Lessons from the Trail
Updated: Aug 30, 2020
When I arrived at the cabin it was like a whole world of worry slipped right off me. It was just what I was hoping for; quiet and outside of town, with few people nearby. It’s beautiful, so green with a variety of spring-green shiny-leaf trees in the midst of pines. I can see the mountain from my small deck. It’s perfect for me. Just the right size to write, read, and eat while listening to the breeze in the trees. There’s a rock fountain just in front of the wee deck and my front door, so I can hear the running water mixed with a variety of birdsong the whole time from inside and outside of my cabin. This prompted a long exhale of all the previous weeks’ stresses.
When I arrived, I walked the little community area to find a shady place to read and write since the sun was full on my deck. I found a wooden swing for two hanging from a gazebo near the fountain. I’ve always loved any kind of swing, and even now if I’m at a park with playground swings, I will always take time to swing, well, if there aren’t kids waiting for a turn. I’ve always said you’re never too old for Winnie the Pooh movies, bubble baths and swings. I wasn’t sitting in the swing long when a small bobcat trotted right by me down the walkway and through the cabins. I was the only one there enjoying this serene moment, and that seriously added a dimension of wonder to my already magical spot.
If we look with curiosity at life, there are many things that can be our teachers. I’ve found that hiking has been this for me. Yesterday I headed out anticipating a short hike from my cabin. Since the trailhead was only 1 ½ miles from my cabin, I decided to walk from the cabin rather than park at the trailhead. It was already 10am and warm when I left, but I hadn’t planned on walking the whole trail once I got there. I had water and snacks with me, but because I anticipated a short hike, I didn’t have my wallet with ID or even a first aid kit with me. I planned on using my cell phone for GPS for navigation, if I needed to. Lesson #1. Plan for unexpected adventures. I should surely know this about myself by now, but for some reason, I was just casual about the walk and not planning for the unexpected.
Walking up to the trailhead was a workout in itself. A fairly steep incline for 1 ½ miles through a mountain neighborhood on a paved road. I always enjoy walking through neighborhoods and parts of towns I’m unfamiliar with. When you take the time to do this, you really get a feel for the life of those that reside there, instead of driving by quickly and not being able to rest your eyes on things you may enjoy pondering. So, this was fine with me. I’m getting much better at looking at situations from a positive angle these days. I welcome the occasional glute workout since I want to tone, and I know the increased hills I’m walking and hiking are building my endurance. The thought crossed my mind that I may not be able to do much of the trail once I finally got up the hill, but I just figured I would come back the next day, if that was the case, and it was lovely to walk through this neighborhood and ponder the eclectic mix of homes and wonder about the people that lived there.
When I arrived at the trailhead I was completely swept into this space of peace, quiet and beauty that I have been longing for a very long time. Of course, I wanted to see what was there. Entering the trail, I was welcomed by a shady path winding through pine trees with a smattering of redwoods. I crossed a stream that was running and came to several waterfalls. As I hiked, I passed people occasionally, but it was not crowded. I stopped several times just to take it all in. There were manzanitas dotted in places along the trail and views down the canyon to the river and over the entire expanse of the valley and through mountains where I could see for hundreds of miles, I’m sure.
I discovered when I arrived here that my cell reception was very spotty. I didn’t download area maps in advance. Lesson #2. Of course, the obvious lesson in my day of hiking is better preparedness, but the most important lesson is my ongoing practice at any moment in my life to more easily flow with flexibility in the unexpected, this change that keeps forcing itself upon me. Highly flexible people are already good at this, but for those of us, who need to learn to bend, we have more joy waiting for us each time we master this. And so, I headed out on this beautiful trail, which ends in a different location in this windy mountain area. I had intended to turn around part of the way since it was not a loop and intended to head back down the way I came.
As I hiked alone, basically with a smile on my face the whole time, I came across couples and families that were hiking as well, and it seemed that many of them still had their navigation, which I came to find out was not my same cell phone carrier. I asked about the end of the trail and where it let out and was told that it was only a couple of miles from town, which, I deduced, meant I could walk the roads to town, and back up to the area where my cabin was, instead of turning around and going back the way I came. Since I was halfway through the hike, I was descending now and kept walking with increased energy, since I was headed downhill, enjoying the views, and with my new plan to exit at the other end. Lesson #3.
There were quite a few people hiking with their dogs, and although I don’t have a dog myself, I always appreciate people’s love for their animals and am totally an animal person. I came to a young couple with a dog that looked like a mastiff/pit mix, and stopped quite a few feet away from them to say hello on my way to pass them since they were stopped on the side taking a selfie. Everyone on the trail was practicing social distancing and were hiking with masks, of course. Then, something I’ve never experienced happened in a blink, their dog lunged at me, the leash extended, and he bit me on my side. The owner yanked him back quickly, but it happened so fast, I thought at the time that it was his claws that I felt, and when I looked down, my shirt was not torn. Lesson #4. They apologized profusely, and in my usual fashion, I told them not to worry about it, and headed on my way. As I walked, I did realize it was a little sorer than I noticed as first and when I looked under my shirt, sure enough, he drew blood, but the puncture was not deep. Over the next days as it healed, I looked like I had an argument with a stapler. The pinching bite created a rainbow of bruising and the distinct tooth bites completed the whole chomp affect.
I really was fine though and I traipsed on to the end with my plan to exit this new way, enjoying this incredible trail with every step. It was hot and I had probably already hiked over 4 miles, but I still had plenty of energy. After all, I was headed downhill. When I got to the bottom, I came to a group of four that were coming up the trail from the other direction, and I asked if they could look at their navigation to let me know what cross streets would get me back to town. Well, it was just a spaghetti map. That was the moment that I realized what would be safest, and best for me without a reliable GPS source on my own person, that I should indeed stick to the original plan and head back the way I came. This is when my lessons number 1 through 4 piled up in front of my eyes, and I chuckled at myself knowing what the next blog post had to be about.
The reason I could chuckle is that I knew that I would be fine. I was safe, I had plenty of water and snacks, and if I truly needed something, there were people around, and the most important thing was that I knew how to get back. But, I also knew it was going to push me physically. No doubt about that. I had the mountain to go back up for all the miles I had just skipped down. What makes me happy about my gritty gratefulness practice over the years is that it is yielding a positive, more flexible reaction to the unexpected things in my life. Some of it has pretty hard stuff to navigate. But, it’s easier now for me to enter into a calmer place of reasonable navigation than to go to a place of complete overwhelm where I feel like I can hardly think.
In regard to this particular day and my ridiculous unpreparedness, I can only deduce that I was coming off a few very stressful weeks, and I just didn’t think it through like I should have just in case my adventure lasted longer. The truth is I always want to see the whole trail, embrace the moment, and not be in a hurry to get back, if I don’t have to. But, this was a great lesson for me that can be applied to all things in life to remember to slow a bit in the beginning to think through things well, and then, if I get into a situation that demands flexibility, bend and embrace it with positive thoughts about why this unexpected event may actually be a good thing. In this case, I got a fantastic workout on a beautiful trail, focused on how thankful I am that I’m healthy enough to hike and be in nature which is one of my favorite things, and got to say hello to lots of fellow hikers during a time when I’m hardly getting to see other people in person. It was a great day, and that trail is going down as one of my favorites.