There’s no gondola on top of Whitney to take you back down to the Portal store where you can order up a massive burger and stare through the Sequoias at the mountain after you spent your last ounce on her crest. And if there was I’d be truly bummed. The descent is part of the journey. And for me, leads to another climb. (I’m thinking Mt. Shasta before Mt. Rainier…but I’m open to suggestions!)
As much as we would have loved to linger at the summit and attempt to comprehend the view (Razzle said a dozen times, I HAVE to learn about the geology of this place!), we knew we were only halfway there, and the second half was going to be a slog. A mesmerizingly beautiful slog, but a slog nonetheless.
On the ascent I was all focus, all the time. Thoughts of you, my family, the beautiful boys (meaning my sons, not the beautiful boys that permeate the bay area, although I thank them, too, for providing such fantastic eye candy as I trained), Mr. Jackpot, Mr. Simplicity and others who have supported me so selflessly, drifted through my heart. Especially at the summit where I thanked you all from the very core of my soul. But on the journey down her face, I felt like I could run it out, time to head back to the car, focus shmokus, let’s motor! I was so energized, uplifted, euphoric. Now was the opportunity to excavate while on the granite goddess. I’ve already done this trail, battled through altitude sickness and still felt strong. Bring it. I have 11 miles to dig deep and rip open the wrapping on the epiphany that was surely awaiting me as a reward for such a gallant effort.
Well, if there was an epiphany to be had I’m certain I peed on it. Because that’s what I did the entire way down. Pee here, pee there, pee in front of men, women and children. Marmots even. Pee on the switchbacks, in plain sight. Who cares. I should have just stripped off my pants and peed while hiking, because the stopping was keeping me from my Cabernet. At this point I’d pee in front of the Queen of England while schmearing my clotted cream on my gluten-free crumpet and curtseying. In heels. I thought child birth got me over those self-conscious situations. Mt. Whitney has the true bragging rights of having cured me of any proper shyness. Shy no longer. I’m over all that.
Razzle mentioned a few times that the last four miles were going to be the longest four miles of my life. How bad could it be? Almost there, right? After we left the switchbacks, which rock on the way up and are often cursed at on the way down, I did something I shouldn’t have done. I thought to myself, the hardest part is over. Yet again, Razzle brings the truism. The real challenge, after altitude, was endurance. Staying in the moment, tuning in to the energy of the mountain and not getting swept up in the constant need to know How much further?, was the most challenging part of the climb for me as I plodded along the last few miles.
I swear, if I didn’t have those poles I would still be up there.
I could see the parking lot but knew we had at least an hour to go. That, kittens, is pure torture. I turned my focus to the land around me. The building-sized boulders perched on end, wildflowers sprouting from their bases. The trees – hadn’t seen those in a while. Oh, and that waterfall we crossed, slick rock by slick rock in the dark…does a one foot drop off classify as a waterfall? All that rushing water we heard was coming from further up the trail. See? Nothing is ever as good or as bad as it seems. But if I had to cross an actual waterfall (Not Niagara Falls, or anything longer than 10 feet), I now know I could do it. Well, as long as it was in the dark.
What may seem to me to be an intimidating, nerve-wracking challenge, is often way less taxing by the time it plays out. I need to remember that in the coming months.
By the time we had a half mile to go my feet had taken over my voice.
Look, ginger-haired seeker of the meaning of life, we’re spent. We want to be put up on something cushy and stare at you with unkind thoughts while you sip your wine and eat your meat. Get on with it. Pee no more. Take not another photo. Or we promise to grow another half inch and truly screw up your shoe shopping options.
I went faster. Quickly.
When Razzle and I emerged to zero fanfare, a dozen people, mainly at the store, battling chipmunks and replenishing calories lost, were in the vicinity. We high-fived, lackadaisically. Shuffled to the car. And then it went something like this:
I’m going to get a water and return these poles. You need anything?
No. Just gonna pee.
Yea. Me too.
Ready for dinner?
Cool. Let’s go.
I was beautifully, deliciously, fully, remarkably emptied. As if my body fizzled away and left me to carry the weight of the wisp of my soul alone. I felt completely satiated. Thoroughly relaxed. The incredible explosion of joy I experienced on the summit shifted to a deep feeling of contentment. I was no longer thinking of my day climb of Mt. Whitney. I wasn’t thinking about the achievement or the months of training. I wasn’t thinking about my divorce or all the uncertainty in my life.
The only feeling I had was one of gratitude for the opportunity to live on Earth. I have been fortunate enough to see some beautiful places on the blue marble, but I’ve never before felt the raw power of the Earth itself, not the things we put on it, in such an intimate and unfiltered way.
I’m not an astrologist, but I don’t think other planets look like she does.
I need to see her most sacred places. Her most hidden treasures. I want to leave this planet having gone through the effort to make my way to the places on her body of which she is most proud. Like the stone forest in Madagascar, the Bay of Fundy, Coyote Buttes, K2, Antarctica and the Great Barrier Reef.
I need to feel her.
Sure, I liked to hike before the Pocket Call, but this was love. Not in a keep this planet clean kind of way, but an honest to goodness love affair. I feel her presence, her guidance and her awareness of little old me. She speaks to me. She listens. She leaves me feeling breathless and spirited, warm and sensual.
The being that evokes the most emotion in me on a seemingly infinite number of levels is Planet Earth. I need to be on her.
Thankfully, she’s not going anywhere. I can always count on her. And to her I will forever by loyal and grateful.
I found my muse.
Now (1:30AM PST) I must put on my nurse’s outfit as the Everest Infirmary cranks up for the night. This particular illness involves insomnia. So we lay awake and stare into each others eyes until the wee hours when he finally drifts off to sleep. While I’m exhausted, I will treasure the time spent stroking his little arms and telling him stories about stars and clouds.
Mono Lake will have to wait. But the name says it all.
Thank you, Mt. Whitney.