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.


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.

Impossible Dreams

Quixotic means capricious, foolishly impractical, rash to the point of absurdity. But it can also mean (more because of the musical Man of La Mancha than because of the original Don Quixote story) dreaming impossible dreams.

Who hasn’t listened to the song “The Impossible Dream” and not got caught up in the romance of those powerful words? I certainly get caught up and did again today when a friend posted Jim Nabors’ version on Facebook. As I listened, I wondered what it would be like to have such a dream, wondered if I should go out and get myself one, then I realized I already have an impossible dream. Maybe even two.

(I say maybe two because one of the dreams has to do with selling enough books to make a living, and though it is highly improbable as things stand now, who’s to say if it will always be impossible?)

Ever since I first heard of the long national trails like the Appalachian Trail and the Pacific Crest Trail, I wished I could do such a hike. The first time I was young (well, younger), but had little experience hiking, no experience backpacking or camping, no money to support such a dream, and no fitness for it either. What I had was a very ill life mate/soul mate, whose death, I knew, would devastate me. I thought one way of dealing with my grief would be just to take off down (or up) such a trail and let my life run its course.

That particular time, he got better, but the idea of walking into oblivion remained in the back of head. Years later, when he got ill for the last time, I was too shattered to follow through on such a ridiculous idea. And anyway, my nonagenarian father needed someone to stay with him. But when my father got bad, and knowing I would soon be ousted from the house, I again resurrected the dream, but researching what it would take to do such a hike made me realize the impossibility of my ever undertaking such a project.

Instead, I went on a five-month cross-country trip in my ancient VW, but still, the idea of an epic hike keeps coming back. I do know why such a rashly romantic idea, such an impossible dream, keeps recurring. Partly, it’s the desire to run away (it was strongest when I was housebound because of my arm). Partly, it’s the desire to run toward something (it’s also strong when I am out hiking in the desert by myself.) And partly, well . . . what an incredible adventure!

I have often felt foolish to still be thinking of such an impossible thing because I am so not fit physically for such an escapade. I can hike for a couple of hours, can even set up camp (I have learned that much!), but carrying a heavy backpack is beyond me. (What is considered ultralightweight for others is immensely heavy for me. I remember when I hiked in Organ Pipe Cactus National Monument, I used my backpack for emergency supplies and extra water in case I got lost, and it felt oh, so heavy. And yet, when I met a fellow along the trail who offered to carry it for me, he picked it up with one finger as if weighed nothing.)

Periodically I think about how to offset the problems that would arise. For example, I did one day hike on the PCT where the trail was eroded, I had to take a very long and unsteady step on a narrow ledge to get past the erosion. A backpack would probably have pulled me over. But what if I could find someone who would be willing to carry the pack for me, sort of like a Sherpa? That’s no more impossible than the rest of the dream.

I also periodically research how to get in shape for such a thru hike, but the exercises they suggest are totally beyond me. Use a park bench for stair-stepping? Uh, no. A curb, sometimes, is too high! But I do go hiking to stretch my ability. I walk wherever I can. I take dance classes for strength and balance.

And I collect items that would be necessary, such as hiking clothes and lightweight camping gear.

Foolish. Quixotic.

And yet . . . and yet . . .

Maybe I will be better for this. Maybe the world will be better for this: that no matter how hopeless, no matter how far, one woman still strove to reach an unreachable star.

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.