The hiking time is upon us once more in Portland, Oregon. At least it has been the last few days. Gorgeous weather with clear skies and temperatures flirting with the mid-50s. Today I hiked up to Council Crest on a trail that gains 700 ft. elevation by way of gentle switchbacks stretched over 1.7 miles. Very relaxing hike with a great payoff. The clear day afforded perfect views of the snow-capped splendor of Mt. Hood, Mt. St. Helens, Mt. Adams, and even Mt. Ranier! It was glorious.
The trail was almost in perfect condition, unlike Eagle Creek yesterday. The snow melt had made the beginning of the trail a complete sludgefest. Nothing like starting an 8 mile hike in 3 inches of mud! But, my friend Ron and I made it through that early patch of muddiness and enjoyed the spectacular views of Eagle Creek (and due to the season, the spectacular silence too). That is until we began hitting the ice.
There's a strange exhilaration when hiking gets that little hint of difficulty. Though most of the trails I've hiked on are very much so groomed and laid out to avoid severe injury by hikers, there are the moments when our attempts to tame and defang nature fall short. Ice is one of those moments for me.
I feel out of control when there is ice on the trail and I probably hike three times as carefully as I need to. It's not so much fear as it is a very vivid imagination of what would happen should I fall :o) So, we took our time and we made it four miles in to High Bridge before we decided to turn back until less icy conditions prevailed. As we backtracked, I remembered another hike where I felt out of control.
My friend Jon Mesh came to visit me from St. Louis and we hit up the coast at Oswald West State Park. Since we arrived late in the day, we forwent Mt. Neahkahnie and headed out Cape Falcon. After enjoying the beauty of the sun sinking slowly toward the Pacific Ocean, we decided to book it back the 2.5 miles to camp before darkness fell completely.
Our plan was slightly ill-conceived. See, if you watch the sun sink into the ocean, light leaves the sky very quickly. In addition, when the trail is mostly through forest, the faint light of post sunset sky is no use to you. And, though we are usually more prepared than this, we did not bring flashlights. Yeah...
As we were getting ready to plunge beneath the tree cover, Jon pointed out a tiny path through the underbrush that seemed to head down toward the beach. "Shortcut?" he asked with his eyebrows. I shrugged and he went down to explore further. After a short while, he called back up to me and said it would work. So, I followed the path to where Jon was standing and looked around.
"Where's the rest of the path?" I asked. I asked this because there was brush to the left, brush to the right, and in front of us, a slick wall of stone leading down to a small sliver of sand which was slowly shrinking with the incoming tide. It wasn't a vertical drop, but it wasn't walkable, especially with the water splashed all over it.
"We can climb down to there," he said as he pointed to a ridiculously small ledge. "Then it looks like we can slide down." I shook my head in disbelief and looked back toward the path we had come down. With the rapid darkening and the steep ascent to return to the main trail, I knew there was no going back.
I couldn't look at Jon, because he seemed disgustingly pleased with the idea. I think he is an Eagle Scout or something, because I would never look at the same terrain that he did and think, "We can slide down this." I believe groomed trails are good. I like a little exploration now and again, but usually only to the extent that I can return when I get uncomfortable. See, I have mild control issues.
Control is elusive, both in its unfulfilled promise and its fickle availability. So why do I strive for it so much? I've tried so many times to put together long range plans for my life, and they never stick, never have time to put down roots and grow. I've tried to make every minute happenstance fit together into some kind of cohesive map to guide me through the unknown. But in the end, life keeps reminding me that control is ultimately an illusion when I try to extend it outside of myself.
I am being reminded of that right now. I have in the past made extensive, detailed plans on how it was supposed to work for me to move overseas. None of them worked out. Yet, here I am, knowing that I have to bounce back. It keeps beckoning to me, singing its sweet siren song into the turmoil of the storm. It's time that I untie myself from the mast and jump in.
Jon proceeded before me and made it look so easy and graceful. Then he stood on the sand, pointed out the roots I could use as handholds, and encouraged me to ease my way down. I grabbed the last root, faced outward, and put my body in a position for a controlled slide. The last step was to let go. Let go of that root and slide.
It was impossible to let go. I kept trying to will my hand to let go, but my brain could only seem to process the fact that height + gravity = falling. So I stayed there, hanging on to this tiny root until a mixture of fatigue and inevitability overwhelmed me and a released my grip.
I was fine. Less graceful than Jon, to be sure, but I arrived at the bottom with minimal scratches and bruises. We then trotted across the beach before the tide rolled in, and voila!, we had a new adventure story to tell.
I feel like the last year and a half have been similar to me hanging onto that root for dear life. There are some things, some people, that I have been unwilling to release, and I am tired. I see glimpses of what is below me on this pathless journey, but all I have control over is when I let go and how I fall. The rest is up to gravity.
My New Year's resolution was that 2009 would be a year of action and I think I'm ready at last to step out into the ambiguity of trying to move overseas, trying to sort out what in the heck the word "missions" might mean. I think I'm ready to see where gravity takes me.
The best thing about it is that I don't have to figure it out. I just have to let go.