Thursday, April 30, 2015

Hiking in Sneakers

I own a really nice pair of hiking boots. I purchased them 16 years ago for a hiking trip through the Adirondacks with a high school friend. Since then they have been worn very rarely. And for some reason, perhaps because they live at the back of my closet, I forgot to pack them for our trip to the Canadian Rockies.

Entrance to the path
Yesterday I found myself at the bottom of Beehive Mountain at Lake Louise- gazing up at the snow-covered path, down at my sneakers and then into the back of my mind picturing those left behind boots. Dang it.

But avalanche warnings and snowy routes weren't going to stop us from attempting that climb. Sneaker-wearing husband at my side, we slipped and plunged, snow melting on icy ankles, socks soaking through, slowy making our way up the mountain, hikers on their way down pausing just long enough to issue a friendly hello and a cursory glance at our ill-informed footwear.

For the first 15 minutes all I could think about was how on earth we would ever make it back down. It is one thing to claw your way up on icy paths and quite another to slide your way down without plummeting off a lethal embankment.

The only positive thing I can say about my preoccupation with our return trip was that it distracted me from the "how to survive a bear attack" sign that was so helpfully posted at the start of our journey.

The negative things, though? There are many, the biggest of which is this: for 15 solid minutes, I missed my surroundings. Sure, I saw the footsteps I followed, the white of the path. But I missed the life and beauty around me. I was so caught up in the potential of difficulty that I could not enjoy the healthy challenge of the present. It hit me that if I continued in this way then the only thing I would remember about this hike would be my worry about how it would end.

So I stopped. I asked God to take it, to guide us up and down, to suppress my 36 years of needing to have a solution to every potential problem ready in the back of my head, to help me just breathe in and out, to put one step in front of the other and foget that I was hiking in sneakers.

View of Lake Louise from above
Soon I could smell the pine in the air, feel the burn of cold, thin oxygen in my throat. Hear the quiet rustle of the evergreens, glimpse the views of the lake as it receded, all blue ice and blown snow, far below us.

At the top, we emerged at Mirror Lake. Possibly the most quiet, still place I have ever been. Maybe a mirror, miraculously, for my soul in that moment. I sat on a stump, a beautiful squirrel my companion, no fear in his eyes, feasting on a miniature pinecone while I feasted on the view and

Monsieur Squirrel, my little friend.
If only I could do this more.

I don't mean hike to quite places and have days and days to myself more often, though that would be lovely.

But what if I could let the what-ifs fade away and live right now? I'd leave the house more with my spirited toddler, potential public tantrums and ensuing embarrassment be damned. I'd stay out later with friends, potential fatigue tomorrow not taking away from the joy of good conversation and laughter that my soul needs more than an extra hour of sleep, anyway. I'd just live my life without my brain lost to what new problem or challenge might emerge tomorrow. I imagine I'd feel a lot less tired. A lot less fearful.

It is an illusion that I am ever in control of that return trip, anyway.

This is one of those lessons I have been taught over and over in my life and that still hasn't become a reflex. I am thankful that it only took 15 minutes to pause and reset this time. Maybe it'll be 14 next time and eventually 10 or 5 or 1.

At least for this trip, though, these sneakers will remind me to just live. To walk. To breathe.

And for those wondering, I only fell once on the trip back down, laughed about it and, quite obviously, lived to tell the tale.

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