Total Miles: 378.2
Each morning sees some task begin,
Each evening sees it close;
Something attempted, something done,
Has earned a night’s repose.
—Henry Wadsworth Longfellow
The stars hang motionless, quiet, flecks of salt on an endless piece of black construction paper stretched above our heads. The crickets, less quietly, perform their discordant symphony from a score known only to them. The distant hum of a plane’s jet engine racing across the sky begins as a dull thud, builds to a roar, and disappears behind the mountain. From our tent, perched on the sandy flat of a wash, that’s all there is. The sound of night.
Every day now begins and ends with the stars. Rising before dawn to cover the early miles under the cool that will soon be chased away by the sun, one by one the stars fade while the moon still hangs defiantly until finally it too vanishes. The pink cotton candy clouds of sunset reappear now as orange before the rising sun bleaches them white.
Our trail traverses one drainage to another, gravel then a jumble of softball-sized stones then gravel again. Above, the red and white striped ramparts of Mazatzal Peak are backlit by the glow of the sun that slowly crawls up their back.
At our backs, the same image but in silhouette advances toward us, the outline of Mazatzal Peak creeping uphill from below while the real thing looms over us from above.
Experiencing a morning on the trail evokes the memory of so many others. The shadows, the color of the light, the chill in the air and how long it will last before the sun awakens from its slumber. Every trail is distinct and unique—geography, climate, topography and weather all conspiring to give each trail a character all its own.
Paradoxically, it’s not the uniqueness I’m in search of when we’re on trail, but the sameness. Those echoes of trails past, those threads woven into all trails, a heritage that connects them.
The way the long shadow of a tall peak stretches in the afternoon hours and rolls itself back up each morning. Trail clinging to an eroding mountainside. A crunch of stone on stone beneath me with every step. The sun beating down. A salt-ringed shirt. The cool that welcomes me when I’ve earned a night’s repose. A repetition, a sameness that is like breath.
How many breaths do we take in our lifetimes? Quick math: a lot. How many breaths do we remember? How many remind us of those that came before it? Probably none.
And yet, with each passing trail, with each moment of sameness I relive the trails that have come before it. Dig into the mental Rolodex and there’s an analogue for everything. The way the setting sun sets that mountain aglow? An internal slideshow of similar moments clicks past. The particularly challenging roughness of the terrain? An onslaught of even worse days called from the memory banks instantly makes it seem less challenging. The shared laughter and satisfaction at the simple task of traveling from one place to another only to rest and do it all over again? A million memories flood forth all to send the same message: go do it again.