No, not the Miley Cyrus one.
I can’t pinpoint the exact moment I had this hairbrained idea to go solo on a backpacking adventure into the mountains, but it was like most things in life, a culmination of small choices that led me to standing, (barely) very winded, on the side of a mountain, somewhat lost, hungry, and almost fully exhausted. I was running on fumes, and my time was running out. I knew I could setup camp quickly enough with full energy at normal altitude, but this was 4000′ (not that high, I know), and I had anything BUT full energy. I wasn’t really SCARED per se. Just nervous, lost, and a bit confused.
There were so many fantastic parallels to real life on this trip. It’s challenging to really hone in on just one. But to illuminate the one most distinctly on my mind, let me talk about navigation. You see in recovery, it’s very much choose your own adventure. As you gain health you can (in moments of clarity and peace) choose your destination. You can begin to craft a new life, one that involves self evaluation, humility (working on it), and is filled with grace and love for others. Much like backpacking. You have a clear (ish) destination. I want to land HERE. So you gather all of the necessary supplies, something to sleep in and on. Food of course. Change of clothes. Something to handle the waste you generate along the way. Something to carry it all in. And, if you’re like me something to capture the small moments on the journey. Once you’ve gathered all those supplies, selected your destination, and hopefully tracked down a map, it’s starting time.
As with most hikes, I started with plenty of weight on my back, and an over abundance of energy. I compared myself to the other hikers just starting out, and set my pace accordingly. This is probably a little different for everyone, my 3 energy definitely adds a quiet competitive edge that I don’t talk about much. Nevertheless I began with a higher speed than was probably wise considering how many hikes I’ve done with 30 lbs on my back, and how many higher elevation hikes I’ve done this year (both = 0); but at least I was moving. At first the trail was obvious. I was hiking along an old forest road. It was wide enough for a logging truck to traverse, so pretty low risk of getting lost there, it was also quite steep. I trudged along happy to be up with the trees near the mountain and even got quite a few peekaboo views of my favorite. But then something happened. I missed the first turnoff. It’s been a few years since I’ve done this particular hike, and I remember it quite differently. Had I read the reviews and the trail description better I would have immediately known my error. I didn’t do either. Mistake one.
Your first slip up or relapse or whatever you want to call it in recovery is mentally challenging. But you’re so NOT self aware enough for proper reflection, the perceived impact on your overall journey pales in comparison to the joy you have in the fact that you’re moving in the more or less right direction. In the very end it may, or may not make a massive impact on your final destination, for me it did, and it didn’t. For whatever reason I was now off the intended trail, but as with most things, there is some beautiful silver linings. I met a wonderful couple coming down (the wrong trail mind you). They were lost ish. They found some amazing views, some great camp sites, but ultimately completely missed their destination. Seeing me walking up the same trail, looking incredibly confident, map in hand, we exchanged a short conversation about where we were going. They were bummed they missed the target, but would try again some other time. For whatever reason a few minutes later they were behind me tagging along up the hill. I was now a guide, leading two people (and their super fantastic dog) on the wrong trail. Now, I didn’t know it was wrong. Based on my reading of the map, and fuzzy memory of the hike, I was blazing a new trail forward. Once we reached the top of the hill and landed where the road dead ended into those campsites with the amazing views, I looked at GPS, looked at the map. Concluded that I missed something, but could get back on course. Into the woods we went.
If you’re a legit hiker and outdoor enthusiast, you might not want to read this part. I saw what looked like a small deer path leading up. So we plowed in. I can only imagine the environmental impact we were having, but there was the smallest sliver of a path through, so we just kept on going with the expectation of landing back on some semblance of a normal trail. It didn’t actually take long, but beating through the brush with a fully packed 30 lbs on my back, was taking an enormous toll on my energy level. Yet we went on. Spurred on by their confidence and the fact that they were even still with me, I blazed through and found the trail again. Silently thanking the universe that I didn’t look like a total moron we were back to a clearly defined path. There’s definitely a lesson in this. Something about finding a way through challenging odds, and finding your way when it’s unclear together. It was really my confidence (even though I was clueless) that kept us going. Would it have been better to take the normal trail? YES! It would have been far better to backtrack a bit, find the right trail and continue on. And yet. Here we were through plenty of adversity, together back again on the correct path.
Up and up we went following the trail through some of the prettiest country I’ve ever been in, following my map, until we finally saw a sign that validated our belief of being in the right place. I saw the sign and felt a flood of relief I could now pinpoint precisely where we were on the map and where we needed to go next. There have been many of these moments in my healing journey. Where I could show real actual evidence of the internal growth that was happening. Where I stepped out of the theoretical and had practical results of the enormous amount of work that was being put in. They are beautiful and fantastic snippets of time that help me KNOW I am on the right path. And although the journey may sometimes be unconventional and even not the simplest path, those times tell me that there isn’t only one route to take. Although there might be a more clearly defined one.
We followed the trail for quite a while, and here is mistake number two. The couple I was with mentioned that maybe there would be a small path leading up to our intended summit. They were absolutely right. And I knew they were. I just couldn’t remember where. So when we came to the trails end yet again I knew we must have missed it. I clearly didn’t learn my lesson the last time. Because once again I found a deer path and plunged in. This time though it was steeper, with snow! But on we went, working our way up the mountain. I knew where we were headed, and that we were no longer on the trail but forging our own way up. At any rate after some serious back country bushwhacking, we emerged on the summit. Not the conventional way, but we also beat everyone coming behind us. So even after getting lost basically twice, we made it to the first of my intended destinations. I enjoyed the view, got in a little snack, said goodbye to my trail buddies, found my way back down to the trail (the right way this time) and continued on my journey. There are so many parallels here to recovery so I’m going to just skip ahead. I’m now alone again on the journey, and into some rare territory. Most people stop at the summit and enjoy that part of the hike without continuing on.
Fast forward down this trail and I found myself lost, yet again. the trail was not easy to follow, especially as tired as I was and mentally drained. I came to a large rock and had to make a decision, up? or down? I wasn’t fully sure where I was, but I knew that the lake I was aiming for was near a waterfall. I could hear water to my left (down) but felt like I really should keep climbing to reach my destination. I went left. followed the sound of the waterfall and wound up a half mile and 400′ short of where I was aiming. This doesn’t really SOUND like a whole lot, but when you’re already at the end of yourself, fully exhausted, low on water, and needing to eat. It’s an enormous challenge. I stumbled onto a lake with another person camping water side. So knowing I had missed my target I chose to stop. I found a site and as quickly as I could setup camp and promptly collapsed on my sleeping bag and fell asleep. I woke up, cooked dinner, did some exploring and then tucked in for the night. When I broke down my camp the next day I had a much clearer picture of where I actually was and where to go. So I began the hike out and decided to go to my original destination. Walking up the hill I found the same rock I had come to the day before. This time I went up and when I found the trail about 15′ later I simultaneously groaned and smiled inside. How could I possibly have missed the trail by so small a margin.
Often over the last few years I have found myself slightly off track at many points. Just missing a little bit, feeling close but not quite settled. Very near where I felt like I should be, but short of the mark. When I finally arrived where I had intended to camp, I found a snow covered meadow and part of the lake still frozen over. I realized quickly that I could not have spent the night there. Well, I could have, but I would not have wanted to. My misstep the day before led me to camp at one of the most beautiful places I may have ever been. Even though I missed my target, I landed somewhere even more beautiful. Recovery feels this way sometimes. I started out intending to land in one place, and have found myself somewhere even more beautiful than I could have imagined. I didn’t realize it at the time, but the “missteps” I’ve made along the way have actually shaped my journey into something grander than I imagined. Now, I’m not done, not by a long stretch. There are MANY miles still to walk. But as I learned along my hiking adventure. It’s ok to stop, collect your energy, enjoy the view, appreciate how far you’ve come, and then begin again. People will come and go, moments will pass, you’ll laugh and cry, but as cliche as it may seem, it’s all about the adventure getting there, not where you end up. And sometimes even when you aim for something, if you fall short, you can find yourself surrounded by beauty that you would have otherwise completely missed.