Running Away

I was talking to a couple of friends today about my upcoming trip to Seattle and my plans for a solo backpacking trip when I’m there. They asked me why I even wanted to go out into the wilderness by myself, and I had to admit I wasn’t sure. All I know is that after Jeff died, the idea took hold of me, and that every time I had an upsurge of grief, the idea came back even stronger, and now it just won’t let go. (The desire for such an adventure is a common reaction to grief.)

One woman said it sounded as if I were running away. Well, yes. Of course I am.  But then, I am also running toward something I can’t yet imagine. When I explained that the trip is a spiritual journey, a vision quest, the other women said she hoped I would find what I was looking for.

Am I looking for something? I don’t know. Do I expect to find something? Not exactly.

“Aren’t you afraid to be out in the wilderness by yourself at night?” they asked. Well, sure. But I think that’s sort of the point. To feel the breadth and breath of the night. To be aware of danger but at the same time bask in the vastness. To be afraid and in awe of the very world we live in. We’re used to thinking of the wild world as our own backyard, and yet the world exists in and for itself, without a single thought for the oh, so arrogant humans who live on the surface. Perhaps a respectful fear is a good thing to cultivate — at least it’s a recognition that we are not the center of the universe or the galaxy or even the world. In many respects, we are superfluous. If we did not exist, the earth still would continue revolving around the sun. If the earth weren’t here, we’d be . . . nowhere.

I try not to have any expectations. I know it’s dangerous to be out there alone. I know even experienced wilderness hikers get lost, get hurt, meet up with dangers — not bears so much, but clouds of mosquitoes, lightning, corroded trails, raging streams, and unleashed dogs are all very real dangers. And yet, I can’t let my fears dictate my future — otherwise, I’d never leave the house. (Being a crazy cat lady sans cats is as realistic a fear as any of those I might encounter on the trail.)

So maybe what I am running away from is that untenable future? Maybe what I’m running toward is a way to change what seems fated?

The way I see it, only good can come from seeking the goal. (Not necessarily the trip itself, but the push toward the trip.) Using hiking poles is helping my miracle arm. (The one that was broken in twenty-five places but now acts mostly normal.) Carrying a backpack is strengthening my body. Projecting myself into possible unpleasant situations is strengthening my resolve. Research is stretching my mind. Eating a clean diet is making me healthier.

At least, that’s the theory.

I’m still a long way from actually doing the trip, but every time I go to ballet class or saunter with my pack or forgo a sugary snack, I am taking another step on the trail.

And that seems as good a reason for planning on going out into the wilderness by myself as any other.

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Pat Bertram is the author of the suspense novels UnfinishedMadame ZeeZee’s Nightmare, Light BringerMore Deaths Than OneA Spark of Heavenly Fireand Daughter Am IBertram is also the author of Grief: The Great Yearning, “an exquisite book, wrenching to read, and at the same time full of profound truths.” Connect with Pat on Google+. Like Pat on Facebook.

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Epiphany

The epiphany I mentioned in the title has nothing to do with the three kings, though, considering what day this is, I won’t rule out the possibility that this particular epiphany is a gift from the magi — the insight had to have come from somewhere.

This morning, after I stretched, I put on my two-pound belly pack and shrugged into my fifteen-pound backpack, grabbed my trekking poles and went out for a trudge. Actually, I am getting used to the weight a bit, so it’s more of a slow walk now than simply a plod.

My normal three-mile route goes up the road to the desert about a mile away, a mile turnaround in the desert, and a return down a parallel street on one of the few sidewalks in the area. Today, I spent a few extra minutes in the desert, enjoying being out in the open, enjoying the very thought of being away from civilization if only for a few minutes.

On the walk back, I marveled that I seem to be in the perfect place to train for some sort of extended backpacking trip. Proximity to nature. Winter weather conducive to walking. The right gear and clothing.

And then the epiphany hit me — maybe I really am supposed to do this. “This” meaning my impossible dream of an epic backpacking trek

At lunch with friends a week or so ago, we talked about our lives and the future. They have houses, responsibilities, family. And me — all I have is this dream. They couldn’t understand why I would even want to go camping, let alone backpacking, and I couldn’t explain the pull of the quest. I’m not athletic at all — spent too many years lounging around reading to be really fit. I’m not an outdoorsy sort of person — except for walking, of course. I certainly have no lifelong love of camping — until recently, I’ve always been too much of a comfort seeker to easily embrace the discomforts inherent in a camping trip.

And yet . . . and yet . . .

The quest is not — obviously — a quest for discomfort, though in a way it is. It is in stretching our boundaries, in embracing discomfort, in reaching for the unreachable that we see the truth of ourselves, learn how we connect to the world around us, understand that we are nature, that nature is us. If we could see the world and us as energy or a quantum state, we would see that there is no real separation between us and our surroundings. I understand this, but I would like to feel it — to be alone, just me and the world, to go past what is comfortable or convenient to whatever is beyond the ordinary. A spiritual quest, in other words.

Yoda (what or whoever that might be) said, “Do or do not. There is no try.” I’m wondering if the opposite is true. “Try or not try. There is no do.” It could be that in my case, the trying is the doing. Or the doing is in the trying.

There is a good chance that this trying — this training — is the quest. (Wait! Is that another epiphany?)

After Jeff died, I thought my move away from our home of two decades would be the start of a life change — a real journey. But it turned out the drive to my father’s house was simply a trip — the journey had been in all the changes I’d undergone before taking the trip.

I wonder if this quest is the same sort of thing — that if I am ever able to do some sort of long backpacking trip, it might simply be another walk, that the quest is in all this preparation.

Should be interesting to find out.

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Pat Bertram is the author of the suspense novels UnfinishedMadame ZeeZee’s Nightmare, Light BringerMore Deaths Than OneA Spark of Heavenly Fireand Daughter Am IBertram is also the author of Grief: The Great Yearning, “an exquisite book, wrenching to read, and at the same time full of profound truths.” Connect with Pat on Google+. Like Pat on Facebook.