Crawling up slippery rocks, hair flying in the wind, shoes squelching, toes numb, fingers scrambling for a grip on branches, on trunks, on anything. Muddied gloves gripping hands that pull me against gravity. Anxiety, wonder, anxiety, wonder. And the air—so, so clean. A blast of oxygen after a mask-filled existence. There’s the easy rhythm of banter, the laughter filling the misty trees, the rapturous moment of lifting sweat-filled hair over blinking eyes and seeing the view for the first time. Drinking in the clouds lacing blue mountaintops like white mustaches, the miniature towns far below encircled by blankets of fall foliage, and the conifers sprouting like baby mushrooms across a canvas-like landscape.
There’s a reason why people always talk about The Climb. The satisfaction of muscle ache. The single-mindedness of exertion. Everything reduced to the fundamental—when our limbs are in constant motion, our minds declutter.
At some point past 1PM, lost and tired and separated from the main group, we stared at the steep smooth boulders and our dangerously inadequate gear. All four of us were in running shoes—no hiking boots in sight. Visions of slipping and falling to my death flashed across my mind.
I gulped. “I’ll just wait for you guys here.”
A chorus of forceful “nopes” met my feeble splutters and protests.
And then ten minutes later, pulled and pushed up, supported and laughed at, I’ve somehow emerged unscathed at the mountaintop and am busy posing for photos while yelling, “I love it!”
Getting there by myself wouldn’t have felt as good. Basking in nature’s immensity won’t feel as magical without the constant oscillation between crippling anxiety and quiet marveling. I’m not the first to say this and I won’t be the last—hiking is like life.
If one waits long enough, skies clear. Mists recede. And as though a hand from heaven sweeps aside foggy curtains, the view unfurls itself before us, breathtaking. You pick up friends along the trail, stories tucked under the folds of your windbreaker, and mud under your soles, and you seed memories in the wilderness.