Last weekend I did something revolutionary. Something revitalizing. Something I used to do all the time but hadn’t done even once in a few years. Something that being a parent of multiple kids, and thus constantly in demand, made me forget that I could still do.
I took a hike… by myself. With ear buds, and without the kids. Just me and the woods and my favorite music.
In Colorado I hiked like there was no tomorrow. (And even more so toward the end of my 9-year stay, once I knew there soon wouldn’t be a tomorrow for me in the Rockies.) I would get out on the trails 3 or 4 times a week. At some point along the way I discovered trail running, which felt like hiking in exhilarating fast forward. I got in the best shape of my life by 2013, and I discovered almost every trail within 20 miles of Steamboat Springs, the ski town where we lived.
Then we moved east and I continued a rigorous running habit, along with hiking the Appalachian Trail. But my solitary outdoor fitness pursuits gradually, ahem, trailed off after Greyson and Violet were born, replaced by walks and hikes with the kids. Which are, make no mistake about it, a constant source of pure, unfiltered joy and my #1 favorite pastime to this day.
But hiking with the kids lacks two crucial elements that I didn’t realize how much I missed until I finally hiked alone again.
The first one is being able to hear the sound of my own thoughts, with my favorite music as the backdrop. As a parent of young children who constantly talk and sing and laugh (and fuss), after a while you start to forget that your thoughts have a voice of their own. It’s a strange luxury to hit the unmute button on that inner voice now and then.
The second one is being able to go at my own pace. To walk briskly, or run when I feel like it, or stop to take pictures when I feel like it, and cover some serious ground in the process. To actually make it to the top of a mountain! (A very small one with an adorable stature of 1,060′, but there’s no need to get bogged down by minor details. The point is that I scaled a mountain peak, you guys.)
It was a serene, no-wind, gently overcast, 35-degree February day when I embarked on my 2-hour hike. I climbed from Boiling Springs to Center Point Knob, which incidentally was the original halfway point of the mighty Appalachian Trail. Then I hiked along White Rocks Trail on a rocky ridge for a bit before scoping out a turkey vulture (which was scoping out something else, which was fortunately not me) and turning around to head back home. By the time I got back to my car, I felt as physically refreshed as I’ve felt for a while.
While I hiked, I listened voraciously and attentively to some of my favorite music: Sigur Ros, Caspian, We Lost the Sea, The Fire Theft, and — quite fittingly — Man Mountain.
I didn’t need to narrate or mediate the hiking experience for anyone else. I very much enjoy doing that for Greyson and Violet, contextualizing everything they observe in nature with both my words and the buoyant tone of my voice. But it was wonderful to be able to simply exist in each packed-powder footstep as I ascended, and then joggingly descended, the contours of the mountain. To be present in my own skin as my body experienced the myriad sensory pleasures of nature.
The fresh air and the quietude (albeit with a soundtrack) carved out a space in which my thoughts could comfortably unspool and stretch themselves out a bit. A space which simply doesn’t exist for a mom or a dad of young children in a quarantine context.
This is a space that both Danielle and I need to prioritize for ourselves, and for each other, if we want to keep from disappearing into the well-meaning but potentially self-eradicating oblivion of parenthood. We already do this a good bit by letting each other recharge with morning runs and afternoon naps. And those “power-ups” have been vital in maintaining our energy and our sanity.
However, it’s important that we each have longer chunks of time too. And by my own choice I haven’t availed myself of many of those. But this morning meet-up between me and a mountain confirmed that it’s well worth prizing that time and making it a priority.
I even took a kid-free selfie, which I almost never do. So here it is! (Don’t look too close at the chasm-sized furrow in my brow, which is the result of both the rigors of quarantine parenting and the general political turmoil of the last half-decade. I wish I could iron out that rivet from my forehead, but it will have to stand as a monument to this strange, strained moment in time.)
Fatherhood is the deepest and profoundest and most emotionally gratifying thing I have ever experienced. The past 5 years have changed me in every imaginable way. Being with Greyson and Violet makes me feel alive and infuses me with a deep, ineradicable sense of purpose. Reading to them and hiking with them are the reigning highlights of every single week of my life. There’s simply nothing more pleasurable on earth.
But man… sometimes you just have to go climb a mountain.
(Or if you’re in a pinch, a knob will suffice.)
If you see this, then thanks so much for reading! I am deeply grateful for your time and your interest in my blog. I always enjoy getting feedback on Facebook, so feel free to like, add a comment, or share my post if you feel so compelled. (I haven’t figured out how to properly maximize this site, but will get around to it one of these days.)
Again, thank you.
One thought on “Man/Mountain”
Jer: I did not know you struggled with these thoughts this past year. Just remember, God is in control and has a purpose for all the trials we go through and He allows.;