Day 1: JMT “In Need of a good washing”

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July 14, 2014
Day 1: Devil’s Postpile to Mineret lake ~ 8.4 miles

My heart, mind, and soul have been in a horse race, jockeying for position. It’s not as if I don’t quickly find myself at home – right where I left off last summer. Within miles from our start at Devil’s Postpile,as soon as the crowds were left behind, the familiar rhythm of clicking along on the trail calmed my soul, just like it always does.
And it’s not as if I am battling with that same fear that once plagued me – the one that had my mind shackled to the ever nagging question, “What if it happens again?”

And furthermore, it’s not as if I am battling an injury that threatens to cut our trip short. All my parts are working good this year. Hips, knees, and feet are all feeling great.

No, all the important things are in place, lined up, and pointing to a great trip. Most of my trail thoughts were just that, “Wow, we are actually doing this – the full JMT – the real McCoy! And today is just the beginning!” I found myself wondering at what lay ahead, this time I did so with excited anticipation of the places we’d see and the interesting people and potential new friends we’d meet.

My mind, soul, and heart, like three horses pulling my carriage, seemed to be trotting along in equal strength and in unison. And then my heart would stumble – sending a jolt through the horse trio that was pulling my carriage up the trail.
My mind attempted to reason with my heart but found it began to falter too. Then my soul stepped up its pace, pulling the other two along and steadying the troop back into rhythm.
This is how I spent the 8.4 miles we hiked since lunch. As memories of recent ER traumatic events popped to the surface, I found my emotions struggling to stabilize.

May 17 was the fateful day my dad shocked us all with a massive heart attack. A silent, lurking killer – my dad narrowly escaped with his life. Nearly two months later, he was just starting to gain strength but progress was slow and peppered with uncomfortable and confusing setbacks.

We spent three separate visits to his home, helping as we could and have decided he was stable, freeing us up to vacation a little. But guilt sets in, what’s a “good” daughter to do? Well meaning and not so well meaning texts filled my phone, confusing me more. Some induced guilt. Some encouraged us to carry on. Some elicited fear. The little girl in me instantly responded to the guilt and thought I should abandon my family to fly to his side. But my mind reasons with that internal little girl that my dad will be fine and just needs a lot of time to find strength again.

God knows how long we all have, reminded my soul to the other two horses, delivering the final and closing arguments that even in living and dying, I need to learn to let go. I am not in control. Stay calm and hike on. Stay calm. Let go.

Yes, the horses jockeyed hard for position and sometimes when the horse of my mind faltered, my heart would also stumble remembering another traumatic moment just two weeks earlier in an  ER room in Provo, Utah. “He’s having a heart attack” the cardiologist told us. Fear, shock, and then tears came from Cory as he locked eyes with me across the room. My focus quickly turned to Bekah, who was sobbing and clinging to me while my world went white and I thought I might faint. I got down to her eye level and locked eyes with her, letting our souls speak to each other, as her searching eyes pleaded with me to help her. As we stared deep into each other’s eyes, her soul heard the message: I’m here for you. We will do this together. You are not alone. I love you. My eyes spoke the same message my mouth did, “Daddy’s going to be OK”.

For the next forty-five minutes she cried over and over again, “Please God, don’t take my daddy” while Cade just screamed in terrified anger that his own, youthful daddy would be having a heart attack. Bekah eventually passed out, eliciting a flurry of medics around her and Cade got faint and was quickly ushered to a chair. At one point, all three of them were on hospital beds.

What a roller coaster of emotion we endured as we went from utter fear to complete elation upon learning the heart attack was a misdiagnosis he simply has an athlete’s heart which can throw the ECG off. After extensive testing it was concluded that he has nothing wrong with his heart, sorry for the scare, you can continue with your vacation plans as normal. The cause of chest pain we concluded was simply a pulled intercostal rib muscle from throwing cinder rocks around the week earlier.
Adrenaline shocks to the system like that don’t just disappear overnight. There are after shocks. Many from home have voiced concern that we would venture out in isolated wilderness travel.
So the soul speaks again – he’s been cleared. He’s healthy. Why stop living out of fear? Is not this very trip the very thing you need to reset you, shift the adrenaline button off, and downshift your system?
Come on mind and heart, said the soul, let’s canter in beat, feel the wind in our manes and let the freedom and quiet melt away this doubt. You might limp for awhile and we might be off sync at times, but don’t give up. Press on. Hike on. This is the exact journey you need to get back in unison, back in rhythm.

The moments that first evening when all three horses were galloping in unison, I had time to notice a few interesting and amusing occurrences. Bekah hiked in the lead this first day and only Cade could keep up with her. A far cry from the past years when Bekah fell back, hiking slowly while daddy kept her company. As the kids sped up the trail, they didn’t bicker. It was just the first day but they were enjoying the hike and enjoying each other. They played games like “I Spy” and twenty-questions to amuse themselves. It was how they ended their trail time last summer but last summer it took most of the summer to get to that point, and as I listened to them chuckle over a clever twenty-question answer, it felt as if no time had passed since we found our groove last summer. They just continued where they had left off.

At camp, the tents were set up with ease and Cade sped off to fish, cheering within ten minutes from his first catch. Previous years it took many nights of tears and frustration, trial and error, and a few angry outbursts before the first catch was made. By the time the evening was over, he had landed 22 trout. An expert had arrived at the shores of Mineret lake, amateurs were left in the wake of past summers.
Cory made dinner while I sponge bathed in the lake and soon Bekah and I were atop our mats journaling in compete contentedness. She paused her musings on paper to gather willow branches and grasses to create her first little doll companion of the trek. I hadn’t put two and two together until I found her in rapt attention atop a granite rock with her project that she had purchased tippit so that she could tightly wrap grasses and willow twigs together to create these nature dolls. She came prepared!

After dinner I volunteered to wash dishes as Bekah bathed. As I brought the soiled pot to the lake to fill it up, it occurred to me that we all were like that dirty pot. The year was a good one but as life does, it’s left some grease and scum on us. My dad’s heart attack. My job loss. Cory’s hospital stay. I squirted the soap into the pot, put the cover on it, and walked the requisite 200 yards from the lake, shaking the pot forcefully. As I cleaned each dish in the sudsy lake water, I thought of the same cleaning we were getting , surrounded by the gorgeous rugged skyline of the Minerets. I left the soapy dishes on a rock, emptied the pot of the sudsy water, and returned to the lake for a refill of fresh water. Back and forth I went from the lake to the soapy dishes to rinse away the scum, grease, and soap from each item. Somehow this simple ritual resonated with me. The rugged scenery, quiet evenings, warm mornings, sunrises glistening on lakes, limited to do lists, and all the majesty of this wild place would do as Muir wrote it would do, “Wash your spirit clean” (Alaska Days with John Muir, 1915, chapter 7). Muir told people to, “Climb the mountains and get their good tidings. Nature’s peace will flow into you as sunshine flows into trees. The winds will blow their own freshness into you, and the storms their energy, while cares will drop off like autumn leaves.” (Our National Parks, 1901, page 56).

I still wonder how nature does this. How God in nature does this. But it has done this for humanity in time past as it does for humanity now. Once again, we come to our summer hike in need of a good washing.

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