I went into the mountains looking for a story.
I went expecting an important, pertinent, pivotal moment. A point of growth. A marker, a beacon in the narrative of life that would highlight this very moment as significant.
I went, only to find that the point was insignificant. It was, in fact, pointless. See, while I wasn’t looking, I had changed. I have moved beyond the fixed, imaginary point that I held in my mind, and I moved beyond it before I had even reached what I had imagined would be its symbolic place.
Let me share a secret with you.
In every thing I write, there is something central, pivotal that I do not put into words. In every thing I write, I am writing around something unspoken. Something I may never speak out loud, let alone write for everyone to see. And yet, if I removed that invisible pillar, the narrative would crumble.
Go back and read. Can you feel it? The way the words dance around a ghost?
This time, I will tell you what the unwritten is, and in this telling, I unburden myself of my private shame.
I came here to Medicine Bow Mountain because once upon a time, I came here with someone I loved. Someone who then betrayed me and in a single act tore me asunder.
Confusion. Embarrassment. Disbelief. Shame. Grief. And finally white hot rage.
I came here because I sought to erase him from this memory and in his place, recreate space for myself alone. I sought to claim this mountain as a space I love, no strings attached.
It is beautiful here.
I’ve always been drawn to mountainous places. The more rugged, the more remote feeling, the better. I like the way Medicine Bow strikes up from the ground, pushing toward the sky. Stone and air.
I’m in really good shape this summer, thanks to the century ride, so I hoofed it up the mountain, summiting in half the time that it took us when we together. And then I kept going, past where we turned around. Out along the spine of the mountain.
For long stretches, I ran along the trail, not minding the unergonomic weight of my pack, ignoring the pain in my foot.
I laughed when I found snow at the summit. I pressed my hands in it, the unexpected gift.
Funny – I don’t remember seeing a single man hiking alone. And yet, I wasn’t the only woman traveling with a pack and solitude.
Like a child, I went into the mountains to prove a point.
There’s a song by Metric with these lines:
Like a child,
I stayed up to prove
I could keep up with you.
It was like that. It’s always like that.
But I’m at the point now where I’m wondering who the hell I’m trying so hard to impress. It’s certainly not him. It’s certainly not you.
Who is this specter I’m railing against?
There is a photo of two of us from this place. I look so happy in it. I’m standing on a rock, so we’re about the same height, and I’m leaning into him.
In fact, it’s one of my favorite photos of me. Wide smile. Crows feet erupting from the corners of my eyes like fireworks.
That smile is not reflected in him. He humored me when I asked him to take it with me.
The smile in my eyes is for the alpine. His is just waiting for me to put the camera away.
Friday night, I lay in my tent on my own. My first solo camping trip, tucked in a nook off of a dirt road, away from the RVs and Tacomas.
On my stomach, I read the last few chapters of Catherine the Great. It struck me: laying in a tent in Wyoming and reading about Robespierre and Marat in a book about a German princess who became the Russian autocrat.
Which, as it’s wont to do, brought this Star Trek quote to mind:
It’s not safe out here. It’s wondrous with treasures to satiate desires both subtle and gross. But it’s not for the timid.
Human beings are beautiful, improbably creatures. We climb routes up cliff faces that we could much more easily walk around. We build shelters with our hands. We set the sky on fire. We break bones. We break hearts.
And more grossly, we do these things on purpose.
We are careless and thoughtless in love.
We place our own limbs under the knife and ask the man in scrubs to make the pain stop. Hurt me now. Wound me. Cripple me. But promise me the pain will stop and that I will be as if I were new.
(I’m getting a bunion removed in a couple of weeks, hence the unsettling imagery.)
I am wasting my breath fighting a ghost I don’t know. It’s a chip on my shoulder that cuts down to the bone.
For as long as I can remember, I have felt the need to prove myself. To claim my right to occupy space, to exist, to be seen and heard.
I’m not sure what I’m fighting now. It’s not him. It’s not them.
Is it me?
Is that feeling so ingrained into me now that what was once an external ghost is just a mirror’s warped reflection?
Friday night, after setting up the tent, I lay cocooned in two sleeping bags, too busy thinking about bears to think about him.
The next morning, pulling into the parking lot, I really didn’t think about him all that much.
Instead, I offered my palms to every dog I met on the trail. I wondered in the power in my own legs, made strong from cycling. I thought about Catherine the Great. I imagined what my nephews were doing at the lake right in that moment.
(On Sunday, my father took the old meat grinder in the basement and set up a makeshift cider press. In the photograph, their three heads are bowed over a tupperware container of juice, feeding crab apple slices into the teeth of the machine.)
And, I also looked inside of myself for the face of the one to whom I have something to prove.
I found no one to whom anything was worth proving.
I don’t have to prove that my heart was broken. Neither do I have to justify it.
I don’t have to fight for my space in the world. I just have to occupy it.
I don’t have to stay up all night, like a child, thinking about bears and wondering where I packed my spare headlamp batteries to prove that I’m tough. I am tough. I used Catherine the Great as a pillow. How many people can say that?
As I hiked, the strangest couplet came to mind. It played on loop, like a commercial jingle set in Old English.
The hooly blisful martir for to seke
That hem hath holpen whan that they were sike
It’s from the opening lines of The Canterbury Tales.
I went expecting to have to fight the ghost of him. To face him as my personal demon. But he wasn’t there. And I don’t miss him. In fact, it’s been a long, long time since I missed him.
Instead, there was me. No revelations. To profundity. No feelings of a battle well fought, a war well won. It was just me.
And I liked it.
The holy, blessed martyr for to seek
That had helped them when they were weak.
Mountains are medicine.
Even when you don’t know for sure what has made you weak.