I venture into the mountains with one enduring self-indulgent purpose: escape. If you were to ask my ego, she may admit other ambitions- adding a notch to the proverbial belt as she rises to meet a new summit, perhaps. But escape is the only force that drives hard enough to pull me from pajamas into hiking clothes early on a Saturday, calling me out into a world beyond my steaming morning coffee.
Escape is the lightness underfoot fueled by the addition of steps between my boots and parked car. And she’s like a bad habit, escape, luring me to her with promises that this will just be something sweet, and innocent, and fun, a lighthearted romp in the woods. But then by the end of the day as I trudge ever closer to my parked car the heaviness of my boots overtakes me again and I know, as I’m released back into the world, I will return for more. It might not be tomorrow, or even next week, but sooner or later I will find myself back in my car, racing from my home and my life, bursting out onto the trail, and as I run to her, my muscles screaming and my dry throat aflame, she will meet me, my escape, and I will be hit with the realization that I had never left her behind; I’d been tethered to the promise of her all along.
And then there are days like today, when the long weeks have accumulated on my shoulders and tired my eyes, and I tear into the woods yearning for escape like a junkie moving in on her fix, and she evades me. I find my path, instead, lined with hikers who have insisted upon bringing the whole world with them- their screaming kids, their yapping dogs, and technologies that ping and ring and capture images so overrun with the faces of all who travel the trail that there is no space for trees, rocks, or vistas within their frames.
At first, I make friends with denial and walk with her for a time. She speaks kindly enough, drawing me to her side with reassurance that my escape is just around the bend. But before long even she is drowned out by the sound of trekking pole armies scraping against granite, their bearers whooping battle cries through the trees. I hike faster, but around the next turn is another battalion, this one led by a fat anxious dog whose equally endowed owner refuses to step aside, thereby forcing me to yield to his stodgy pace. Together, owner and dog beat down my already weakened denial until she walks with me no more.
In her absence, I realize there will be no escape for me here. Not on this trail. Not today. I am angry at her for evading me, and at myself for craving something beyond my grasp. And then it is just the mountain and I, enveloped by the world I was so racing to leave behind. My pack tugs at shoulders that have gradually crept toward my ears as if mirroring the stance of a vulture crouched, scavenging. At least the weight of the pack draws them down. My feet sweat. I feel no lightness there today.
They trudge me on to the summit, to a view that is at once beautiful and empty. And as I turn on my heels and begin my descent to the car, I am struck by the awareness that I am just another member of the army of noise, the yapping dogs, and the selfies whose cameras click on in the absence of shutters. And I wonder, what mistresses drew them out their slumbers to the call of the mountain this morning?
Perhaps I am not the only one who set to trail today chasing my escape. Did any of us wanderers find her in their travels, or are they, like me, stumbling home with boots muddied and hopes downtrodden? My eyes look to the trail who has failed to bring my escape today, but has nonetheless led me through another journey, its rising and its fall. My pride shines in the realization of this feat, light that nearly dissolves the shadow of her absence. And then, tugging from a deeper, less visible space, temptation whispers she will be so much sweeter, my escape, next time. Spinning silk persuasions that lure me in, a fly to a web. I will find my escape. I am tethered to her, after all.