Cambrian: Opinion

Remembering to exhale while hiking the trail of life

The columnist's birthday hike was an uphill climb.
The columnist's birthday hike was an uphill climb. Special to The Cambrian

On the eve of my birthday, I stepped outside into the damp, black night. The air was thick with the scent of the ocean, creator and keeper of life here on Earth. Me, a mere speck in the cosmic makeup of this joint. Where to now? I tend to wax philosophical around this time of year.

The day dawned foggy and mild — just the way I like it. I’d made up my mind to do a rigorous solo hike after my only scheduled appointment this day. I chose a route I’d never taken before but had seen in passing. After looking it up, it seemed to suit the bill. The Ragged Point Fire Road, for lack of no other name. Fire road, as in, heading to the top of the hills. Up. And up and … perfect.

With my knapsack full of water, camera, lunch, extra layer, etc., I parked and started on my walking meditation. That’s not exactly what it turned into. Within the first quarter-mile, I was acutely aware of every muscle in my body questioning the sanity of going nowhere but, as I’d mentioned before, up. As it turned out, this hike was about as metaphorical as it gets. Onward.

Had I instead turned south on the highway and gone to Avila Beach to watch the whales, I’d have had to contend with more bodies than I was really in a mind for. There was not a soul on this path. I was in search of a personal challenge, time to be with my own thoughts, to not have anybody wait for me or to wait for anyone else, to listen to my own body, my own breath, hear my own heartbeat.  

So I turned my thoughts away from my screaming thighs (in the key of E, I believe they were) and tuned into the sweat dripping off my nose, which felt as though it were about 2 feet from the ground as I dragged each leaden foot forward. My shoulders and neck began to ache in that little cesspool we all collect there of stress and misuse. Without stopping, I pulled my head up, threw (OK, eased) my shoulders back and breathed in as deeply as I could — a deep pant, more like it. 

It was the exhale, however, that felt the best. I’ve been reminding people of that lately: to exhale. We take it all in (breath, life) and then hold it. This was a prime example of the importance of that act. I could not get any clean oxygen until I let go the old. This helped occupy my mind for quite some time.

I’d learned in wilderness training so many years ago, that it is better to move slow and steady rather than fast and stop often. I did this. It would have been harder on the body to have to start again. Slow and steady. You also see things a lot more clearly when you’re not moving so fast! 

“If I see this photographic moment on the way back down (when I’ll be making better time), I’ll take it then. Must-keep-moving. …”

New bugs, details in the flowers, wonderful rock formations and textures. As it really was, my legs and back doing most of the work, my nose was free to appreciate the sage and bay laurel and all, heady stuff. 

I was having the most delightful conversation with myself about what an incredibly blessed life I lead. This challenge, this push, this physically demanding alone time seemed to bring all my senses into focus. 

Being as anal as I am, as grueling yet enlightening as this all was, I couldn’t just turn around at any moment. I needed a landmark, a destination, a. … I didn’t know what. Like New Year’s resolutions, or this birthday or whatever it is we imagine we need to provoke a change, in this case a change in direction. Phew, a saddle in the top of the ridge. To my left the fogged-in coastline, to my right, the hot and sunny Santa Lucia Mountains. Lunchtime. Silence. One bird. Cicadas. I watched ants crawl over my shoe. Stillness. Bliss.

I’d allowed the first part of this trek to be totally about being-here-now, in the moment. (“yeah, yeah, yeah, and what about us,” my thighs piped up). Going down surely would be quicker, but I would also allow myself to take photos. Surprise, there was so much loose rock on the road, I found myself slipping often. Note: when the way seems easy going, remain aware, take your time and you’ll appreciate the ride more. You also won’t be as likely to fall on your butt. Just sayin’. 

Upon reaching the car, I peeled off my sweat-soaked outer layers and eased carefully into the car seat. Ouch. My mind and body really knew I was alive. To be able to experience all your thoughts fully, to recognize every body part, is something we don’t do often enough. I was grateful, yet again.

My friends surprised me with a lovely little gathering when I got back into town (and had taken a nap!). 

Love in life, love on Facebook, love notes from my sons on my message machine. … I was and am surrounded and full of it.  I may be cosmic dust, but I am a happy little speck.