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I traveled on foot for 30 days in the mountains bordering the Mojave desert in Southern California. I carried my belongings and exposed myself to the outdoors 16 hours a day. I saw the world in wide vistas of mountain ranges and small detail of a speckled pebble. I met people who had time to talk and give of themselves, be it a well-meant tip about the trail conditions, a life story, a meal, or a place to shower and get clean.
Being in the outdoors and walking every day changed my body. My body is lighter and stronger. My vision clearer, my mind uncluttered, emotions calm. This bodily feeling opened my heart and I experienced waves of love for people I met. I like loving people. Loving people feels like swimming in a pool of warm liquid, effortless and soothing.
I live alone in my daily life. My family members have moved or passed away one by one, for good or not so good reasons. Life doesn’t have reasons. This is how life unfolds. Nature has shown me this unfolding when a flower opens in sunlight, or the soft rotted wood of a giant tree fallen in a storm, crumbles in my hand. I have accepted my single status and like the space it gives me to be me. I can immerse myself in the emptiness of living alone. Walking gives me the space to be me. When I walk, nature is my company. I have to consider its ups and downs in temperature, its wily winds, and the terrain it offers to walk on in the day and rest on during the night. Nature surprises me with glorious colored displays of sky, delicate blooms and unusual forms of growth. A fresh morning sunrise is like a child’s kiss on my cheeks, a warm languid sunset a hand stroking my skin.
I shared my recent journey with others who seek to find space for themselves. Hiking the Pacific Crest Trail draws those who want to challenge themselves, figure out who they are or get away from their daily life. My timing for hiking the desert section of the PCT put me in the middle of a slow moving group of people walking North. Many of us hiked alone, or started hiking alone, but I found that I kept meeting up with the same people. We became a hiking unit, greeting each other, helping each other when needed, sharing camp spaces and rest stops. The intermittent contacts with other hikers accentuated the vulnerability and strength I simultaneously experience when hiking solo. The unspoken understanding of not relying on each other, yet being there to help if needed, formed a reality check about living: we’re all on our own life journey, yet others can ease the harshness of nature’s laws. When crossing a steep snowfield I know that only my attention and agility keeps me from a harmful slide down the mountain. Yet having someone on the other side of a strong flowing creek ready to help, watch me while I cross, tells me I’m not alone on this journey.
When I step out of the protected environment of my home, I get to experience both my vulnerability and the support available. I enter a shared wilderness and find the humanity in people. I surrender to the forces of nature and find my strengths. I bring back an open heart from my journey and confidence in a body and mind that can stretch itself and reach for the seemingly impossible. They say as we age and our work and family obligations diminish, our world shrinks. I defy my aging by going into the world and let it teach me I can climb a mountain, that I can live without the comforts of home and still be happy, that I’m not defined by relationships of family and close friends, but that I will meet others who care when I step out into that world.
I am not the same person I was when I set out on this journey 30 days ago. My body has new cells and my mind has new ideas. A friend who hugged me upon my return home said: “Wow, you are all muscle, you feel strong!”
“What stands out about this trip?”, someone asked. It’s knowing that I can love total strangers, find shelter in a tent and sleeping bag when a thunderstorm rocks the sky, that I can fall into a deep and dreamless sleep after a day of walking, and that an angel can show up when I need him. It lets me trust that all will be well as long as I’m open to change and transformation.
For more blogs about the Mojave section click here; for a slideshow go here