How to Fall
It’s a hot, muggy afternoon. If you’re from the southeast you are familiar with the sticky stillness that builds throughout a summer day. The air is stagnant, the bugs overexcited and there are always steel gray thunderheads creeping in the corners of the sky.
I am resting on a strip of soggy land between two streams. My back is against a boulder. My bandana is draped over my head to keep the gnats and mosquitoes away from my ears. I don’t have enough snacks for this section (Daleville, VA - Waynesboro, VA), or my hiker hunger has risen to new heights, and I am running very low on energy.
I planned to hike 22 miles today but the last few miles were filled with mantras and encouragements to myself. There is another hiker at this campspot. He’s a former marathon runner. We talk about the mental stamina he has built up and how well it serves him for a thru-hike. I’m at the mental turning point of my day. Talking yourself through hours of physical activity is exhausting.
The only food I have are dinners and oatmeal packets. By a calorie count I have enough to make it to my destination, but I’m sick of the oatmeal. It’s time consuming to cook food throughout the day. Here I am, 2 o’clock in the afternoon cooking oatmeal. I throw in a glob of peanut butter because that’s the only taste that isn’t wearisome. The calories kick in and my mood improves with a rise of energy.
While I make a cup of tea for the caffeine, M&M hike by me. These two hikers are an Irish couple named Mary & Marty. They are hiking on to the shelter a few miles away. Marty thinks the rain is about to come down and Mary is more optimistic so they hike onward.
The thunder that’s been rolling throughout the day is now exactly above the spot I’ve chosen for my late lunch. I don’t feel that Mary is right about the conditions improving. I can tell the storm is about to hit. Chastising myself for waiting so long, I quickly look around for a spot to set up my tent.
I set my pack down. The rain drops all at once in big, shiny, summery droplets. Everything is wet as if i had been raining for hours. Sadie is pouting in a nest of ferns. I decide that settting up my tent is no longer helpful. I know the summer storm will pass and decide to hike on rather than wait it out.
I pass M&M headed back to the campspots. They’ve given up the shelter and are going to set up here.
On my way out to the trail I meet Pippin. She’s a small woman with a straw hat that suggests a more playful approach to weather protection compared to the waterproof gear of most hikers. We’re headed the same way and after introductions I fall in behind. She’s a fast hiker. The trail forms long pools of water and I notice that Pippin doesn’t skirt them. She steps on the trail with a directness, walking the same as if the trial was dry. Our shoes are soaked in moments. Why avoid what we’ve chosen?
I’m grateful for Pippin’s speed and her diverting conversation. She keeps asking questions and telling stories with the thunder, rain and wind as backdrop. We’re flying, the miles are disappearing and I remember how much I enjoy hiking in the rain. I prefer the cooler air, and distraction of the storm to hot sweaty afternoons.
I’m finding solace in this situation. It’s uncomfortable but I prefer it to every moment leading up to the rain falling from the sky. I know from experience that this summer storm will pass and most likely the sun will be back in the sky within hours. But I also can’t know that for sure. I also have memories of hours of rain; days when you never dry out.
I know that I will finish this trail, but I don’t know every thing that happens between now and then. I know I have enough food to make it to Waynesboro but what I don’t know is that tomorrow I will have such a lack of energy that I’ll take a trail shortcut and hitch a ride to a hiker-friendly brewery for a burger.
I’m smiling in this rain. I feel a positive swelling in my chest as I let go of any expectations for the rest of the day. Rain or no rain, I know that I'll have a place to sleep, friendly faces in my midst and food in my bowl and that is enough. The unknown. Letting go and accepting the not-knowing is becoming more comfortable.
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Each day offers opportunities to trip, fall, twist an ankle or succumb to greater injury and pain. There are sneaky roots, wobbly rocks and slippery clay. I have nearly rolled my ankle on countless occasions. Rather than falling- or almost falling- less, I am becoming more adept at falling. How To Fall is something I put on my list for this trip.
Learning how to fall
My right ankle bends outwards. I move my knee in the same direction, giving in to the motion - awkward as it feels. I drop my right hip and grip my trekking pole tightly. Using my arm, not my leg, to hold my body up.
My left leg stiffens and strengthens while my right relaxes. If my right leg tries to tighten muscles, I'll catch my weight at a dangerous angle.
The motion is weird and I can't imagine how crazy I look, but I move where my body is being taken.
Exhale. Feel free to say the words that come to your lips.
These words are not clean, usually. Sometimes they are not words, but sounds and yells.
If I fight, you'll lose and even though it's not about winning or losing, the only way to keep hiking is to allow myself to fall, just a bit -
before I catch myself.
and keep walking.