Now I have been known to do some seriously strenuous physical activity. I played volleyball year round on teams for over 15 years, I walked 500 miles across Spain, I hiked to the bottom and back in the Grand Canyon and was chewed up and spit out by an 18,000 ft volcano in Peru. But Mt.Langley. That's a different story.
From the trailhead she hides mysteriously behind a family of jagged peaks disguising her beauty and her dry sense of humor. The Army pass route from the trailhead was suppose to take 18 miles, which would be a stretch for my ability. Uphill hikes with my busted Achilles just isn't really my cup of tea. But for Sam, my mustached mountaineer man, it's just a walk in the park. His passion is infectious and I often fall victim to his boldly extreme adventure ideas because he is quite convincing especially with his gallantly swooping mustache, so in the end I conceded. Part of me shouted, "No no no no!" Knowing I would stare in the devilish face of pure suffering and mental agony, but the other part of me wants so badly to be a part of what lights Sam up and inspires him beyond reason. Not to mention "bagging" a 14,000 ft peak is most certainly a deeply satisfying experience.
Sam's friend and partner in moustached maddness, Jimmy, joined us for the hike. Actually Sam kidnapped Jimmy without him having any idea what were doing or where we were going. We set up camp near the trail head and woke up at 3 a.m so we could get to the meadow by sunrise, which Sam claimed would be well worth it. I wasn't so keen to rise at such an early hour to hike in the pitch black, with only a headlamp, where there could be cougars or bears or other such hungry forest creatures stalking me in the dark. I think it is one of Sam's deepest desires to fight off a Mountain Lion with his pocket knife. Once the thick trees parted we stepped into a meadow of unspeakable beauty, as the sun slowly crept over the mountains as if on cue and lit up the meadow in an etherial other worldly glow.
After a bowl of hot oatmeal with peanut butter, bananas and a potent cup of coffee heated up on Jimmy's super portable flame we headed toward the start of the elevation gain. Each step was a meditation and I quickly warded off any sprouting negative thoughts. I have been known to have an utter and complete meltdown (Split Mountain and Chichani) when I can not control the demon in my head which can quickly deteriorate my serenity and determination that then leads to my body physically shutting down. This time I had prepared and had all the tools to succeed. Walking poles, energy gel shots, an Ipod with pre-arranged playlists of varying tempos and Sam on board with the type of support I would be needing if it got tough. Pole, pole, step, step, EXHALE pole, pole, step, step, EXHALE. I got into the routine and time, miles and body aches were lost.
Just me and the mountain.
By the time we reached the last 500ft I felt like a champ and had not even entertained one negative defeating thought. But my breath got tighter at the high altitude with the route becoming dry, treeless, and covered in scree with a endless vertical pile of massive rocks stacked to the heavens. I felt the strength drain out as I stared up at the treacherous and steep part of the trail which lacked a specific route. Find a way and climb it -is basically the theory to get to the final stretch of the peak. Sam bounded up it like a billy goat as I stood with my neck craned up gazing blankly at the jagged rock formations above. The demon entered my mind disguised as a thoughtful angel, "Ann, its the journey not the destination, you've already done so well, you don't need to reach the top." I looked up at Sam and his mustache above who were waving me up. I paused, took a deep breathe and asked myself what I would feel when I stepped onto the peak?
Exhilaration. Inspiration. Pride. Satisfaction. Elation. Accomplishment.
What would I feel like if I sat here and then just went back down?
Safe. Disappointed. Uninspired. Let down. Defeated. Weak.
Then a gentle voice from within, which I'd like to think of as the matronly voice of Mt. Mama Langley spoke to me. "You can do it. Trust me. One rock at a time." I exhaled and grabbed onto the first notch of rock to pull myself up and slowly made my way all the way to the top of 14,042 ft Mt.Langley.
I did make it to the top, but returning to the trailhead again was another story. Mt.Mama Langley might have encouraged me to her highest point but she gave me a swift kick in the ass on the way back down. After hour 18 of hiking there was no stopping the demon in my mind, so I turned up the volume of Eckart Tolle on my Ipod to occupy my vivid imagination with his calm and oddly melodic voice. The dark night encroached and my mind started to unravel. Wood stumps looked like evil trolls as mosquitos devoured my face, and my sanity. At one point I truly thought I had seen a Sasquatch. I dragged my walking sticks on the ground with my head down like a wilted flower. When Sam asked how I was doing, I dug deep with every ounce of spiritual serenity I could muster and I choose a different reaction than "little Annie tantrum." This time I whispered, "I am hanging in there," as opposed to throwing down my poles and shouting explicatives like a foul mouthed gremlin with a ugly scowl. Reacting to my calm yet defeated demeanor, Sam took my poles, wrapped his arm around my back and soothed me, "I know this has been tough, but I am really, really proud of you."
Not only was he proud of me, but I was of myself. I bagged a peak and found a new serene and safe place within in my heart to deal with the difficulties along the way. I might have reached the top of Mt.Langley, but more importantly I learned to stand on the top of my suffering and fear and look out at the horizon to see the beauty that is there all along the journey and that will gently guide me to overcome any challenge before me.
Thank you Mt.Mama Langley, Jimmy (for providing me with a lot of breaks for me to recover) and of course my Samisito and his mustache.