Will I Make it to the Top?
At 5:30 on September 14th, it looked unlikely. Gasping for breath with pain in my chest, I watched my friends seem to skip up the trail and wondered if I had it in me. Panic set in. Only once before had that happened. Climbing a smaller mountain with my husband last summer, I couldn’t catch my breath and began to panic. I have always been able to count on my conditioning. Athletic all my life, I have maintained a fitness level without a ton of effort. Even after periods of laziness, I could get back in shape quickly. Accepting the invitation to climb a 14ner with dear friends, I threw myself into a month long training after a period of sporadic hiking during our build. Between that and my natural conditioning, I knew it would be tough but I figured I could do it. Of course occasionally, I wanted to bow out from laziness and some trepidation – maybe I will come down with a cold, maybe the weather will stop us, maybe my friends will cancel…
The night before I tossed and turned for hours. When the wake up came at 3:40am, I was beyond groggy. Starting on the trail at dark was magical, the stars were our guide and I kept my headlamp off to feel the dark around me. Starting fast felt fine – for a minute – and then before I could say anything the shortness of breath and pain in my chest began. Immediately I did what any good perfectionist will do, I made myself wrong lamenting how it used to be, worrying about disappointing my friends, being embarrassed about my lack of conditioning compared to theirs mixed in with panic at not being able to breathe. I let them know of my struggles and we slowed our pace but at barely past the trailhead, I wondered how I would make the ascent.
Slowly and steadily is what I did. Stopping when I needed to and urging them to go ahead. However, I spent most of the ascent in my head and my worries. Maybe my lungs were comprised, the angst of getting older, the longing for what once was, embarrassment, and anger at my self. I peppered all of this with positive thoughts and kept my feet moving. Yes, I know all of what I could have done and should have done – visualize climbing successfully, practice gratitude, pray, say affirmations yadda yadda. I did all of that and then fell back into the muck just as quickly.
At about 2/3 of the way up, I had my first clear thought absent of all the internal chaos: stop worrying about what they (my friends) might think and do this for yourself. Ah, what a concept! I expanded my mind to this thought and gained a flash of peace.
I climbed and climbed (and climbed and climbed) and finally met my friends pace as we traversed the jagged boulders that make up the last bit of the ascent.
I have climbed peaks before. I know myself as someone who doesn’t give up on mountains — or on life – yet sometimes I wonder if “this time” maybe I will do just that. Give up, give in, quit, take my toys and go, curl up and disappear, run away forever, get off this wild ride.
We are climbing another peak that is even more challenging. It’s called “our return home”. Our problems with the house have continued. We are solving some as we go – the variety of leaks, frig malfunction, hot water system failure, and erosion. And then there are the more perplexing and mysterious. We have an odd electrical issue which has been thoroughly checked out with electrical and solar experts: a slight shock wave passes through my Apple products… Something between our inverter and the way Apple’s internal mechanisms don’t play well. My computer buzzes when I touch it and creates a current that should not be there. My old Mac will no longer turn on (internal power source malfunction, interestingly) and now I have a brand new and quite expensive machine that I am afraid to charge at the house which (yes) cramps my style. But that’s not the worst.
Skybeam, our Internet provider for 8 solid years before the fire dropped us from their coverage area. For the first month, we had great service but after problems in another area served by the same tower, they changed protocol and cut us off. This means our phones no longer work (reliably) either – as we are on the edge of all the cell coverage areas and we needed a wifi microcell to get consistent service. Yes, we have tried other options and yes, we are continuing to research before giving up entirely.
It seems nothing ever goes quite as one plans. No matter how well we prepare, there are surprises along the way. No matter how hard we train, any climb can go awry.
As Robert Pirsig writes, “The only Zen you find on the tops of mountains is the Zen you bring up there.” As I climbed Mt Yale that day, I knew that Zen or God or the Goddesses or whomever would not be up there waiting for me if I wasn’t already bringing him/her/them or it with me. I know this, yet it is my achilles heal as I always hope for it to be different.
And, it turns out, God was not waiting on my mountainside at the Tiny Mansion.
The perfect paradise that we had is no longer. That old notion of home has gone. It is something else now, something yet to be determined. Some of my idealism burned away in the fire. I feel cynicism wanting to take it’s place yet I strive to replace it with grown up realism – not bitterness, not regret, not longing for what once was, not seeking to find “the thing in the place that will make everything ok”.
This period of no internet (now a month and a half) has given us plenty of time to ponder. Initially it was angst and regret, doubts and deep disappointment, wondering how we got this far down the primrose path to be thwarted now. We questioned everything – our minds, our choices, why the TV show, why the return at all. The sharp regret left a stabbing pain in my heart and a heaviness in my soul.
We are nearing the summit now. After being willing to put everything on the table, we are making new choices. Maybe what this lovely cabin on the side of the hill is supposed to be is a retreat – for us, for our friends, for my fellow writers. Maybe it’s not supposed to have internet and instead it could be the place where people go to truly escape and gaze in marvel at the view instead of staring blankly at a computer screen.
Maybe it’s time for us to go. And maybe we had to get here to know that for sure. We aren’t at the summit yet so some of the view is still obscured. We are climbing and shedding doubt as we go. We will let you know when we reach the top. We will let you know what the view is like from there. I will remember to bring our Zen with us.