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From Picket Post to You

As ACDC's Highway to Hell blared through my speakers at 4:45am on an eerily dark Sunday morning, I rolled down my windows and felt the warm wet air wrap itself around my tired eyes. I pulled off a literal highway and onto the dirt road leading to Picket Post Mountain trail-head. I popped the last bit of homemade banana bread into my mouth and began to bounce up and down in my seat to the beat of the drums and dips in the road.


The drive led to an empty parking lot at the base of, what seemed to be, a tiny mountain. Normally, I avoid hikes that I think will be quick and leave me with anything less than a deep scrape and a few decent bruises.




However, today I just wanted to isolate myself. Also, after almost an hour of driving, at a time where no one was awake but the poor campers I barreled past on the way in, I would be damned if I picked another spot now. I laughed and told myself I could make the "quick" hike and spend some time alone journaling at the top. Satisfied, I poured water into my new bladder, made sure my sandwich, journal and puffer were in the top pocket, stashed my wallet under the passenger seat, grabbed some toilet paper and my knife and slammed my car door shut.


I set off on the trail as the first rays of the upcoming sun highlighted the tiny mountain.


The first stretch of the hike was easy and beautiful. I enjoyed a quick walk along a slightly muddy wash and stopped every few yards to snap a picture of a cactus or moss covered rock. The sun seamed to be taking it's time rising but I rejoiced the cloudy start to the day, knowing the blistering heat was coming all too soon. The trail spent some time circling the base of the mountain. The closer the trail traveled, the closer my vantage point was to gaze up the cliffs of the rock and realize that my tiny mountain might just be a little bigger than it looked from the road. Just over a mile into my hike, I looked to the east and noticed the skies were darker than those to the west. The wind started to pick up and the chirping of the birds had completely vanished. A chill crept over my arms and a few drops of rain danced on my head. I picked up the pace.


The climb up the mountain had officially begun, but I was standing on this awkward stretch of land that looked like a prickly prairie. The rain was coming down in steady streams now and the wind was picking up it's pace as if to beat me to the cliffs in the rock face. I didn't have my pack cover on me and for the sake of my phone, food, and journal, I decided to wait out the uproar. I found a large boulder leaning against the slope of the mountain and shoved my backpack as far underneath it as I could. Then, I climbed the boulder for a closer look at the storm.


What I saw took my breath away.



All the mountains, all the roads, all the cacti around me had vanished in a misty grey haze. I could barely see more than a few yards in the distance. Throwing back my head, I laughed into the wet.


My cargo shorts weighed heavy with water and my hair got it's first shower of the day. Thunder bounced back and fourth from mountain to mountain and I realized I had no idea how long a monsoon in the mountains typically lasts. I crawled down the boulder and sat in the mud at it's base. The hole where I fit my backpack wasn't big enough for me and I was scared to put my legs inside on the chance a snake was also sharing my hiding spot. I decided to accept that I'd be soaked right through, but I was starting to get cold.


From my sheltered little spot, I had a pretty nice view of the valley. I watched as a light show of grays, blacks and purples danced across the terrain. I grabbed my puffer, took a couple deep breaths tasted the moist air.




Forty-five minutes later, the monsoon had subsided to a slow trickle. I stood up and began to ring my clothes out, which lay heavy on my frame. The way I figured, I had hiked almost halfway, so I might as well push on. I pulled out my backpack and my stomach growled on que to remind me of my sub inside. That soggy six inch was the best sandwich I have ever had. All too soon it was gone and I knew I had to move on. I set off along the trail again with extra pep in my step and water in my socks.


The skies lightened but the air remained windy and cool as I climbed. The trail transformed into a rocky ascent leading to a divot in the side of the mountain. Once the hike became a climb, the trail was harder to follow. Carins began to appear at turning points on the trail and eventually I noticed spray painted rocks sprinkling the mountainside. I imagined the clues were left by the first hiker to make this trek and pictured his journey as I walked beside him. Gallons of water appeared every half mile or so, and I thanked the mountain man for leaving them behind. But I didn't need them, I needed to soldier on.





I lost the trail more than a few times on my way up. From time to time, I would get frustrated and stop and look around feeling lost. I did not know if I was on the right path, or if I was going the right direction and I was starting to get angry at myself. Then, I realized that standing still was the only thing worse than choosing the wrong path. Sure, the wrong path could make the climb harder and longer. You could end up hurting yourself on the wrong path. And, the wrong path could even alter your final destination.


However, standing still and worrying about weather or not I was on the right path would get me nowhere... literally.


So, I looked to where I wanted to go and put one foot in front of the other. Sure, I redirected my course a few times and backtracked more than once. But for every step I took in the "wrong direction" , I was taking a step further up the mountain. Also, I did get significantly better at realizing when I was off trail and started to correct myself. I even left behind a few Carins of my own to help the next hiker not take the same false paths as I did. I'm a "put your head down and climb until you reach a flat point" kind of hiker. So, when I was on all fours scampering up a terrace, the round ball of cactus took me by complete surprise. Extending my left hand, I grabbed down on a barrel cactus. Cuss words flew out of my mouth as I straightened up and blinked back tears.





The unexpected break gave me time to look around. I realized I was officially half way up the mountain and what I had looked up at earlier, I now looked down upon. I pulled out my trail map and realized the hike would lead to the very top of this part of the Superstition Mountains. I giggled, rinsed my hand with my water, and soldiered on. The rest of the climb up to Picket Post continued in a battle fought by my sore knees, throbbing hand and wet clothes. Ultimately, my stubborn head won the battle.


That quick hike up the tiny mountain eventually became the most exhausting, laboring, and rewarding hike I've been on here in Arizona yet.



The last stretch of the hike was a flat walk along the top of the plateau. The rain had covered the ground and turned, what normally would be a dry brown grassland, into a golden ocean of soft grains that were trying to flower. The end of the trail was marked with a metal bench and a mailbox... ie: the Picket Post. Not a soul was around as I stood and overlooked the world. I could still see the monsoon off in the distance, sliding over the next mountain chain. I shivered as the crisp wind danced across the grass and pulled at my still damp clothes.


The mailbox was covered in bumper stickers, ribbons, and bracelets from travelers around the world all leaving their stamp on this spot. I opened the mailbox to letters and booklets from wanderers past. There were journal entries from decades ago and letters addressed to lost loved ones, pets and God. I read a few, but a few felt so private that I simple admired their packaging and placed them back inside. I sat down on the bench and pulled out my journal.





Lost in this frozen moment in time, I found myself writing to the hiker who would sit there after me. I poured myself into the letter and shared the deepest parts of my heart with them. I felt a connection to this person I hadn't met yet. I signed my letter with love, tore out the page and addressed it "To you". I placed the letter in the mailbox and pulled up the flag. I then walked to the edge of the precipice and took a deep breath.


I screamed out at the top of my lungs. I called out my name. I let out my fears, my anger, and my frustration.


I yelled and yelled until I ran short of breath.


I yelled because no one could judge the words coming out of my mouth or tell me not to. Panting, I sat on the bench with tears in my eyes . I knew a piece of me would forever be on top of this mountain. It would not be a piece of me that sits still. It would be the part of me that bounces among the tips of the peaks and dances with the wind as it soars through the waves of grass. It would be the freest piece of me and no one would be able to catch it, only watch it as it flies by.


The journey down the mountain went quicker the the climb. I found myself scaling back down in half the time it took me to reach the summit.


Mockingly, the sun began to shine as I once again reached the wash that lead to the parking lot. Now that I had faced the mountain and the hardest part was over, the world below seemed so easy.


I guess that's the way life is. You spend all your focus and time and energy trying to reach a certain point. You get stuck, hurt, cold and confused along the way. But then something beautiful happens. You dig deep within yourself and find something that is strong. You find the very core of your being and you own it with surety and simplicity. I reached my car and climbed in sore and satisfied.


As I drove away, I refused to look back. What happened on that mountain touched me and changed me. I might come back some day, but, just for today, I will let the journey take me where it will.


I will travel onward and trust that the destination is only worth it if I enjoy the journey.






____________

Thanks for sharing in my journey!

Remember to have fun while flying through this crazy thing called life!




(Brought over from www.throughlisaseyes.wordpress.com 07-16-2018)

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