Tag Archives: the mountains are calling

Living the dream

I never allowed myself big dreams really.

I grew up broke and raised by hard working practical parents who were the children of immigrants and coal miners.

There was no room in our house for lofty goals.

You went to college and sacrificed so you could get a practical, stable job so you could have a normal comfortable life.

That was the most dreaming I allowed myself, to be comfortable enough to do a little traveling and afford trips to Whole Foods.

It took me awhile to get there but I did it. Scraped my way through college, slowly worked my way up in a corporate environment, paid off some debt, got married, bought a house. Finally went on vacation.

By my mid thirties I’d achieved the most I’d allowed myself to dare to hope.

And if you’ve been following me for awhile you know the rest. The complacency underscored by discontent. Then a run in the woods that changes everything.

For awhile that was more than enough.

But then a dream started sneaking in. A wish to feel what life was like in the mountains. Living in north Texas means there was no real way to live that experience without a lot of travel expenses or a major move so there for awhile, I did what I’d always done and dismissed these thoughts as impractical and told myself to be grateful for what I had.

I was grateful. But still…the dream persisted. And worse, it keep getting louder. I’ve talked before about finally taking that step and how hard it was so I won’t go into it again but we did it. We packed up and moved to place where I can fully experience life in the mountains.

The only big expansive dream I’ve ever allowed myself to have that came true.

And this, friends, is where the intention of my story turns. Because I was going to do my best to lay out plainly-tell you how hard a realized dream actually is compared to the pretty little Instagram worthy snippets you build up in your mind. How no matter how beautiful the outside, your insides don’t magically change. I was going to talk about regret and missing my old life and tell you I don’t know if it’s worth it, this dream life.

But then I went for a long walk in the woods the other day and was at the point in my sojourn that everything started to feel really uncomfortable. I’d been on my feet for hours, my IT bands were getting stiff, my toes were getting blisters and I had been dreaming of doritos and cherry coke for the last three hours. I was ready to be done and still another hour or so before I got back to my car. 

And the tape was playing in my head. The cranky, tired voice of discomfort was wheeling right along with its usual extortions. It’s hot. My feet hurt. I want to be done. It’s hard. WHY ARE THERE SO MANY HILLS????

But then another voice popped up and very subtly said you know you don’t have to think this way if you don’t want. And I know that. The difference here is that usually even if I know how to be better, I feel resistance to the change and in this case, all I felt was relief. 

In the past, I am ashamed to say that part of me expected gratitude to be like the blue pill. That if I was just grateful enough, I would somehow magically become this uber person instead of my neurotic self. 

That day I was still in pain, still ready to be done but without the yammering in my head to make it worse. Gratitude quietly rode along with the blisters and the doritos cravings for the remainder of the hike and she’s been pretty consistent since. 

And while I was out there changing my mind about the hike, I was also changing my mind about this dream that I’d walked into, the one that felt so different from how I imagined. Apparently when the complaining got put aside, the regret and doubt got set down with it.

Because you know what embodying this dream feels like? ALIVE. There is work -hard work- and missteps and backtracking and wayfinding. I am being challenged mentally, physically and emotionally. But I am IN IT and there is not a hint of stagnancy. Like the hike, a part of me just wanted it to be over. Wanted to go back to what I knew, go back to comfort. And like the hike, I am now so excited to see what’s around the next bend.

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On being brave

Every saturday the Starbucks lady calls me brave whenever she sees me walk in half awake, same ratty ball cap on my head, same worn flannel, same basic white girl coffee order.

I’m brave, apparently, because I hike or trail run alone.

Now I could get into my irritation at the gender hypocrisy as my husband and male friends have never once been told they were brave for hiking alone but dismantling gender norms is for another post.

The thing is, mountains are straightforward. I can see what I’m getting into. There is no hiding the difficulty-I know it’s going to suck and that I’m going to want to quit at some point. I know there are inherent risks involved. And if it goes south, I know it isn’t personal. If mother nature were a triage nurse, the spiderwebs I clear with my face have a higher priority than I would. They can do some good out there where as I am a human, and therefore have a natural bent towards destruction.

This complete lack of concern for my continued existence is a comfort in a way. It is what it is and you either shoulder your pack and get on with it or you don’t.

Life though. All of it so unclear, all of us so unsure, with no signs to point you up the trail. We are all getting up every day and navigating the murky waters of work stress and decisions about kids or parents or money or boundaries without directions or a map. Then the coworker whose wife lost the baby at 16 weeks. The friend bravely speaking up about her struggles with bipolar disorder. 

Physical vulnerability can be mitigated or at least significantly lessened with gear, training and practice. The vulnerability of being human though, seems to remains raw and terrifying no matter how many years I accumulate on this planet.

So I don’t bother to correct my Starbucks lady as I realize her intention is complimentary. I just know that when I’m brave, it’s not for any mountain I climb. 

And I would tell anyone that has a dream they are afraid to pursue, the bravery to do so already lives within you.

Trail truths on the Cooper Spur

It was a shitty hike. There are a lot of things I could probably blame for it: a restless night of sleep, an even earlier than my usual ass o’clock wake up call, more altitude, more exposure, more wildfire smoke turning the horizon to opaque haze. I won’t though because it could have been a flat trail on a clear day at sea level after waking with the sun well rested and I still could have had a shitty hike.

Sometimes it’s just like that.

I say that now of course, it’s hilariously dramatic in my head as I’m chugging my way up the trail though. Oh the challenges I have to epically overcome. The first draft of this post was equally emo.

Sometimes I’m just like that.

The truth is, sometimes I would like to be better, faster, stronger. More adept at elevation, more versed in the mountains, less prone to injury. I wish I wasn’t so hung up on getting out on the trail because that would mean it wouldn’t be so crazy making when I can’t. I wish I was as passionate about something that came easier to me than this thing that I can struggle with so much sometimes.

This is actually one of the shorter excursions I’ve taken in awhile at about 6.5 miles round trip but also one of the more challenging. It’s pretty much entirely uphill with about the last mile off trail and picking your way over rocks without even the benefit of switch backs.

You start at the Cloud Cap trail head which is at the end of 8 miles of crappy gravel road and the skeletons of trees turned white by a forest fire, 5800 feet up the mountain. There’s a chemical toilet there, in a building with a door that locks and actual toilet paper, something I legit said a prayer of thanks out loud to baby Jesus.

From the trailhead, you’ll see Timberline trail in front of you, Tilly Jane to your left and then Timberline continuing downhill to your right. Go straight ahead on Timberline and make sure you fill out a form at the box as you enter into the Mt. Hood Wildnerness.

This trail is almost entirely uphill and that starts the minute you hit the trees before coming into Tilly Jane canyon then continuing to climb uphill through soft volcanic sand that is the bane of my existence. You will not see shade again until you are at this point on the way back to your car so stay on top of your hydration. Soon you’ll come to a junction with a sign for Cooper Spur. Go right onto Cooper Spur trail. The trail increases the incline a bit and the sun will be hitting your shoulder blades with all it’s might. Sun protection is key here.

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Soon you’ll come up Cooper Spur shelter, which has apparently stood for 70 years and somehow continues to survive the elements. Onward you go, the trail switchbacking and continuing to climb, sometimes following the ridge line that will give you incredible views of the glacier.

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All those wishes swarmed between my ears as the trail disappeared into a field of talus and scree and I started just picking the most direct route I could to hit the top of the spur.

Finally, finally, a deep breath as I top out and stand for a moment at the highest point on the mountain you can reach by trail.

In front of me, a stone circle, about thigh high and a large rock cairn. Buzzards circled overhead. I remember joking with a runner friend during a trail race that they probably smelled us and thought something was dead and thinking it was probably true at that moment as well. To my left, the magnificent Elliot glacier. Behind me, the spur dipped down from the point I was standing on to form a saddle between my feet and the terrifying north face of Mt. Hood. I followed it down for a bit and then felt that moment where I became unbound from my body and was no longer all the stories I tell myself.

I’m like that too.

And I think that’s the trick of all of this. To figure out how to live with all the contradictions that reside within you without the labels of good or bad, dark or light. Somehow we need all of it to carry us up the trail.

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Trail head: Cloud Cap

Elevation at start: 5850 feet

Length: 6.4 miles (ish)

Elevation gain: 2800 feet

Difficult: Yes