June 22, 2009

Reaching a Higher Ground

I'm not very athletic. I'm not very hardy. I'm delicate and I cower from the sun. I faint and trip and get motion sickness and vertigo and cry when I encounter too many bees.

So why on earth am I even in Joshua Tree, an outdoorsman's paradise? I do not climb rocks. I do not camp. But I do like to walk around and spot some wildlife, take photos, and admire a good view. That leaves me with hiking.

I know I'm not good at it - I get lost easily - but I've decided to try to hike just about every day. Ever since climbing Amboy Crater and surviving a minor injury, I've felt encouraged to push myself further, to see how far I can go. At Cottonwood Springs and Thousand Palms Oasis, I had to turn around. I was determined to finish a trail today.

I headed to Black Rock Canyon, where the High View Nature Trail is supposed to be easy. True to its name, it was high - the steep climb brought me up to an elevation of almost 4500 ft. Many times on my way up, I wondered if I could climb one more step, teeter on one more rock. But as I approached an increasingly elevated view of the valley below, and the diverse vegetation that I hadn't seen elsewhere in the park, I just kept going. I would worry about the climb down later.

As my sunburned forehead dripped with sweat, and my 1.5 liter water bottle sloshed hot in my bag, I started to wonder why I even bothered. I thought of turning back at every step. But you have to test yourself in life. You have to see if you can run a minute faster or sing a note higher or carry a pound heavier. If you don't, how will you ever know what you're capable of? How will you know when the universe is speaking to you and not to some other person who's stronger and more resilient than you?

New York City has tested me time and again, and although I think I passed, I got tired of taking its test. Was my life really about how manipulated I could be at work? How many guys could cheat on me? How many margaritas I could drink and still make it home OK? Where was all this resiliency getting me?

I need to prove to myself that I can do something else. That I can embrace the unfamiliar and the solitary. That I can be surrounded by fallen, dead trees and still see the point of life.

Soon it will be too hot for me to test myself physically while I'm here, but I see this trip as a mental challenge as much as a physical one. I'm not having fun every day. That's not the point. But I do feel inspired, awed, and just a little bit enlightened.

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