is from where we’re sitting right now?”
Justin was faded, nauseous, and swaying in the mid-day heat of the Eastern Sierra when the words fell out of his mouth. My head felt like an over-inflated balloon. Dumbstruck, I tried my best at a civil response, “Fuck. I don’t know… Maybe 50 feet? Is this not the summit?!”
“Look! My hip has a weird, reptilian scab from this backpack’s belt.”
“Pumping water from these plastic bags takes SO LONG.”
“Dude. I hate marmots.”
We’ve all been that person – the one with the sweat dripping into our eye sockets or the wrong shoes on when it starts to rain. It’s inevitable, it’s annoying, and, usually, it really fucking sucks. The more I go outdoors, the more I become aware of the myriad of weird discomforts and things that can go wrong while tramping through the woods with your house on your back. I’ve also noticed that some people seem to be significantly better at keeping their troubled assertions to themselves and making light of the situation instead, laughing off blisters like some sort of high-octane mutants. I call them Bodacious Backpackers, and they are the superhero mind-ninjas that everyone wants on their thru-hike or climbing expedition. I wanted to become one of them.