It's taken me a long time to learn that retreats are okay, and it's still sometimes hard to turn around. I've gotten myself in some sketchy situations by not turning around, but I've also had everything turn out all right. It's a balance that is hard to get right.
|precursor to a thunderstorm|
I stood at the base of a huge snowfield, 2000 feet in elevation and 2.75 miles from the trailhead. I had toiled up here bent on getting to the basin at least. But the trail was obscured. I chipped steps in the snow and talked myself through it. Possibly the snow would be gone once the trail took a turn to the south. Then again, maybe it wouldn't be. Looking the way I had come, the trail was difficult to find. I could flounder in this steep forest for hours before I located it again.
With a sigh, I headed back down the trail. It was a full-on retreat. There would be no camping in the basin today. There is almost nothing worse in hiking than losing elevation, unless it is second-guessing your decision. A single pair of ambitious tracks had headed upward, but it was likely I was the second person of the season to make it this far. It would have to be far enough.
I wasn't ready to give up, though. I drove to the end of the road, hoping for the best. The trailhead there was completely deserted. In a few weeks it will be hard to find any place to park. Today the trail was all mine. I slogged upward, regaining elevation, on the verge of a bonk due to my continuing aversion to eating while exercising. The handfuls of trail mix weren't cutting it. My pace was pitifully slow as I dragged myself under and over all the trees that fell this winter. Mud sucked at my boots. Beside me the river raged, pure white with chaotic fury. In summer, this river is a slow green sidle, so beautiful it hurts the eyes.
Snow began at two miles, but it was patchy enough to seduce me into going farther. An avalanche slide blocked the trail and I picked my way gingerly over the rotten snow. And there it was, the end of the line, continuous snow again. Luckily, there was also a soggy green meadow to camp in.
A thunderstorm flirted with the edge of the sky and snowbanks covered the usual camping spots. An avalanche had toppled more trees and I knew there was nobody within several miles. It was both starkly lonely and beautiful at the same time, a place to take a long, deep breath and let the week fall away.
The older I get, the more I know that as great as my job can be, it's not what fills me up. I resent the time I have to spend inside, all those sunny hours passing by. I don't know what the answer is. I don't think it's a return to manual labor. I don't want to wreck my body anymore working for someone else. I certainly can't afford not to work. I am seized with the notion that life is ephemeral as the snow; recent events have proven that true. As cliche as it sounds, you never know if this day will be your last, no matter how healthy you try to be.
The best I can do right now until I figure this out is to keep pushing the snow until the country opens up; to take advantage of those brief two days at the end of the week that are all mine. Retreat, go forward, it doesn't really matter in the end. A meadow strewn with tiny gold flowers, a fierce brief storm, knowing I am the only person for miles; all those things add up. I bank them against the coming week.