hiking

This is How We Fun

Bill stood in the middle of the trail staring at the side of the mountain. We were at the part of the trail that broke off from day hikers into the wild. As we approached, he started talking, but never broke his stare at the slope.

"Man, that'd be a great run," he said with a smiled sigh, his tanned skin creasing into deep rivers. 

Ski daydreams.

"Isn't this just such a great place to be?" Gratitude leaked out of every word, inhale, stare. Bill was my kind of people. His eyes lit up like a child's with excitement. "I need to get out here more. It's such a recharge." We smiled broadly looking at each other. That's exactly what we call it. Before we parted ways, Bill talked fast about his plans to hike Mono Pass to Lake Thomas Edison. "They have a ferry for hikers that takes you across the lake to a prime rib dinner!" He was the last person we saw until late next morning.

After leaving the Mount Rose Trailhead, we saw tons of people all the way to the Galena Waterfalls.

Galena Waterfalls

Galena Waterfalls

Then Bill. Then no one. We headed west. The climb was gradual, but the pack made it intense. Adding 25+ lbs. to my hiking was really hard. The views served as medicine. We reached the highest peak on the Tahoe Rim Trail, 5 miles from the trailhead. I felt like I had conquered a whole country. It was a rush.

Atop Relay Peak. Atop the world. Relay Peak, 10,338'

Atop Relay Peak. Atop the world. Relay Peak, 10,338'

Adrenaline pumping, we talked fast about the next backpacking trip.
"Why don't we do this every weekend?" we said, like dummies.
The best of times! Look at that lake!

And then our source of water ended up being bone dry. The next two lakes on the map, puddles. No water until we would reach civilization the next day. The realization that half our food for dinner needed water. The thirst that came with hiking 12 miles with lots of weight. The worst of times.

Fortunately, we conserved our water until we were certain we had a water source and packed more food than we needed. Our tired weathered bodies finally stopped for the night, nestled underneath Rifle Peak, about 12 miles into our 20 mile journey. We set out to find our campsite: somewhere flat enough to sleep with a tree tall enough to hang our bear bag.

Our campsite for the night

Our campsite for the night

As the sun set over the lake, not one single soul for miles, we looked out atop our mountain perch and couldn't believe our view. It was ours. Unbelievable beauty. We found a rock that served as a perfect sunset-viewing chair. A panoramic view of the lake and a pink-orange-blue sky. The best of times.

An incredible view. One of the best sunsets of my life.

An incredible view. One of the best sunsets of my life.

There isn't much sleep involved in backpacking. This was no exception. Our "flat" spot ended up being a slight incline, and we spent the night in our little backpacking tent trying not to roll over on each other. Side sleeping made for numb extremities. Back sleeping hurt my back. Every sound startled me and I spent most of the night making mental notes of what the wind sounded like and compared it to any other sound. 

Our stiff bodies rolled out of our tiny orange cocoon at dawn, sleepy, crabby, craving donuts and pizza. Once we moved around a bit, our stiffness subsided and we drank in the pink sunrise, only slightly dwarfed by the memories of our sunset. 

Eating up most of our food, wearing our warm clothes on a chilly morning and running out of water, our packs were significantly lighter. We were on our way by 7 a.m., looking forward to an easy 8 miler, mostly downhill to our Jeep.

All morning, we talked about food. What would be our first meal? I could make out Tahoe City from our view and pointed to our favorite restaurant. "There. I want that." The morning was fueled by BBQ daydreams. We stopped halfway, consuming the last of our water and two apples. The closer we got to the trailhead, the more people we'd run into. The day hiking tourists started wide-eyed at our packs and couldn't stop asking us about bears. The fellow backpackers would stop and idly chat about the trail ahead. 

The euphoria of hearing the road for the 1st time in 24 hours is incredible. It's jarring and foreign at first as your wild ears only consumed the wind and low grunt of bears in the trees. But the you realize you're about to finish a really hard thing. The relief and sense of accomplishment makes your tired face burst into wide smiles. I just hiked 20 miles with 25 lbs on my back and slept at 9,200 ft. in the wilderness. I just did that. On purpose.

After a light nap, an ice cream bar, a ton of water and a nap, we made the decision to section hike the Tahoe Rim Trail before summers end. A 165-mile, twenty-four inch, single-track trail that encircles the lake. Three day hikes and five backpacking trips. Three down, five to go.

Sometimes I don't really get why I love it so much. I go out of my way to carry lots of weight up mountains for miles and sleep uncomfortably on rocks. Every part of me gets tired and the hunger is unbelievable. But it's quiet. Miles away from what I'm used to. In the discomfort, it's comforting. It almost feels like I find a piece of me that has been missing. A new quiet that somehow awakes the wildness in me. It's addicting.

On every backpacking trip I've been on, and there have only been two, things fall apart and then come back together again in the craziest ways. It's a microcosm of life: you may work with a really difficult person, you may have spilled coffee on yourself pre-interview, but there is an epic sunset, a home cooked meal, a hug in your future that makes it all melt away. And just knowing that makes the falling apart a little easier. 

Mount Rose Wilderness, just passed the Galena Waterfalls

Mount Rose Wilderness, just passed the Galena Waterfalls

Just after summiting Relay Peak in the Mount Rose Wilderness

Just after summiting Relay Peak in the Mount Rose Wilderness

The last bit of sunset Saturday night

The last bit of sunset Saturday night

Day two, headed to Brockway Pass

Day two, headed to Brockway Pass

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Family Trees

My Grandpa Smith was a giant. Not only was he tall, but his presence was profound and asked gently for pause. When I was younger, there was an excitement around ringing the doorbell. Grandpa was going to come alive. He would throw the heavy wooden door wide open. His tanned leather face would light up and his exclamation of "Sarah!" always made me feel like royalty. His wide massive arms would swing me around until I was dizzy and giggling. When he returned me to the earth, I would crane my neck up to him to see his smiling face and hear his silly jokes. He was my giant redwood tree.

A few weeks ago, we went to visit the redwoods at the very top of California. In all the preparation I did for our first 4 day vacation by ourselves in at least three years, meal planning, camping accessories, road trip snacks, I did not plan on having wild dreams of my future or feeling new connections to old roads. Upon returning and laying Oatmeal to rest, what started on vacation has seemed to continue. It's been quite challenging to quantify, explain or analyze. But you know I've tried.

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Sleeping underneath 400 year old trees is a spiritual experience. It felt like I was constantly in the company of my elders. I felt safe and couldn't help but completely revel in their massive presence. It was a sacred space.

It made me reconsider my focus. My whole life has always been about what's next. Everyone focuses on money but not your purpose. Being loved but not giving love. Speaking truth but not hearing truth. Failing to find the lesson in difficult people. We are all afraid of being alone and poor and unsuccessful instead of being afraid that we don't ever really get around to living.

What if I did something wild and crazy and focused on living? The trees don't worry about their bills, their success, their tomorrow. They stand tall and let it come. They waver slightly when the wind blows hard. They fall when it's time. 

Stout Memorial Grove. They shot scenes of Star Wars here, nbd.

Stout Memorial Grove. They shot scenes of Star Wars here, nbd.

After Oatmeal passed away, we hung a map of the U.S. where his cage used to be and several times a week, we stare at it, wonder about weird little towns we've never heard of, measure 8 hour drives from our driveway. It's fitting we do this where Oatmeal used to be. Beginnings and endings. They need each other.

In some ways, I feel like the trees were able to give me some peace and connect me to myself. A house will come. A better job will come. Kids will come. A new place will come. Without my interference or planning or anxiety. I've come to realize why Paul and I love the forest so much. I used to think it was because it was quiet and without people. Now I feel like it's a way to visit our friends, a way to come home again, to feel connected to the earth, to remember our family trees and the many people we lost that still reside in our roots, if we let them. We are never alone. And the more we trust ourselves, get to know ourselves again, the easier it is to find home when you're far away.

We could all learn a thing or two from our elders, and from the trees. 

"Stay patient and trust your journey."