Thursday, March 26, 2015

The Hike

Even though her calves are burning, and her desire is somewhat nonexistent, she pushes on, takes forks she’s never taken, gets a little lost and ends up in an area she hasn’t hiked before. She only planned an hour, but it takes her at least an hour and half because of the detour.

She has learned to enjoy hiking in the desert mountain preserves. It has become something she usually looks forward to. Time to herself, time outside, time to think, time to be quiet. 

About a year before, she began driving her youngest son 3-4 days a week to a preschool for blind children. And while the drive forced her to get out of the house, a blessing in itself, it also meant she would be on the highway for an hour every morning and every afternoon. And since she couldn't bring herself to drive an additional two hours all the way home and back to school after dropping him off, she decided to investigate ways to spend her time on that side of town.

At first, she went to McDonalds, or Starbucks or Chick-fil-A, but usually McDonalds, buy something that wasn't good for her and use their air conditioning and free wifi. But after a while, her waistline protested. Or her clothes did. Anyway, it wasn't working out.

She also tried shopping. Not go-to-the-store-because-you-have-a-list-and-need-something shopping, but go-to-the-store-and-browse-to-see-what-you-need shopping. Target, Costco, the mall, etc....all within a 10 minute drive of the school, and she could always find something she needed. This time, however, it wasn't her waistline protesting, but her bank account. (Although, there are definitely some tasty eats in those places so maybe the waistline was making noise too).

Forced to start looking for free, low calorie things to do, she began to split her time between public parks and public libraries depending on the weather and her mood. Both had things going for them. The parks had shade or sun and the sounds of nature, a cooling breeze or warm heat during certain months, an opportunity to hike up a trail or take a nap under a tree. The library had free air conditioning, free wifi, usually a quiet atmosphere (depending on if there was a children's book reading there on that day or not which usually resulted in screaming and crying children for about an hour before it started), and clean bathrooms. Sometimes she did both in one day.

On this particular morning, she decided to hike for an hour and end with a trip to the library. The sky was blue, the air warm and cool at the same time, morning temperatures ambient, literally perfect conditions.

As she climbed out of the car after luckily scoring one of the few remaining parking spaces, she could tell the hike was not going to be easy. It had been a while, and her legs were being lazy. She even struggled to convince her mind it was a good idea. She rubbed a little sunscreen on her neck and chest, put on sunglasses (she had accidentally left her hat at home), grabbed her bottle of lukewarm "iced" tea and phone, checked to make sure her valuables were at least underneath something, and closed the car door. She pressed the lock button on her key fob twice to make the car horn honk, ensuring it was locked.

She put her keys in her left pocket and her phone in her right. She carried her tea bottle with two fingers from her right hand and headed to the path leading to the trail. No earphones, no music, no audio book. Just the sound of her feet on the rocks and dirt.

Crunch. Crunch. Crunch. Crunch. She loves the methodic sound of her shoes on the gravel, the scratching scurry of a lizard across her path, the panicked rustle of birds in the scrubby shrubs, the occasional sound of voices in the distance assuring her while she is alone, she is not alone. 

Crunch. Crunch. Crunch. Crunch. She knows as she walks on this rough, loose, uneven gravel, and in other places over the hard, weathered, tilted sharp bed rock that her balance is being improved. She pays attention to how her body responds to the misstep of a foot or the slight twisting of an ankle as her system accommodates the terrain. She might be sore the first few days back, but her body will recover and be stronger the more consistently she returns. All the little turns and twists in her feet translate up her body working minute muscles here and there. Everything working together to keep her on her feet.

She has a preference for this particular desert mountain preserve. She feels strangely safe here over other places. She can be alone and not see anyone for most of the hike even though the parking lot is full. She has felt calm and happy here, as well as sad or angry. She has felt peace that can't be understood, and she has worked through raging emotions. She has confronted God here. And He has confronted her.

She thinks about how this past year her life has been a series of rough and tumble missteps, how she has tripped and recovered over and over again. Her ability to regain her emotional balance improving with time and practice. While not knowing when the next patch of gravel might slide out from under her or a sharp rock might throw her off her path, she feels more confident now than before that she might be ok.

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