"Don't hold on.
Go, get strong.
Well don't you know,
there is no modern romance."
— "Modern Romance," Yeah Yeah Yeahs
Tuesday morning rose misty and warm, with flecks of sunlight burning through the cracks in a disintegrating ceiling of clouds. I packed up my Camelbak the way I did back in July, with just a light shell and gloves, extra socks, my GPS, and water. I held my camera in my hands, wavering on whether or not I should stuff it in the outer pocket. Maybe, maybe just this once, I thought, I should leave it behind. Maybe this one will be a quiet trek. I won't tell anyone, and I won't have any evidence I was there. It will be a secret.
I stuffed my camera in the pack, just in case, and set out into the promising morning with the same sense of irresistible anticipation and cautious reserve I have been feeling recently in other areas of my life. I thought again about leaving the camera behind. Already, some of my friends have been hinting that I have a problem. That I spend too much time in the mountains. That I have only just emerged from a very long, committed thing (a-hem ... the Tour Divide), and in my drive to get back out there, and the overzealous way I am going about it, I may be setting myself up for a long fall.
"It's not so much about being tired," my friend said as I told her about my Sheep Mountain trek and how I've been feeling a little under the weather ever since, but can't seem to stop as long as the actual weather is nice. "What do you even think about when you're out there alone, just out in the woods with the bears and wolves, for like seven hours all the time? Aren't you scared? Don't you go crazy?"
And all I could think of the answer is, "I don't know. I think about everything, I guess. That's really the only time I have to think." But why has it been so hard for me to decipher what "everything" actually is? All of the time I've spent stomping through the mountains lately, I've had a lot of time to sift through the pieces of my life, to look for ways I can fit them together in a puzzle that makes the most sense and makes me the most happy. And all I seem to have found is a flight of ideas surrounded by exhilaration in the high country, transforming flawlessly to fear when I am back in the low country. The ideas feel something like love up high, something like insanity down low, and the pieces stay scattered. As I come down, I cling to appreciation for the "regular" life I have, and the new friendships I've found, and mountains.
"Time, time is gone.
It stops stops who it wants.
Well i was wrong ...
it never lasts ...
there is no ...
this is no modern romance."
So I thought about keeping it a secret that I was heading up Thunder Mountain on a tranquil Tuesday morning. After all, I can hardly complain about achy muscles if I am the one who keeps pounding them into the ground. It could just be me and the mountain, a quiet October morning, where instead of gathering and analyzing the pieces of my life, I could just scatter them in the gentle breeze. But as I worked my way up the mountainside, hands clasped around the exposed roots of 100-foot-tall Sitka spruce trees that filtered flecks of sunlight down their moss-coated trunks, exhilaration started to take over again. Confidence swelled, and in those perfect photogenic moments, I believe I could do it, all of it: living the dream, the cabin, the writing, the trips to Nigeria and Banff, the skiing, the winter bike touring, the freedom, the unhindered freedom. There are so many chances out there waiting to be taken, so many feelings ready to be exposed.
Clouds floated along the edges of the ridge, which looked more like a rolling, Midwestern prairie than a mountain top. I like this world because it is so close, but so different than mine. I love this world because it is mine. Every time I'm really tempted to mix things up, all I need to do is come up here and realize that I actually have it pretty good. Still, the empty spaces remain. Some of my married, parenting friends have expressed envy at my freewheeling, single-girl lifestyle, which on its margins must appear to be all fun and hottie potential, with no room for dull responsibility. And, of course, I look at the margins of their lives and I want what they have - partnership and love. Why would anyone want more? Why do people always think they want more?
But up in the mountains, above the confusion and contradiction, it's easy to condense what I know about life and love. I know life is short and hard. I know love is long and abstract. I know I want to experience both to the very edges, the very heights of my abilities, because I know, in the end, they're all I have. But I know fear is powerful and pain is unbearable, and those two things will battle life and love, always. And as the battle rages on, I know it will be difficult to fight when there is so much I do not know. If I am brutally honest with myself, I know that right now there are just two things about life and love that I actually do know:
I know I love mountains. And I know they do not love me back.