July 16, 2005


One summer I was on a wilderness backpack trip in Eastern Oregon with a companion. It was incredibly beautiful county, though I didn't really take it all in because the hiking alone took my most of my focus. We were two days into a five day trip when, midmorning, on a steep and endless craggy slope, my energy just ran out. The weather was hot, and the trail was grueling . I didn't have the stamina to go any further. My friend was so strong; with boundless energy he was seemingly unaffected by the altitude or temperature. He urged me to keep going, he poked and prodded me, made fun of me, offered to take part of my load, and finally went on ahead because he was tired of me and tired of being slowed by my pace.

I couldn't believe he would abandoned me like that - I was suddenly and overwhelmingly afraid. Alone, and free of being observed, I dropped by the side of the trail, held my head in my hands, and wept. I cried because I was worn out. I cried because I was humiliated; I felt weak and ignoble. I cried from fear. I cried because I was furious, with raging anger at my friend and hating myself. In the end, I didn't even know why I was crying anymore. I felt pathetic, pitiful, dirty and disgusting, sitting there by myself, crying my eyes out.

Finally the tears subsided, there were no more left to cry. Exhausted, spent in every way, I finally felt myself relax. Time stood still. Eventually, something within me urged me to get up and get going again. I took a drink of water, had a bite of a power bar, retied my boots, and put on my heavy pack.

Alone on the trail now, my pace was my own, I was not being pushed or pulled by another. The lack of a companion was freeing in a way. I hiked many miles in isolation that day, pushing myself at times, and resting when I needed to. I started singing, remembering old songs, and making up new ones. In this solitude, I needed to prove nothing; my ego was unnecessary. All the angry energy, the humiliation, the fear and exhaustion just dissolved.

Slowly, from a spacious reserve within me, I found the strength and motivation I needed. I began to know and trust myself in a new way, though my focus on self diminished. I became very quiet, my interior chatter stilling. In this quietude, the only sound on the trail was from my own footsteps. Soon, even that dissolved, and all I could hear was silence – the great awesome silence of the wilderness. Like daybreak, an awareness of the surrounding beauty gradually expanded, filling me with a sense of utter peace unlike any I had ever known.


Loren said...

Not much of a hiking partner.

But, yes, I've always felt backpacking in the mountains uplifting when you're allowed to find your own pace and just walk.

I always made sure when I was leading a hike to allow people to spread out, even kids, and have the lead hiker stop at least every hour so that people can set their own pace and still be part of the group.

Gemma Grace said...

A beautiful allegory, Meredith, of finding one's way to centre. Thank you.

garnet said...

I often find hiking, especially alone, to be a great meditation.

Dale said...

I'm dumbfounded by the person leaving you. But it's wonderful what you made of it.

Mark Walter said...

Meredith, I read this post a day or so ago, and really enjoyed it. You might enjoy reading my friend Gretchen's recent post. She has just returned from Peru, and has a somewhat similar story.


Meredith said...

Dear friends,
Thank you for joining me on this mountainside. The sun is ever-rising up to greet us.

and Mark,
thank you for the link to Gretchen's post - I did enjoy it, just as much as I enjoyed yours!


Gretchen Coleman said...

Hi Meredith. I was blogging around off Mark Walter's blog and here I see that you have been to mine.

I can totally relate to this post as I felt exactly like you did when we first got going. I commend you for letting go, crying it out and finding your own way. I have a tendency to keep it all inside.

Some commenters are dissing your hiking partner, and I can see why. But I think he did you a favor even though he may not have intended it that way. Solitude makes it easier to open up and center oneself.

Meredith said...

You are so right - sometimes things just have to fall apart in order for the light begin to pierce the shadow. Now, almost 30 years later, he is still my hiking partner - though on the trail, we both still need and enjoy a little solitude!

Loren said...

Loren says, oops.

I'm guessing in 30 years that you’ve found better ways of accommodating each others' hiking styles.

Meredith said...

...we certainly have. It is a blessing to share my life with first my hiking partner.