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Three Bonds... Twenty Miles... And a whole lot of Thought....

I don't usually go out of turn.... I'll get back to the order of things after this blog... Yesterday's hike (Which happened to be #41 to #43) was too amazing not to share early on. I'm very much a thinker these days...

Deciding which peak to climb was getting a lot easier for me as I moved to the bottom of my list of the 48…. I had missed Wildcat D when I was up there last week and at first thought had figured I’d give myself a break and just go back and grab it. It would be an easy up and down for me. No real big excitement, just a quiet day… Now, that was the plan to start with as I had said on the last day of May with the next hike scheduled for the following day. Given that I had to split both the Cater peaks and now the Wildcat’s, I knew that I was in need of a “win” so to speak. I needed a more successful hike that would show me that I still had something… That I would not drive home with the same “Well, I tried” attitude… Circumstances in my life were dictating that I should do something much bigger.  As this usually happens when I have a lot stacked against me and I feel like I just need to get away, I decided to tackle something BIG. But I worried that I would once again… Fail.

 “I’m think I will do the Bonds tomorrow” I had texted him.
 “Awesome weather says after tomorrow there is rain all next week.” Was the reply.

 So, there I was locked into the Bonds. Three peaks, 20 miles, and a whole lot of “up”. What was I thinking? I can’t possibly do this. I have not done 3 peaks in a long time. Moreover, I have not been able to do three peaks my last two times out. I poured over my maps and tried to find the shortest distance. The thing about the shortest distance though is that sometimes, it’s steeper than the longest distance. I settled on the trail at Lincoln Woods. It’s 3 miles of flat rail trail to start and that should make it easy to at least get in there and get up to Bond Cliff. As always, I kept in my mind the fact that I did not have to get all the peaks… It would just be really awesome if I did and I could really use a successful hike. Still, 20 miles is a very long day. I hoped I was not setting myself up for failure as one more short coming could possibly send me to dark places never to return.

 After prepping for the hike and making sure that everything was set at least 3 times, I was satisfied. By about 9:30pm, I was wishing that I could get some sleep. After all, 3am comes very early and I needed to have all the day light I could for this trip. I was determined to be successful. I was not going to let anything in my life or anyone in my life stop me from doing this. My determination was rising and I really needed to get back to what started me on this journey. I needed to talk out a few things on the trails as I had always done in the past. As I lay there in bed, waiting for sleep, it seemed that I was already working through things to ensure my success in the morning.

 I was on the road by about quarter of 4. I impressed myself with this considering my inconsistent sleep as of late. I managed to grab 2 bananas and I left him a note to say that I owed him at least that. The car was packed and I was on my way. Except, wait a minute… In true style, I left my poles at home. Decided that I would go without even though it was 20 miles and I knew my legs would be screaming at me by the end, I kept driving and as I kept driving, I wondered if I had been setting myself up for a fail again.

 The sun rose over the mountains as I was driving up to the trail head. This sight always seemed to fill me with a sense of belonging. It was a new day and I could make it what I wanted. As if some long forgotten force was giving me a chance to do something. It was a quicker trip to the trail head than I had thought and I made great time. This of course would work in my favor of trying to take advantage of maximum day light hours. I changed my shoes to my hiking boots and stepped out of the car to feel the chill in the air. Walked over to the bathroom (thank god there was a bathroom) to begin warming my legs up and to my credit, it was open.  I did the usual rituals of posting that I was beginning the day along with a message to care for one another and of course, started the GPS tracking on my iPhone and I was off down the trails.

 Lincoln woods was flat and wide so I was really able to move on this and get my legs in a good condition. If I could start every hike like this instead of going right into the jarring upward climb, I would be so happy. Feeling the chill from the tree cover, I take the time to convert my shorts back to pants for the time being. Knowing that once I get above tree line, it would be sunny and warm. Settled, I head off and the conversation starts.

 “Chief, you gotta get me through this. We’ve got a long day and a lot to talk about. Right now though, I need to get these three peaks today and you’re gonna help me. OK?”

 Chief of course is my grandfather on my mother’s side who passed in the early 90’s. We were very close and to this day, he’s the one that I turn to when things get rough for me. He is my guardian and my guide. As I continued to walk the flat Lincoln woods trail, I continued to work out the tangle of thoughts that was residing in my head. First and foremost, I thought about this journey and what set me on this path to begin with. I had always wanted to hike and be out doors. Of course, I had always wanted to find someone to share this with and to have shared experiences with. I had thought I had found someone at this time last year but it turns out that was not the case. And after some intense therapy, and finding my outlet in mountain hiking, I set off on my own.  And I did find someone to hike with, a couple, and while it’s a different hike, it’s not what I wanted in my heart. I wanted that one special someone to share these experiences with. That one special someone that I can share these proud accomplishments with. I’d like to believe that I have found him and we have already shared a few hikes into the higher summits. But now, I am on my own again. And while I want someone to be there to share these moments, I know that these intensely private conversations that I have are a thing I look forward too. And they can’t happen when I am with others (at least not out loud). So, perhaps, this last leg of the journey needs to be alone again. Perhaps the next hike where I have people accompany me will be Carrigain which will be my 48th peak. My final peak.

 I had come to a trail junction to head off on the Bond Cliff trail and was met by three novice hikers. The hiking world is full of people just starting out and I was happy to see them. I just wished that they would have some more supplies, better clothing, and a swifter pace. I quickly passed them as the trail was still flat. Knowing full well that once the elevation started gaining, we would be playing leap frog. They were polite enough about my passing them and I thought to myself, maybe they could pick up a few things by watching me. As I continued, the trail did start to climb and the trees got a little denser. It seemed that the trail was over grown in places and as if night was falling. I came to a tricky water crossing and opted to strip off my pant legs to avoid getting them soaked. Seeing no clear path across, I also opted to take my boots and socks off considering the fact that I had only one pair of socks for the day (a mistake I did not want to deter me from reaching my goal). The group had caught up to me and watched curiously as I prepared to cross.  The water to my surprise was not cold. After gearing back up, I was not surprised to find the trail was flat for a time and then the rocks came into play. And then it began to climb in earnest. This was where I would begin to get winded and start to doubt myself. I would have to start challenging myself to keep going.

 I do a crazy amount of talking on the trails when I am alone. It’s something that keeps me moving and keeps my mind off of not going forward. Seeing as I have a tendency to psych myself out of some pretty great things lately, I was going to talk a lot today. It’s as much a chance for me to work through my problems as it is a chance for me to push myself onward. The balance is there and I get a chance to not only grab my peaks, but also find my way. I continued to walk and talk and when I would come upon the group of three hikers, I would quiet myself (as I can get loud sometimes). No one was the wiser for it and I still kept working. At a clearing, the group was resting and I had come up behind them. I took the opportunity to stop and ask them if they were doing the 48 and it turns out that Bond Cliff would be their first. I congratulated them on the start of their journey and told them that it was an amazing one. In my mind, I was also wondering why they chose Bond Cliff as their first. I told them a little about my journey and that if all went well, I would hit my 43rd peak as of today. They called me an expert (which I do not view myself as) and seemed to hang on my words. I told them about getting to the top of Washington twice and what the differences were between hiking in winter and hiking in any other season. They seemed in awe of my experiences and for me, it was just every day talking. I did not want to stay idle for too long as I would lose valuable energy so, I told them to be careful and hopefully, I’d see them at the summit.

 As I continued to walk, I gained some much needed cell service. My phone began receiving texts that I thought nothing much of until I began reading them.

 “I am wishing you luck today with your journey. Kick ass today get them. :) I know you can get these. :) Did you pack your energy stuff? Don’t forget to stop and fuel up. Don’t wait too long. Most important be safe, be slow. Go when you can. And open yourself up to mother nature and notice at least 5 little woodland wonders today. :) And last, stand on a sign. LOL :). You have all day to do this. Use all the day light up. Enjoy your day.”

 I was happy to receive such a heartwarming text from him.  It just gets confusing sometimes especially since we had been going through a series of really rough patches. I began to shake a little as I stood still reading letting the emotions wash over me as well as his words. I felt myself wishing I could talk to him and knowing that it would be a while until I could actually talk with him. Part of the reason for the hike was to work through this very thought process and situation to maybe not find the answers but to find the quiet that I needed to push through to the end. This moment meant the world to me and I quickly texted him back a thanks and told him just how much his words meant to me and I smiled again. All this, knowing that I would not hear from him until I got service again or perhaps I may not hear from him at all. I again needed to shake things off and keep moving. Not that daylight was wasting. Just that energy had a way of leaking out and I desperately wanted to make all 3 peaks.

  I continued on and finally reached the Alpine Zone and a big smile crept across my face. Then as I turned a corner on the trail, I was faced with a rock formation to climb. My smile got even wider. There was something awakening within me that when faced with this obstacle to get over, I turned within and heard his voice telling me that I could do this (it’s always his voice). And I climbed up and as I turned to look at the view, I was overcome.

 “I CAN do this. I will do this. Today. Three peaks…. 20 miles. I’m a strong person. Stronger than even I know. I’m capable of doing this and getting through just about anything.  I CAN do this and anything else that you got. So bring it.” I took in the view and just kept walking. One foot in front of the other. Soon, I was well above tree line and not only blessed with a mostly flat trail but, also blessed with beautiful 360 degree views that went on for miles. I did not see Bond Cliff yet and what I did see, took my breath away.

 “Thank you. “ I cried out. Except that I was actually crying too. “Thank you for getting me here and thank you for all of this. I… I… Just can’t believe it. And I wish that he was here with me… To see… This… And, you know what? In some strange way, I am glad that he’s not. I needed this… This… Hike. I needed to work this on my own. I needed to find my center again. Thank you.”

 The approach to Bond Cliff took no time at all. I could see it coming into view and I would just smile. The reward for a hard climb is always the view and a chance to rest as well as have some food. It was important to me that I actually eat on this hike where on past hikes I may not have been so good at remembering the fuel for myself. At the summit, I set up the tripod and crawled out to the ledge. In the center, I sat cross legged in the yoga sukhasana pose.  I held up my number 41 and proudly smiled. I noticed that there was not a lot of room on the summit and also that the cliff went straight down. I also noted that my once fear of heights was nowhere to be found. For this fact, I was equally grateful. Last year’s therapy was beginning to show signs of working. I ate one of my sandwiches (peanut butter and hot pepper jelly) and just sat quietly. I noticed how my heart beat sounded when the wind blew and as I packed up and got ready to go, I heard a crow caw. I cawed back as if to talk to him. I also remembered that native americans believed that the souls of our passed relatives inhabit crows and watch over us. I remembered that and thought to myself that I was having a conversation with my grandfather…With Chief. Beyond the conversations that I had had today.

 Making my way over to Mt. Bond, I walked the ridge on this bright and cloudless day, In all directions, I could see for miles. I had looked back to Bond Cliff at one point and noticed figures emerging. I was guessing that my three friends had finally made the summit. I was proud for them and I remembered my first summit on Moosialuke. I needed to keep walking as I had two more peaks to reach and at this point in the day, it looked as though I was going to do it. Taking it all in, I loved looking back and seeing the summit cairns dotting the ridge line. And looking forward, I loved seeing the distant trail all the way up to the summit. Walking on it was easy in places and even as it went up, I found that my legs had the power in them to make the journey. Looking around, I made the association that the arctic vegetation had characteristics of what I would find on the beach and that some of the wood resembled drift wood. In my mind, my two safe places (the beach and the mountains) have met and I felt perfectly at peace for the first time in weeks. Climbing up on the rocks to the summit of Mount Bond, I felt light and as if I did not have a care in the world.

 I had been depressed and trying to work through a number of situations down at the base level. Being up on the high points had given me reprieve from these troubles and I was able to see clearly. For a while, I had been carrying around someone else’s baggage and I was not going to do this anymore. And as I stood on Mount Bond, I realized again how strong I was and how much I had overcome in the past year to get to this point. I had defeated my depression by becoming active and taking care of myself. Having recently slipped back into that dark place and being up on the summits in the light, I realized this now. And what I really needed to do was keep moving forward and pushing through things. And I wished that others would do the same as I had. I took my summit pictures and enjoyed a granola bar before thinking about moving on.

 I was joined on the summit by a man who was filming his hike and as it turns out he does this for virtual hikers. He was on his way rather quickly and heading to West Bond. I figured I would catch up with him on the trail at least and prepared to head down shortly after. I took a deep breath and another look around at the surrounding summits. I attempted to send out a check in to the people below but I did not have a good enough connection on my phone to do so. I left it as a hanging surprise as to whether I would make it or not.

 I was brought down into the trees to head over to West Bond and it was a nice break from the sun. The half a mile to the spur trail seemed to pass without notice and I dipped down at first on the dirt trail which was quickly taken over by the rocks again. I noted that this far into my journey, I no longer minded walking on these boulders. I had truly come so far with a few more miles left to travel. As I climbed I began to call out to the birds in a whistle and to my surprise, they answered. This has never happened to me before let alone the fact that I usually cannot whistle. Things were changing for me. I began climbing again and knew that the summit was in reach. To my non-surprise, my other companion was already at the summit and seated. As I crested the rocks, I raised my hands in victory… Number 43 was here! I had made it and even though this long journey was only half over. I had beat myself and won. I had claimed the win that I so desperately wanted and had been fighting for since heading out on the last 2 expeditions. I had won on so many levels and my out stretched arms tried to reach the  sky. My new companion just watched and smiled. He knew what was going on because he’d been there. A stranger congratulated me on my achievement and as we talked, we actually found out that we were connected through the computer and an on line group dedicated to hiking the 48 mountains. He of course obliged me by taking a summit picture and as I was settling in for some lunch (tuna fish), he began his way back and that was it.

 Again, I took a moment to take it all in and I was joined on the summit by a tiger swallowtail butterfly. I smiled at him and watched him flit around on the scrub pines and alpine vegetation. I stood up and thanked whoever was listening for this amazing journey and for the general sights and sounds I had been presented with. Inside though, I was grateful for the opportunity to find my center again. For too long I had let myself stay in the darkness and it was good to be alive again. I texted only one person to tell him that I had made it to 43 and that I was thankful for his support. The time had them come to head back to the car. I had about ten miles standing between me and reality and I intended to use every minute of it.

 Everyone I met up with on the trail and for a Friday, it seemed that there were a lot of people, all said the same thing. That this was such a picture perfect and beautiful day and that there was no place they would rather be. We were all covered in sweat and the filth of the day and we all would not change a thing (myself included). Heading back, the walk to Mount Bond took no time at all. This was because there was more down trail than up and I was still feeling pretty energetic. I was surprised at my energy level given the charge of the day emotionally. I was not drained though. I was energized by the dropping of excess baggage. After a brief stop on Mount Bond, I kept moving. There was one shot on Bond Cliff that I really wanted to get and it would require someone to take it with my camera. It was still early enough in the day that perhaps someone would be over there.

 As I made my way, I came to one more conclusion. I had lost my job recently. I was lost and trying so hard to find myself and to do this, I had been coming back to the mountains. I had been walking through some serious doubt about myself and on the high ridge today, I realized that I never lost myself in this life changing move. I have always been me and I will always be who I am. The fact that I did not have a job did not need to define me. I could reinvent myself from the ground up and come out stronger than before. This was indeed my chance to do what I always wanted to do and find the job that fit me and not have to fit myself into a job.

 “I lost my job. “ I stated. “I lost… My job.” I repeated louder. “It doesn’t make me less of a person and it certainly does not mean I am a failure.” I paused to catch my breath. and collect myelf to keep moving.

  I was approaching Bond Cliff for the second time. Painfully aware now that I was on the edge of reality. I smiled to find an entire group at the summit. They were college students up for a summer class and they were more than happy to get my iconic summit picture on Bond Cliff (Arms outstretched and from a distance so I got the whole cliff in the shot). Again, they asked me about my experiences on the 48 and I had a sense of pride as I told them that I had just finished number 43 and that I had done Washington twice. I helped them out with a little perspective on the trip out to West Bond seeing as I had just come from there. And everyone thought it was amazing what I had just done today let alone my entire story. I fueled up and bid them safe travels. I took in a deep breath and made my way to the edge. I stopped at tree line and wished I could stay up forever.

 “No one fights up here on the summits. Everyone is happy to see you and they are happy for your accomplishments. No one argues and everyone is so nice. It doesn’t matter if it’s your first or your 48th summit. Everyone is happy up here. And I want to stay in that feeling forever.”

 I made a promise to myself that I would remember that feeling when I was down below and hoped that it would carry me through the times I had ahead of me. And with that, I dipped into the tree line and began to make my way down to the parking area. The complete trip took me 11.5 hours to complete and was a distance of 20 miles. I felt a great sense of accomplishment for myself and wanted to share it with the world I knew and began to drive home. So, to get the word out, I posted my traditional message exclaiming my victory and stating that I was heading for home. My head however, remained on the ridge in the bright light of day and I could not help but smile. I left a lot on that mountain and even as I was back in reality, my mind remained light and my spirit stayed high through it all. And with 5 summits left to climb, I thought to myself that it’s not about the mountains. It’s not about the summits or the trails. It’s about the heart. And that night, as I laid my tired body down in bed, I quietly congratulated myself and fell into a deeper sleep than I had in weeks.   

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