this houston winter reminded me of my experience of a high country summer. sounds strange, but january is one of the few times in southern texas where the weather actually changes. it just feels how a summer in the mountains felt. temps in the 30s, storms, rain, hail, snow, then sun, temps in the 70s. of course we didn’t have snow or hail. and no mountains. still the cold and rain brought back memories of hiking the colorado trail in summer.
a reader may wonder, “why on earth are you wistful about hiking in cold, wet weather?” that is an excellent question dear reader.
i’m not sure i have an answer to that question. at least not one that would satisfy anyone, including myself. but, then hiking isn’t about answers. and truthfully, life isn’t either.
here goes anyway.
maybe it’s about just being in nature; the unfiltered rawness. not being able to disconnect from your surroundings and thus being fully immersed in the universe. storms bring lightning and thunder follows. to experience waves of thunder in the open mountains is something else. they roll, cascade, and ricochet from mountaintop to mountaintop; reverberations upon reverberations. energetic booms from all directions in different rhythms and amplitudes. the echoes become softer and gradually roll off to residual ripples that exist only in the mind until their energy, too, has dissipated into nothing.
there’s a relative enormity to it all. we are at once an enormously large and enormously small part of the universe.
looking back, i approached my initial hikes adversarially. the trail was something to be conquered, mastered, triumphed over. huge mistake. first, one cannot win against nature. second, nature just does. it has no regard for anyone or anything. i would venture nature is the most fair thing there is. everyone and everything is treated equally. truly equally. it is neither for you or against you. you can’t break it, but you can break yourself against it. adapt or suffer. sure, there is discomfort to be experienced, but there is also comfort to be embraced. golden, glowing warmth on your skin after a wet, frigid few hours. clear, flowing water that quenches a deep thirst. crisp breezes that instruct you to stop momentarily and listen to the rustling silence. critters with a nighttime serenade to carry you into restful dreams. the muted pitter patter of rain on a tent to soundly massage the long day away.
i’ve had times on trails where i was emotionally and mentally spent and that can come from being physically spent. i remember laughingly declaring particular situations “miserable”. this was most always in discussions with fellow hikers in regard to shared experiences. in some situations i’d also say to myself, “this is miserable.” this was more a consolation and allowance to myself that the situation was indeed not comfortable. somehow allowing it to be “miserable” helped me focus on just getting through it rather spending mental energy on how it was bad. if it was miserable, i could change nothing about it. there was nothing to be done but get through.
weather is hiking. there is no real place or way to hide from it. a hiker must simply cope with it. there’s no substantial respite from cold, wet, heat, or wind. even in a tent, the elements are right there. and you’re still cold, wet, hot.
coping brings me to my next point. in this context it really just means accept. and acceptance can only really come from a place of calm. anything other than mindful tranquility will most certainly lead to anxiety, stress, anger, sadness. i’ve had all other emotions and more while hiking. let’s face it, hiking alone for days, weeks, and months can be taxing. but that enervation eventually builds a much bigger reserve from which one can draw in the future as long as it was gained through a quiet fortitude. i suppose maybe i’ve associated that emotional state with cold rainy weather and i yearn for it.
i’m not really sure that explained why cold, wet weather makes me want to go hiking. maybe it just led you to believe that hiking is miserable because it’s cold and wet. i think the cold and the wet remind me of the most challenging times while hiking. and if i can be okay with those, then i can be okay. and if i can be okay, then i can be hiking. which in my mind is pretty darn okay because there’s a beautiful freedom to hiking that you just don’t get in normal life.
it’s just the trail and you. in all it’s cold, wet, miserable glory.
i’ve been working on this post for the past week. i had finished it and was letting it sit for a final proof read. that evening this article from scientific american came across my apple news feed: learning to accept discomfort could help you thrive. coincidence? i think not.