The Fifth Day (Weekly Writing Challenge: Easy As Pie)

(Refer to my Deadman Canyon backpacking trip post for additional details.  This entry is based on the fifth day of that hike and told in such a way as to fit with this week’s writing challenge: using metaphors and similes.)

Was it a difficult battle? 

Yes, actually, the hardest. 

My thoughts were tumbling over and over like two combatants locked in an immortal sparring match, each fighting for dominance and neither gaining the advantage; it had been a wicked (miserable) day and tomorrow would be no different.

I was spent, used up, as every ounce of energy had been battered out of me.  The heat, the miles, and the terrain were a giant tempest created whirlpool that had drained every last drop from my well.  I was empty.  I had no second well to tap.  I had no way to replenish my stores to continue with the war.  How then could I expect to be replenished and ready to continue with the war the next day? 

Still, the fire gave me hope.  The melting pot of glowing embers, though not as hot as an iron worker’s forge, was like trapped lava, pulsing and rolling under the burning timbers.  The warmth, like a lover’s caress, soothed away my aches and pains from the battles of the day, and as it lessened the screams from my muscles I pondered my current station. 

I conquered the wall, that daunting climb out of Deadman Canyon to the top of Elizabeth pass.  Though she was a worthy adversary, she fell before me easily enough.  I brushed her aside before the day had grown much past its youth.  Though I broke a sweat, beads forming on my brow despite the cool morning air, I vanquished her so quickly and painlessly that it filled me confidence, and perhaps more than a touch of arrogance.  Victory was mine. 

Usually, reaching the summit is the hardest part of these battles.  But, in this case, it was a well placed trap to lull me into a false sense of security.  It was the feint, the pretend show of weakness, to get me to come charging out from behind my castle walls, chasing my fleeing enemies, only to find myself outnumbered and surrounded.

Blinded by the triumph of my early morning foray, I fell into that trap head first and was helpless to do anything but carry on with the fight; and carry on I did, one step at a time.  I did not surrender, enduring assault after assault, while plunging down the other side of the pass. 

The day grew to adulthood and the sun, fully healthy and unmarked by blemishes, joined forces with the mountain and bent its will against me.  I could not seem to replenish my fluids as quickly as they flowed out of me.  The heat was oppressive, adding weight to gravity, pushing me into the trail, slowing my steps, eating away at my strength. 

My knees, my feet, my shoulders and back pleaded for mercy.  They cried out for me to wave the white flag as they took on the brunt of the attacks from heat and terrain alike.  Relentlessly battering and bruising me, the long and steep descent from the pass lashed out at me every way it could: the drop-off steps were sword blows to my knees and hips, the stretches of loose rocky terrain were spear thrusts aimed at my feet, the places where the trail suddenly turned into soft sand were the same as having boiling tar poured over me.

Perhaps the mountain was offended at how easily it had been summited?  Perhaps it felt like a cornered rat, who knows its only choice is attack with all its ferocity, all the viciousness it can muster?  Whatever the case, I withstood the onslaughts and carried on, making it through to that night’s camp; a brief respite in the middle of the two day war.  I had not been victorious in my later battles of that day, but I had not been defeated either.

Later that evening, I found myself seated before the flickering flames of a small camp fire; a blaze which did not diminish the magnificence of the sparks overhead.  They were a final reminder of the day’s conflicts, the remnants of sword on sword clashes spread out across the heavens, captured, and left to burn on forever.  Seeing them and feeling the tension of the day ebb away, reminded me that I was still alive.  I had survived being immersed in everything the mountain could throw at me.  Sure, there would be battles to face on the morrow, but that day’s battles had not been the end of me and if I could find a way to make it through what I had already endured then surely I would be able to do so again.

It would not be easy, I had learned that lesson already, but as I fell asleep that evening I held onto the belief that if I continued on the next day, marching forward one step at a time, I would make it through.  I would not be defeated.  I would survive the battles.  I would outlast the war, and in so doing, though the battle scars would feature prominently upon my body, I could head home with my head held high, fueled by the accomplishment.

Those thoughts were enough to help me find some sleep, and the following day I did continue on.  I fought the battles that came up.  I endured and survived the war.  And, scarred and bruised, I made my way home neither victorious nor defeated, but alive.  In the end, that’s all that mattered.

into the wild and back again

The hour approaches…  This time tomorrow I’ll be driving north towards Sequoia.  This time Sunday I’ll be climbing out of Lodgepole on the Dead Man Canyon Loop trail, along with my dad and brother, with everything we need for the week strapped to our backs: food, clothes, and shelter.

Our annual pilgrimage into the Sierra to commune with the big trees, recharge our souls, and, well, fish.  Sounds pretty good, right?  I can’t wait.

And yet, at this point, I find myself perhaps a little less excited than in years past.  There are new worries and old worries made more potent because of the responsibilities (and perceived responsibilities) that seem to compound from year to year as we age.  Have I packed everything I will need?  Have a I packed too much stuff?  Have I done enough conditioning?  Will I get enough oxygen in the first couple days while I’m acclimatizing?  Will everything be okay at home while I’m gone?  The bills, the cars, the cats, the wife…

Those concerns will get pushed to the back of my mind tomorrow morning when I hit the road, but they will never completely go away until I’ve made it safely home to find everything as it should be.  Then I’ll breathe a sigh of relief and feel the weight I’ve been carrying in my mind ease away.  And then I’ll probably jump in the shower to wash off the dust and grime and sweat of the trail.

I will still have fun.  I will still enjoy the surroundings and trying and failing to capture the occasionally desolate and always stunning scenery of the Sierra.  I will still enjoy the camaraderie with my brother and dad.  I will still enjoy the wonderful sense of accomplishment, those hard earned moments of sheer brilliance, at the top of each pass and on the final day as we make it back to the cars.  I will still be sad to see the mountains fading away in my rearview mirror, even as a new excitement builds from within as I get closer and closer to home.

Alas, the duality of man and, more specifically, emotions.  It’s amazing how something that brings us such joy can also be the source of great trepidation.   It’s also amazing how we can filter our emotions to really only focus on a few at a time rather than the whole gambit we are normally dealing with in any situation.

So, I will venture forth tomorrow before the sun rises on yet another adventure.  I look forward to walking among the trees, hopping rocks along the edges of the rivers and lakes we fish, taking in the beauty of the Sierra, and spending a few days away from the hustle and bustle of the real world.  At the same time I’m also looking forward to returning to the comforts and routines of home.