4:45 a.m. wake up call. Shuffling sleeping bags and subtle, slow movements. A rollover and a groggy kiss. Rub the eyes, eat the chalky protein chews, pull on layers, boots, and headlamps. There’s a certain sort of alertness that comes with pre-dawn hikes.
In my mind, writing feels much like climbing mountains. One begins in the dark, uncertain of where the bends go, only able to follow the path in front of you. The stuff of the work has not revealed itself to you and light has not crested over the peaks and horizon. You only follow the words and trust the direction. A little headlamp lights the way, and you hike expectantly.
Hike along the ridge. Stop to rest on a nature made bench. Speak of love and future and past and dreams and other things. Nuzzle in away from the constraints of the city. Balance your way up the boulders. Consider bringing your friends on this hike and giggle. Stop to catch your breath and curse asthma. Remind yourself that it’s never stopped you before.
Rebecca Solnit argues in her book Wanderlust that our minds only work as quickly as our legs go: this is why Wordsworth wrote most of his poems while walking through the English countryside. As one walks, or hikes, the mind is able to wander with the feet to different avenues of thoughts and ideas. The pace slows down and the little details come to our attention. The light begins to shine, and we begin to see the path that our writing takes.
Walk a half-mile through red succulents and moss. Climb a short ridge to the actual peak. Take pictures. Shed layers. Make small talk with the other climbers. Snack. Roll around in more snow. Recount your unintentional but proudly more intense hike. Look down to see your car. Feel small and powerful in a single breath.
We reach the top: the work is finished, and we are relieved. The views are beautiful, and we feel the weight of what we have accomplished. We survey where we have come from, refreshed and ready to rest from our climb. It is then, after the celebration fades, that we realizes we must continue down.
Climb down 1,900 ft. at a 60-degree angle. Let out a nervous gasp every time a large rock slides from under you. Curse yourself because you know you are tougher than this. Only begin to cry once. Stabilize with your arms and crab walk down the boulders. Look to your partner: eyes filled with love and the glint of adventure. Listen to them tell you that you’re doing great and that they love you. Remember that you are capable of so much.
The down-climb, the editing, the reworking of our writing, can be painful. Toes jam against your shoes; you stumble over the same sentence, rewriting it multiple times to no avail. The editing process wears you away as you wearily make your way down to completion. Eventually you reach the bottom. The work is done, in whatever capacity that may be. Yet, one realizes that another climb is always around the corner.
Drive away from the peak. Everything shines in a different light. Walk around town on wobbly legs. Drink a beer and close your eyes. Feel the sunshine on your face. Be thankful for a body that works and love and words for however long they may last.
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