I had the chance to get away in November. I’m still posting from my travel journal. Following is Part 3 in a series of excerpts from the long weekend away. Let’s begin with the scene on the drive up into the mountains…
The Stawamus Chief
Almost to the top of the second peak of Stawamus Chief Mountain, the trail goes from rocky staircase to vertical granite. This mountain, which rises 700 meters (2,297 feet) above Howe Sound in Squamish, B.C., is known for its climber-dotted granite dome. Hikers, however, have the option of summiting three different peaks, which they reach by way of rugged trails, endless steps fashioned into the mountainside, metal ladders hammered upon rock faces and chains fastened along steep granite slabs.
It’s been a long time since I scaled a mountain and, led full steam ahead by the aerobic god that is Gary, my breath is heavy and my heart beats hard. Gary has just returned from two weeks on business in India. I first see him the day before with Amin in the Granville Island Public Market, in between a spice stall and an Italian deli, where he appears with Amin out of nowhere and wraps his arms around me in a way you might embrace the person most, most dear to you after many moons apart. Despite extreme jet lag, he is exuberant with joy and warmth and I can feel his embrace throughout my heart. Anyone who’s ever been on the receiving end of Gary’s affection understands this feeling—it’s just who Gary is. His very cells are made of love and fortitude, sealed by soulfulness.
Sipping bloody marys laced with homemade clamato over brunch, I marvel at the beauty of what he and Amin share. They are delighted to be reunited after two weeks and I get to bask in their sweet reconnection. And also in their collective eye candy-ness.
Gary is more aesthetically gorgeous than even the last time I saw him a couple months ago. He always is. His eyes are bright blue, his hair a lunar shade of silver and even after 24+ hours of travel, he looks fresh and full of energy as ever—it’s no wonder he was pulled over on the streets of New York to model for Esquire magazine. Gary is bright with the kind of good stuff that can change your mood, your mindset, your day, maybe your life.
And now he’s got me huffing and puffing my way up a mountain. It’s the kind of demanding physical work that banishes every thought from your mind except one: Keep going. I settle into a rhythmic pace of climbing, lifting myself up one foot placement at a time. My consciousness drifts from high-level self-analytics and fixes on the basics. I literally cannot think of anything but the pleasurable burning of my muscles; the breath going in and out of my lungs; the blood pumping in and out of my heart like magic and the earth, rock and wood beneath my feet with each step. I’m out of my head and reveling in my own life force.
When the stairmaster of rock steps abates, Gary gives me the lead. I’m excited at the prospect of going first up the mountain, no visible human in front of me, as though I’m the first explorer to pass through this terrain. Soon, though, it goes from invigorating to daunting.
“You guys?” I call back to Amin and Gary, who must sense how much I’m relishing the space around me because they’ve dropped back a ways. “Um, I don’t see the trail. Where is the trail? From here it looks like the only way to go is to jump off this cliff…”
“No, no,” Gary assuages, chuckling. “Just keep going. You’ll see the trail. It’s there.”
The day before, Gary wordlessly led us off the paved oceanfront bike path and up a long, tall street—my quads begging for mercy—that led to God knows where, presumably somewhere in Stanley Park. Suddenly we came to a secret winter garden encircled by evergreen guardians, where we paused to rest. No humans in sight. Just a pond, some birds, frosty reeds, the surrounding forest and the three of us on our bikes. There was no sound but our breathing and the seaplane that flew overhead. Total stillness. I had no idea where we were, but Gary and Amin led us through darkening needle-strewn paths back to the sea wall just in time to watch the sunset over English Bay and continue our ride past a grown-up playground with rings on which we all had to stop and swing.
Back to the Chief, honest to goodness, it looks like there’s no place to go. The rock outcropping curves around, the chains end and dense trees wait on the other side of what looks to be a certain drop off. Where is the path? I look around for another way up, but there’s nothing. Surely no direction to go but backward.
“Yeah, that’s right,” Gary calls, watching me hoist myself atop the rock ledge and tread, so confused, a couple steps forward. “Do you see it now?”
I don’t see it. But I take a precarious step forward anyway. And another. Suddenly, out of nowhere, a flat plane of rock appears at the curve of the granite’s edge, a natural, though previously invisible, pathway just a couple steps from a trail marker and a short pine-needle path to more chains and a crevasse. My brain shifts back into a cerebral space just long enough for me to spot a metaphor.
I can’t see the path. I fear it’s not there. I feel confused, despondent and worried about all the ways I’ve effed up to end up in this seeming dead end. All I want to do is turn around and not be so close to the edge of certain-death drop-off.
But I am here. I can’t turn back without being super disappointed. Others have gone this way before me and not crashed to their death, so I know it must be possible. There is a way forward. I just need to have faith. I just need to take another step.
At least on the trail to peak two of Stawamus Chief Mountain, not only does a path reveal itself, but it comes with chains to assist in the tricky ascent.
“Maybe life can be like that, too?” I say to myself, half-wondering, half-praying.
I pull up through the smooth granite crevasse and hear the sounds of laughter and top-of-the-mountain chatter just ahead.
As we crest the summit, I’m flooded with the kind of reverence and wonder Mother Nature routinely gifts.
Gazing around at the vastness of this range, the sea and the sky, I sense new faith sprouting. “Thank you,” I say silently…to God, to Amin and Gary, to myself, to Brian, to my body and to Spirit in general. All is well. Everything is going to be ok. The path will show up. Just have faith and keep going.