I stepped aside, grateful for an excuse to sip my backpack water. A plump and jovial stranger smiled as he hollered, "Happy Trails!" Shit. I have been passed by Santa Claus. St. Nicholas hikes at a swifter pace than I do. This was a blow, even lower than being passed in a race by a mommy stroller. I wiped the sweat from my brow, for the first time, appreciating the multi purposes of the 'bandana.' I looked ahead. I knew the flag pole was only a short distance away because I had hiked the same path just one week prior. I was physically stronger this week, mentally too, but I was missing my trail buddies. My new friend Colleen had brilliantly charted our ascent. We counted our steps, with our goal being our fellow hiker Nathan. He was just ahead on the trail, and we kept him in sight. Pretty soon, the three of us were in sync and owned that day's course together.
But one week later, I was on my own. My legs were tired. I had a legitimate excuse, right? I was on my twelfth day straight of hiking, four-five hours a day. I looked down at my feet. I could almost hear my hot pink Nike ID Lunar Glides laughing at me. The treads completely worn flat in just a week on the trails. I had not owned a pair of Timberlands since six grade and had not had any intention of changing that. My feet ached inside-filled with blisters and my toes were blue. (Pause. This is not the point where I try to go all Cheryl Strayed aka Reese Witherspoon, "Wild" on you. My toes were merely blue because I had painted them just prior to starting my two week journey. Mindy Kaling sported a similar color on her Instagram account recently, soooo naturally....) My fourteen day experience did not include a completion of the PCT or AT, but it did come complete with obstacles, victories, and snakes. Yes, damn scary snakes!!
With no traction on my shoes, I had no choice but to use my upper body to get past this slippery straight incline area. I tossed my poles ahead and dug down deep. (Like back to Miss Ludwig's Concord P. E. class 'Presidential Fitness' pull -ups kind of deep.) I grabbed the two most stable rocks in reach and hoisted my thirty -one year old body to the next plateau. "Wheeeee!!" A squeal of delight. "Oh, St. Nick, I'm coming for ya!" I pranced up the next few minutes and 'Old Glory' came in my Nike lens filtered sight. YES! I was less than an hour into my hike, but I had won. I practically danced through the next hour of descent and rolling hills.
My sweet dad took his last breath six months ago. It takes more wind out of me than the ascent on my mountain climb. If only I could hear him chuckle and shake his head mumbling, "Honey pot, darling Dorothy Dean" just one more time. He would probably respond to my most recent venture like he did to so many of my past pursuits and endeavors. "I just love being your Daddy." Always supportive. Always loving. When I moved 3,000 miles away at age twenty-one, he only bemoaned that he wished the two of us were headed to Nashville instead, to try our hand as country music songwriters. And when I burst in his office to announce I had signed up for a half-marathon (only having successfully run around six miles at the time), he looked up from his dirty and smudged glasses to ask if he could enter as well in some sort of a "side car" situation or set up.
I now know what it is like to feel simultaneously raw and exposed as well as hidden and unknown. My father's exit from this Earth has changed me forever, yes. My sweet jovial, St. Nicholas of a father and employer, violently and aggressively ended his own life. My Santa Claus, who promised me he would never ever do that. No never. An act that has haunted me and a morning that has been imprinted in my head forever. A doubt was born that day about the authenticity of my so revered relationship with him. The change, the act of his death, even, does not define me. It is part of my story, one I am sharing with you, yes, but it is but one more "rock space" God is pulling me up and over towards Him.
There are so many days, countless hours, and brows full of sweat when I beg and plead to go back. Back to the one night in September I decided to stay at my own place instead of at my parents where I had been sleeping for the 21 days prior. The one night my dad chose to leave. Back to the precious days when I thought true love and happily ever after was just within my reach, even.
But just like standing on my little rocky plateau catching my breath, I can't really choose to go back. To do so would be a slippery descent with no true reward. So onward and upward I will go, asking for more faith and trust to submit to the process of the climb.
I snapped this photo as my CamelBak rescued me from what I knew was dehydration. (Absolutely not dehydrated.) The sign reads "Please don't cut trail. Healing in progress. Please stay on designated trails only."
So just like that park sign I encountered, I pray and plan to stay on trail. Healing is totally in progress and for that I have more than a CamelBak full of gratitude.
My ramblings, reflections, and lessons I hope to learn are being assembled into a book. Thanks for reading these selections and stay tuned for more of the story God is telling in my life. I am so glad you are here and hope your own story will weave its way into mine.
Happy Trails, sweet friends!