Life is messy.
Trips are messy.
I thought I had this whole “traveling gratefully” approach down after last week when my wife’s parents were visiting. It seems so simple: pray and prepare well before the trip, go with the right attitude, be open to what comes your way and give thanks for it all.
Well, it does work that way, but not always as we expect.
This last weekend my two teen sons and I decide to go hiking. The day before, we select as our destination Annette Lake, a small alpine lake in the Cascades less than an hour’s drive from home. The hike looks perfect: Eight miles round trip, less than a 2000 foot elevation gain, a beautiful destination and enough variety along the way to keep it interesting. Or so the hiking book says.
That all sounded great the night before. When 6:30 a.m. comes around (we wanted to beat the crowds and predicted rain), however, I’m not feeling the love for this hike. Still, we head out, my oldest son driving as I pray for a better attitude, to be grateful and to make this a meaningful trip for my sons and me. Oh, and I pray for it not to rain (as drizzle smears our windshield).
We speak little on the drive there. We arrive as the rain lets up. We collectively say a word of thanks for the day so far, a good start. Moments later, we’re on the trail. The beautiful waterfalls, moss covered rocks, and trees of interesting shapes and distortions (from earlier storms this year) get my attention and keep me enthused about the prospects of this hike.
And then we hit the switchbacks.
I can buy the “no pain, no gain” mantra in small doses. I find, however, that I have this pathological aversion to discomfort. This isn’t that hard of a hike, but it is a steady uphill climb for three miles.
Soon, I am fixated on just how long three miles can be. All attempts at gratitude and noticing the beauty around me get overcome by an interior dialogue that goes something like this:
“Three more miles? That’s like more than an hour of this.”
“True, but that’s not so long.”
“Are you kidding me? That’s like forever!”
“It will go by in no time. Listen to some music.”
“I am listening and it is still a long time.”
“Maybe you should start doing more aerobic exercises.”
“Oh, like that really helps now.”
“Hey, it’s only about 2 ½ miles now.”
“I can’t. I’m in your head. Be grateful.”
This goes on for another mile or so until we hit the snow.
At first, the snow on certain parts of the trail seems like a nice distraction. We’ve brought two pairs of trekking poles which the three of us share. This seems to work fine until we emerge out of the forest and then, everything changes.
We have come to the first of many avalanche slopes.
Picture traversing a 60 degree mountain slope that is covered with snow and ice. At first, it doesn’t seem like a big deal. But as we make our way across the first slope two things happen.
First, my youngest son, who is now about half way across, looks down. Bad move. He’s not thrilled with heights and we are very high indeed above the valley below.
Second, I realize his predicament and try to speed up to help him. Doing so causes me to slip. I use my trekking pole to prevent a tumble, but now I come face to face an unnerving realization: all three of us are just one mis-step or slip away from a 500 foot toboggan slide down the mountain without a toboggan or anything other than rocks and trees in the valley below to halt our progress.
One moment I’m whining to myself about the exertion of the hike and the next I’m aware of something so surprising I don’t want to take it seriously but I must:
We could die here.
To be continued…