Hiking With Intenion; A Metaphor For Life
I’m a Florida girl, not a full-blooded native but, pretty darn close and, though I’ve lived and traveled through most of the United States, with the exception of the Pacific Northwest, I always seem to find my way back to Florida.
Last year, I finally made it out that way. My husband and I traveled to Washington and Oregon and went hiking at Multnomah Falls. It was magnificent! We did a fantastic (and challenging) five-mile loop that began at Multnomah and ascended nearly 1700 feet. It was a rugged trail that went past eight different waterfalls and felt like it went two miles straight up and three straight back down! In most places, the trail wasn’t more than twelve inches wide and, when we returned to ground level, I realized I had taken almost as many pictures of the path as I had of the stunning vistas!
Every step was incredible and terrifying at the same time. The beginning of the trail, down near the Visitors Center, was smooth pavement, but that changed pretty quickly. As we started to climb, we left the concrete behind us, and the trail became an uneven swath of embedded rock, hugging the side of the mountain. And, at various points along the way, we found ourselves climbing over tree roots or fallen logs, as we trudged through the mud and gravel. It was amazing and I was having a blast!
Most of the path was so narrow, you had to step off to let others pass, this was more challenging in places where the trail seemed to be clinging to the edge of a cliff, which happened a lot. It was strenuous, harrowing, breathtaking, and completely exhausting! And as tired and sore as I was when we finished it, I was incredibly proud of the journey we had taken!
We had done it! For two people from the East Coast, who don’t do a lot of hiking (we’re much more likely to be found in our kayaks) it was an exhilarating and empowering experience! There aren’t many mountains in Florida, but we felt mostly prepared for the terrain we encountered.
We have hiked in other places, but this was completely different, at least for me. You had to watch where you were going every step of the way. You had to be mindful of your surroundings and intentional about where you put your feet.
A single step wrong could trip you up, twist an ankle or send you sliding down the side of the mountain! All of which would have been catastrophic since there were no emergency exits or secret backtrails up there.
While there is hiking in Florida, it’s usually hot and mostly flat, and I was enthralled by the variety of the landscape. The concrete sidewalks we’d left behind at the Visitors’ Center quickly faded and became an impacted rocky path, shifting again to mud as we passed a magnificent collection of waterfalls. Each one was beautiful and unique and there were several you could walk right up to, and we did! We ascended further and the trail became a mix of soil and tree roots as the area was recovering from a fire that burned the forest. Higher still, and the path became soft and lush with the returning plants creating a green carpet in every direction.
Unstable rocks shifted under our feet as we walked. We stepped over holes in the trail and tree roots unearthed by the erosion of passing streams. We went over and under fallen trees, continuing past the reach of the fire,
until we arrived at Fairy Falls. Though we reached it on our way back down the mountain, it was the midway point of our trek. Going down, we carefully navigated the muddy gravel trail and for me, these moments were the scariest. Steep switchbacks tested our tired legs and every step felt precarious and unstable as wet gravel shifted under our feet. It took care and focus to ensure we remained upright along the way. Though next time, we’ll bring some poles as well!
The whole experience was amazing and, having never done anything even remotely like this, I couldn’t stop thinking about the different kinds of terrain we had traversed. As we continued our descent, it occurred to me that this hike, this crazy trail, was a perfect metaphor for our marriage.
This Spring, my husband and I will have been together for 30 years. I’m sure we could have found easier hikes or other ways to spend this particular day but, he knew this was something I really wanted to do and thankfully, he’s usually glad to come along with most things I plan. We didn’t know about all the different landscapes and surfaces we’d encounter along the way but, that was also part of the fun. It was smooth sailing as we started, fresh and excited for the adventure. As we continued going up and the path became quite steep, with signs that said, “switchback 2 of 17” (Oy!), it was still something we could handle, perhaps not with ease in some places, but we got there.
Further (and higher) along, the path was still steep, and there were new obstacles. We’d been warned about poison oak along the very narrow path so we tried to walk with our arms folded in and not reach out to touch each other or grab a hand. There were beautiful places to stop, rest and look around, and there we were able to reconnect and check in with each other. As we made our way back down the mountain, we had to work together, to ensure we stepped safely, went slowly, and didn’t go sliding on the loose gravel. When we finally reached the bottom, at Wahkeena Falls, we were in the home stretch! There was just the Return Trail to go and we would have completed our hike! The return trail went along the highway for about a half-mile, and bring us back
to where we started at Multnomah, and the smooth pavement.
We were almost at “the finish line.” This was supposed to be the easy part.
We were expecting a relatively smooth and flat walk back, but it turned out to be almost more treacherous than the previous five miles! We had to scoot down the sides of big ditches (and climb back up). We went over and under some of the biggest trees we’d yet to encounter and, after all we’d climbed,
it was here, on this “easy” return trail, that my feet tried to slip out from under me. We were walking under a curved rock formation, and it was wet and slippery when the gravel shifted beneath my foot. I reached out to steady myself on the rock wall while my husband grabbed my arm to ensure I didn’t land on my butt, or worse. He really is always looking out for me.
I was so proud that I made it all the way around this 5-mile trek “on my own” and hadn’t needed anyone’s hands to help me up or down along the way. Yet here, at the end of the road, sweaty and tired, is where I needed help, and a familiar helping hand was there. I wasn’t afraid to ask for help, but not being a hiker, I was enjoying the challenge. Not to do it alone, but to share the journey without losing myself into something or someone else.
Here was someone I knew I could rely on, because we had made the journey together. We’d climbed a mountain (several actually), supporting and encouraging each other along the way. We shared the experiences, the challenges and the joys, helping and sometimes carrying each other, through the past three decades. Was it always easy? Hell no! We had plenty of bumps in the road and times when it felt like we weren’t even on the same mountain, let alone walking in the same direction. We worked hard to get where we are, and to build a true partnership. We still hit bumps in the road, and I hope our adventure is far from over but, we’ve learned to trust each other, to each give the other space to lead, to honor our strengths, and to ask (and accept) help when needed. We have come a long way.
Our path has been winding, bumpy, and tumultuous, and through thirty years, there were times when either of us could have walked away. But we didn’t, and the metaphor of our relationship continued to roll around in my mind. Sometimes you have to move past the fire in order to get high enough and find the places the fire hasn’t burned. Can we get to a place with a larger perspective? A place where we can have a better view? If so, we may be more able to find a way back to a place we felt safe. We are the ones to choose the path. Are we willing to move through the damaged areas and help each other avoid getting caught up on slippery rocks and loose gravel? If we are, there’s a bigger chance we may find our way back to the love we shared when our adventure began and can celebrate having made the journey, together.
This is just one part of our adventure. It was a challenging and exhilarating experience, both the marriage and the hike and, we celebrated our accomplishment with tomato soup and steak and cheese sandwiches. It was a terrific lunch, made even more so because we were famished, and because our server was from Central Florida! What are the odds? Well, if you follow Spirit, you know they’re actually pretty high!
Where will your adventure take you?
Hey look, there's our car!