When I was 13 years old Sue, a wonderful young friend of my mom’s, took me on my first backpacking trip at Mt. Rainier. It was truly one of the most wonderful experiences of my life. I didn’t know how magnificent and expansive the natural world could be. Though I was raised Catholic, that backpacking trip convinced me that God existed everywhere.
Each summer for a number of years after, Sue took us on backpacking trips around the state. None compared to St. Andrew’s park at Rainier, but each trip exposed me to more of nature’s grandeur and delight.
After I lost my leg, at 17 years old, I didn’t think I’d backpack again. Sue gave me a year to heal, but then got me back on trail. The trip was hot, arduous and painful. I was a bitch. But there were pockets of relief when a vista, the cedar’s pungent odor, or a deer sighting would stir my soul and I forgot that a part of me was missing. I felt so complete and whole in nature.
I did more backpacking after that, mostly in my twenties. During the past ten years I’ve taken occasional hikes and two years ago took my family on a 2 mile backpacking trip in the Cascades. It was one of the most beautiful trails I’ve ever been on, full of cedar, fern, and woodland wildflowers. There were many unexpected steps on the trail which I wasn’t prepared for physically or emotionally. Mark helped me up, standing on the stair above me with his hand outstretched, waiting to pull me up. The kids, with their boundless energy, were way ahead of us. The trail was longer than the promised one mile. When a fellow hiker, on his way down, assured us we were really close, Mark insisted that I drop my backpack on the side of the trail and offered to come back for it when we found camp. I obliged immediately.
Without the weight of the backpack, climbing the stairs was much easier. I asked him to run ahead to check on the kids. I actually wanted to be alone. With the trees. I didn’t know if I was saying hello or goodbye to them. I didn’t know if I’d ever get back on trail after this trip, it was so difficult. I cried tears of joy that I was there again. It was enough in that moment.
But the woods call me. I want to go back. So I’ve decided that walking my daughter to school and back – 1 mile – isn’t enough. I’ve changed my goal and am proud to announce that I’m in training to go back on trail. I am going to go on a TWO mile hike, hopefully somewhere close to home, perhaps in the Chuckanut mountains.
I love the Olympic Games. They will be starting soon just north of us in Vancouver B.C.. When I was a girl I always wanted to be an ice skater. Well, ice skating isn’t in my future, a two mile hike is. And I’m in training. Perhaps not as vigorously as an Olympic champion, but something deep is driving me like I imagine drives them. I need to do this – because the trees call, because I want to know that I can still access that part of my life, because it’s simply not asking too much to go on a two mile hike and because I want to feel my wholeness in nature.
Tomorrow I’ll do push-ups.