As I climbed up the new old Mailbox Peak trail (as opposed to the old old trail) alone, in the dark, I had lots of time to think. It struck me that the experience is an awful lot like life itself.
It starts at 5am as the alarm screams. I'm disoriented and I fight the need to leave my warm bed. From nowhere comes a push and I'm thrust out of the bed. Amy pulled her foot back under the covers and rolls over.
In the bathroom I stare into the mirror and wonder why I'm there. What does it all mean? Why am I up so early to do something that seems so meaningless? It takes a mammoth effort to get dressed and head downstairs, completely giving up on the idea of going back to bed.
At the trailhead I'm suddenly invigorated by the chill in the air and Treen running around the deserted parking area. I'm shooting for a new personal record today. I remember this feeling from childhood when everything seemed possible.
The first 1,300 feet of climbing is a blur. Spider webs flash in my headlamp as I labor up the hardest part of the trail. I seem content, but there's no good reason to be. It's just putting one foot in front of the other. This is school. I'm learning about the trail and what it will take to get to the top.
Beyond Hydration Rock there's a brief section of the trail that climbs only moderately. College! A time to catch my breath and prepare for the work yet to come. (Coincidentally, at Hydration Rock you can skip the flat section and start straight up the extra steep old, old trail. I guess that's jumping right into the labor market after high school.)
The flats don't last long and the climbing starts again. The next 1,000 feet are hard work. The trail is terrible in parts and I slip and have to find my footing again. Roots reach out to trip me up. By the time I have reached the Green Gate, about two thirds the way up, I've found my groove. The steps are no less steep, but they seem easier. The views don't hurt, either.
I saw a pika at the bottom of the rock field. This doesn't really fit in the analogy, but I like pikas. (No picture, though.)
I break out of the trees in my prime. The glorious meadows stretch out before me, though tilted severely up. I have a goal: 1:29:59. I push hard, head down building upon success early on the trail. All the work has paid off and I'm moving quickly.
The summit! 1:35. Not a new record, but darn respectable. We don't always achieve our goals and have dreams come true in life. So it is on the mountain.
For a short while Treen and I relax in the sun. Our hard work has put us 2,000 feet above the clouds that shroud the valley in gloom. It was all worth it.
Now it's downhill. We chose to take the new trail down, exploring new terrain. It opened just recently and still needs time to season. The smooth tread is interrupted by blowdowns and crowds on their way up. I smile as they grimace. Like a wise old man I share my knowledge of what lies still ahead of them.
As I near the end of the trail we drop back into the fog. This too passes and we trudge the last short distance to the car. I'm tired. Treen, my partner throughout is tired, too. We walk past the fresh-faced and decent-smelling hikers getting out of their cars as our journey is over.
And then I shake off the deep thoughts and head to Starbucks for coffee and donuts. Next weekend I'll do it again. Or something like it. Maybe then I'll just listen to podcasts.