D, Your Sunrise

CDT June 2018 089Yesterday I will meet Cracker on a frozen slope.  I will find magic in my hat.  I will take my first ever nap on the trail.  But this is the morning of Day 4, when everything becomes new.

Mornings on the trail all begin the same:  I wake up spontaneously just before sunrise, lie there in my sleeping bag thinking “it’s cold,” and then I roll out of the tent, start the coffee, and pack up.  I make it a habit to get up at least once at night, ostensibly to pee, although I know I could hold it.  I just want to make sure I look at our shared night sky at least once–all those stars, just once.  I’ll spend the day seeing and thanking the day sky, and it seems crazy to sleep through the deeper experience of all those stars and planets.

Dawn in the mountains is an embrace, part mother’s, part lover’s.  There is no neat horizon for the sun to rise above, but the light comes, almost imperceptibly–it is dark, and then everything is a shade of dark blue-grey, and then the stars are gone save one or two of the brightest, and then there are the mountains standing around you in every direction.  It is a dim light that envelopes you, and holds you gently.  Mornings in the mountains you are busy, heating water for coffee, breaking down your tent and packing up, anticipating.  And so I was not prepared for this dawn to explode on the mountains before me.  I could not see the sun, only it’s golden light striking the mountains before me.  It took my face in two hands and drew me in to it.  It held me there.

Aparigraha means letting go.  It means recognizing that impermanence is the only constant, and you can’t hold on to things.  But I will never let go of your sunrise.  It was there so briefly, and then it was gone and became something else.  It didn’t need me or want me; it just was.  Aparigraha also means learning to be let go of.CDT June 2018 093

Honey Badger, Asteya, And Why It Always Comes Down To Satya at the End of the Day.

CDT June 2018 060My trail name is Honey Badger.  The thru-hikers would always ask “what’s your name?,” and “George” did not register with them.  But when I answered “Honey Badger,” they’d almost always smile and respond “Honey Badger doesn’t give a shit!”

The day I left the trailhead, I’d caught an almost forgotten feeling:  fear.  Not an everyday fear, but this specific deep fear I’d felt once trapped in an underwater cave in Italy when I was sure I’d never see my newborn son again because of a tiny, stupid mistake.  Or when I had to swim a quarter-mile through open ocean to recover a drifting boat if I wanted to live, through water I knew very well was full of very large sharks.  But then I asked myself what exactly I was afraid of, and I realized that I was only worried about missing my connection back to my car at the end of the trail.  Anything else unfortunate that could possibly happen (I ran down a short mental list) didn’t really matter to me, and that took a load off.  I was embarrassed that Honey Badger’s priorities had gotten confused.

Day 2:  Asteya and Satya:  Asteya means appreciating all that you genuinely have.  And hopefully, when you truly appreciate your wealth–whether it is a richness of time, or space, or incredible friends, or a whole bunch of really cool stuff–you’ll want to share all that with others and help them.

Once you start walking like this though, you don’t feel rich.  You feel tired, and you feel like your pack could be ten pounds lighter.  But you have to walk, because just yesterday you had affirmed that you would see this thing through.  Luckily, I kept meeting thru-hikers.  Early on Day 2 I saw one striding down the trail behind me, and reflected that this big walk certainly gave women incredible legs, something I had noticed yesterday:  muscled, tanned like dark caramel, entirely smooth and perfectly proportioned.  When this hiker came up to me I had the pleasure of meeting Tomahawk, and gentleman from Osaka, Japan.  Score one for gender and ethnic bias awareness training.

CDT June 2018 055 I kept trying to be grateful for all I had at that moment, but I kept coming back to thinking “I’ve got at least ten pounds of stuff in this pack that I don’t need.”  I was trying to keep in mind yesterday’s swadhyaya and tapas, but that too heavy pack, and the trail that just got irritating going downhill because I knew that meant I would just have to go back up, and eventually all I could think about was making each step I took a perfect step.  I imagined the most efficient, relaxed, powerful, beautiful step I could possibly take.  I forgot the step I had just taken, didn’t worry about the one coming next.  I just thought about taking one beautiful step.

Satya is a commitment to the truth in the present moment, as it reveals itself.  It is a decision to see and communicate things as the actually are, not as we wish them to be.  And in the middle of one of these perfect steps I realized again that my choice of these two yamas was not random.  I was immensely pleased with each individual step I took.  Everything else was just not there.  And I looked out before my little tent at the end of that day to recall a key concept of asteya, to take a moment each day to dwell on at least one gift in your life.  And all I could think was “isn’t this incredibly beautiful?”CDT June 2018 111

Tomorrow:  non-violence and compassion, letting go, and the most incredible sunrise I’ve ever seen.

Swadhyaya, Tapas, and One Damn Mountain After Another

CDT June 2018 063The plan for this trip was to leave my car at the Wolf Creek Pass trailhead, hike six days up the CDT (Continental Divide Trail) past Hunchback Pass and hook west up the CT (Colorado Trail) to follow the Elk Creek drainage toward Molas Pass where I would meet me friend Rob Graham, who would take me back to my car.  But I have accepted now that things never turn out as planned, and that in itself becomes part of the plan.  Things went exactly as expected.

To keep myself honest, I decided before leaving to set an intention for each day’s hike, something I’ve learned through yoga.  It didn’t really matter what, because there is always a lot to think about, but if you don’t focus you are just out walking around in a bunch of mountains.  I decided that each day I would focus on two yamas or niyamas, ethical do’s and don’ts, a moral code of conduct given expression through the vocabulary of yoga.  All stuff I knew or felt already, but the actual words give focus.  And intention.

Day 1:  Swadhyaha and Tapas.  “Swadhyaha” means simply self-study; whatever you are drawn to with the intention to know yourself through it, and most importantly in this case, to see the process through.

You will understand quite early when hiking the CDT that it is just one damn mountain after another.CDT June 2018 093 You go up one, and it is hard, but you think “when I get to the top, I will have accomplished something important, and I will see more clearly.”  But then you get there, and you see the damn trail just goes right back down the other side, and back up another very similar mountain.  You have accomplished nothing.

Tapas” is a burning enthusiasm for what you are doing, the fervor of striving to be the best you can, simply by going against the grain of habit, of complacency, of doing what is easiest.  Tapas is important when you look at that damn trail going down again and then back up after you’ve arrived at the top of a hard climb.  I spend a great deal of my time amazed out how things work out–I know some people who will say the word “dumbfounded” is more appropriate–but I was happy when I understood that it was not pure chance that led me to pick these two niyamas for my first day on the trail.  There were many easier choices I could have made for how to spend this time, but I needed to see this through if it was going to mean anything.CDT June 2018 052The only other people I saw during my hike were CDT thru-hikers, people walking from the southern border with Mexico up to Canada during the 3-4 month window when lack of snow up high makes the trip possible.  These were amazing people.  So positive, so full of joy and gratitude for being exactly where they were at each moment.  And walking so much faster than me!  Cardboard, Hercules, Ketzyl, Cracker, Nugget, Kodachrome, and Yellow Mustard:  trail names, the only ones that mattered to anyone up there.  We’d chat a bit, and then they needed to move on, cover more distance before sunset.  And when they were gone I’d say “there’s no way I could do that.  What am I trying to prove out here?”

I ended Day 1 camped at a small alpine lake, alone except for a group of mule deer.  Getting there was a first for me, my first glissage, sliding on my ass down a frozen slope when the trail was blocked.  CDT June 2018 045The great thing about a day like this is that you are so tired that you don’t have the energy to still wonder what you are trying to prove.  You just want to eat, get warm, and sleep.  I was forcing dinner down when something spooked this deer, and she actually hissed at me.  Twice, like a really big, angry snake.CDT June 2018 049And I was at that moment so grateful to be right there, grateful to have set those two intentions for the day and not done what was easiest.  To have seen the day through, and gone to sleep on a mountain surrounded by hissing deer.

Tomorrow:  Honey Badger, Asteya, and why it all comes down to Satya at the end of the day.