I carry him on my back uphill. A broken pelvis, healed without intervention, disabled his body long before he was mine. Cool green manzanita leaves and prickly pine needles shake off their snow like birds in a bath. Beside them, I march; enjoying each boulder, each seed-bearing cone, each sage brush adorning snow. I slouch under dull pain in my shoulders. I had thought for years to train for backpacking, but never enough to start — until this disabled body showed up wanting the adventure as much as I.
Behind gauzy clouds, the sun moves through a sky that morphs from bright to dark almost without warning. I check my watch. We’ve arrived at nowhere-in-particular and must return downhill. I relinquish my body from the backpack, careful not to tip him.
His feet, wrapped in miniature booties, make miniature crunches on the snow-turned-ice. Perfectly timed to my pattering heart, evermore delighted with each mini-crunch. His steps a staccato. My strides: the baseline. Sloshing where snow and earth made mud. In one bright streak — a comet’s trail — still water reflects the sun that warms our backs, both covered in fleece. He looks back at me, checking on me, flashing his wide, toothless smile.
When I wonder too long, his mystery past roots sadness in my heart to guess. The only certainty: a guardian angel plucked him from death row. And here we are now, his steps and mine, crunching ice in booties and boots. Living our destiny.
Keeping my vow, the day I left work, I headed straight to Pinnacles National Park. Luckily for me, a glamsient friend had the day off and agreed to join me. We started at the visitor center on the east entrance where I saw a sign announcing the arrival of a California Condor.”A new baby! How exciting,” I said to the ranger behind the counter.
“Yes, a girl. We are thrilled,” she said. “It’s from the only nest in the park!”
“Do you have any camping available for tonight?” I asked. Knowing that many California parks fill up months in advance during summer, I braced myself for her answer.
“Oh yes, there’s plenty.” She handed me a map of the campground. “Pick out an empty space, come back and let us know which one you want.”
We drove towards the back of the campground — it was virtually empty! With so much availability, we found exactly what we wanted: a site surrounded by trees and bushes to give us privacy and shade. High Peaks Trail via Bear Gulch Cave
For our first hike, we chose the High Peaks Trail by way of Bear Gulch Cave. My glamsient friend informed me this is the most popular trail in the park.
The first section guided us to Bear Gulch Cave, a rare talus cave thought to be formed in the ice age. The canopy of trees made this hike gentle and pleasant even in the middle of the afternoon. Created by large boulders that had fallen and wedged into narrow canyons, the cave was easy to navigate — sunlight made its way into the cave through open spaces to illuminate the path. We walked over bridges and up stairs created in the 1930s; part of the way, we had to crouch to pass underneath boulders.
“Wouldn’t want to be here during an earthquake,” my friend remarked. “The San Andreas fault is pretty close.”
For a popular destination at the park, the cave was by no means crowded; we saw only a few groups of people.
Leaving the cave, the trail led us to a small reservoir; that’s where the strenuous climb began to the High Peaks. Without the tree cover, under the blazing sun, every step moved me further uphill and every step told me that I am out of shape! I quickly realized this section of the trail would be much more enjoyable in cooler weather — either early morning in summer or a cooler time of year altogether!
(That being said, we saw many groups with children. They seemed fine. Hot, but fine.)
Ultimately, our effort paid off — the trail took us to an incredible peak revealing far reaching vistas of valleys, rock formations and mountain ranges to the east and west. The High Peaks trail showcases prehistoric rock formations; volcanic activity created these rocks 23 million years ago and erosion formed them into what we see today. It surprised me to learn seismic activity moved the solid, massive boulders over 195 miles northwest from the time of their creation.
At the crux, we walked up and over boulders that created a long ridge — in many places, the trail was carved by dynamite into footholds and steps. We stopped to catch our breath, but lost it when a Condor flew overhead! One of only 36 wild in the park, we knew we were in the right place at the right time.
Shortly after we made our descent, we saw a couple on the trail.
“Is the peak much farther?” The young man asked. He sat in shade created by chaparral, his face was red and dripping with sweat. “We are thinking of going back.”
“You’re so close,” I told him. “Keep going.”
“It’s worth it,” my friend said. “The views and everything — you don’t want to turn back.”
“And there’s a cave on the other side,” I said.
Halfway down, we found a spot to rest and wait for the full moon. Despite my aching feet and jelly knees, seeing the moon — large and pink — rise over the mountains at sunset was a glory to behold.
It was dark when we returned to camp for dinner. Eating that night, I noticed a sense of vitality within me. My blood pumped through my veins, fresh air emboldened my lungs and my muscles felt active and alive! Balconies Trail
The next morning, my fellow glamsient left early for work. Part of me wanted to head home, but I quickly recognized that desire as my old habit of rushing to the destination. The Balconies Cave enticed me and, remembering to slow down and savor the journey, I chose to stay in the park.
Driving to the trailhead I saw quail, turkeys, and a doe with her fawn. The parking lot was empty apart from my car, and only the sound of birds accompanied me onto the path.
Meandering through trees, the Balconies trail is mostly flat — a perfect companion to yesterday’s strenuous hike. Yellow swallowtail butterflies greeted me as if to say I had made the right choice. I breathed deeply, enjoying the time to myself.
When I came to the entrance of the talus cave, I saw a large, metal gate. “Flashlights Required,” a sign read. Having seen a similar warning at the trailhead I had my headlamp — and thank goodness for that! The cave was pitch black; only little white painted arrows marked the trail.
Cool and dark, the deep quietude of the cave penetrated my being. I was completely alone, and instead of steadily moving through to the other side, I sat and turned off my headlamp. Surrounded by rock, my small, vulnerable body felt soft and humble, but I was not afraid. I felt held and supported. I seemed to dissolve, as if I were part of the rock, the air, the empty space. In perfect stillness, I tuned to the deepest part of me — connected and endless.
When I was ready, I moved forward through the cave. As soon as the first rays of sun beckoned me out I wanted to go back into the dark, cool, quiet chamber. It had given me a thrill unlike any other.
Hiking the next section of the trail — a moderate stretch with views of rock formations jutting out of the earth like balconies — my mind returned to my experience in the cave. Wholly grounding, yet also uplifting, I longed to return to the cave and the feeling of oneness.
A few days ago, I wanted to hike somewhere I had never been before. I chose the Loch Leven Trail in the Tahoe National Forest because of the picturesque lakes, waterfalls, and railroad crossing I saw online. On the drive up I eagerly anticipated the new adventure.
As soon as I arrived, however, the unfamiliar terrain made me uneasy. Eventually, I found the trail marker — an old, weather-worn, small, wooden sign nailed to a tree. It was so inconspicuous, I was surprised I saw it.
Stepping onto the trail, it took me several minutes to orient myself. I walked along boulders, often intuitively choosing the direction; many times the trail split into deer paths. I felt a growing nervousness. It would be better to do this hike with a friend. I thought of going back. But no! My glamsient life is not about limitations! It’s about freedom and adventure! Instead of turning around, I built cairns to mark my route.
As I hiked, loneliness settled deeply into my heart. With a friend, building cairns would be fun, we would laugh when they fell and see who could build a better tower; we wouldn’t be scared because we would have each other. By myself, it was a response to real fear — getting lost in the wilderness, alone.
The loneliness grew: it wasn’t just this hike, it was a continuation of loneliness I experienced since I began my glamsient journey a year ago, as if it picked up where the previous lonely day had left off, compounded by the ones before that.
Keeping to my mindfulness practice, I stopped and encountered the loneliness. The pain diminished under the light of awareness, and once it did, I meditated on feelings of love — the eternal wellspring of love.
Despite my efforts, however, the loneliness kept returning. I knew following sadness into despair was not the way; it is a pattern in my past, and I am leaving that behind. But when would the loneliness stop, so I could just enjoy myself?
I may have been climbing a mountain, but I was climbing on the inside as well. I was fighting between who I have been and who I want to be. And every internal step began to feel more and more tired.
I kept going; trying to remain present; building cairns; listening to trickling streams caress the trail, sliding down rock faces that once housed glaciers; watching tiny waterfalls cascade over tree branches; hearing the small sound of a grey frog bellyflopping into a puddle when I startled him.
Turning a corner, I came upon a snow patch! I was elated to see snow this close to summer, but then I was overcome with loneliness because I didn’t have a friend with me to share my joy. What was wrong with me? Why couldn’t I be happy just to see it by myself?
In all this pain and conflict, I had to sit on a rock to center myself. When I did, tears came to my eyes, and I let myself cry. I stayed present with my sadness; it was joined by doubt. In my glamsient life, wasn’t I walking a new and unfamiliar path? I had chosen to become a glamsient to fulfill a deep need to self-actualize artistically, and it had since grown into a journey of deeper consciousness and spirituality. But if I was so lonely on this new life path that I couldn’t enjoy the trail under my feet and the unfolding adventure, what was the point?
Suddenly, the path I had chosen a year ago didn’t make sense. Suddenly, even though it had seemed right at the time, I felt like I should have never left my easy, comfortable, former life. I had a nice home and a large group of good friends. I hadn’t been deeply satisfied, it lacked substance and felt restrictive, but at least I never felt like this! Why would I ever leave that easy life behind?
Certainly, the past year of glamsient living gave me moments of unparalleled joy and, although I have a lot of work to do, I have grown as an artist — producing more and better work than before. Taking the time to dive into my spirituality has created greater meaning and presence in my life. Moving towards greater consciousness has helped me become aware of and break habitual attachments and patterns. But couldn’t I have done all this, couldn’t I have made the same artistic and spiritual gains, and still kept my familiar home and nearby friends? Wasn’t this new path counterproductive if I felt so miserable and conflicted in this present moment?
I looked out past the trees to see billowing clouds above the snow-capped mountains articulated by jagged points and crags.
“Help me,” I said through my tears, a voice crying out in the wilderness. “Let me see the Truth.”
For no reason in particular, I turned to look behind me. There I saw a small pine tree with a curved trunk growing out of a rock! I laughed through my tears. I have long identified with trees growing out of rocks; my spirit seems to me like it springs from a hard and lifeless place and it is only through the sheer power and persistence of the Creator that my soul survives and thrives. I even have a tattoo on my leg of a tree with a bend in its trunk — just like the tree I saw before me.
As if I were given an immediate answer to my cry, the Creator spoke to me through the small, bent tree: “You are never alone. I am here, watching, listening. Feel me. Feel my Love. You belong on this path — this unfamiliar, new path. The struggle you feel is your spirit breaking the chains of illusion. Your suffering is an illusion created by your mind from false ideas and parameters of happiness. Have faith in this path; I illuminated it in Truth a year ago. I led you here. Trust your creativity; it is my gift to you; it will heal you. Trust your dreams; I gave them to you and I want them to manifest. Trust that as you follow your dreams, you step closer to Me and your own divinity.”
Hearing this message with the ears of my heart, I felt a sense of comfort and strength wash over me. Without leaving my former life, I would not have gotten to this very moment on this rock to encounter the Spirit that tore through my sadness with Truth. Without leaving my former life, I could not embark upon this new journey that is filled with inspiration, expansion, meaning, and authenticity. With renewed support, I closed my eyes and allowed the air to dry my tears. I saw myself scoop the dark and painful emotions from my heart and surrender them to the Divine. In the open space a love, whole and gentle, spread outward with a vibration so complete that it softened the edges of my being.
I stood up, and with faith in myself and my journey, continued hiking the unfamiliar path.
On my way down the mountain, I passed several cairns I had made. One even helped me when I couldn’t find the trail. When I saw the parking lot, it seemed I completed an incredible journey, not just a couple miles.
Getting into my car, a half-grown pup ran over to me, smiling and wagging it’s tail.
“Hey, buddy,” I said.
His owner, wearing all khaki including a floppy hat with the chin strap pulled tight, approached us. “Finishing up?” He asked.
“How was the trail?”
“Beautiful. I love hiking. I would have preferred to hike with another person, but the time alone was –.”
“Eventually. I was pretty uneasy at first.”
“Understandable. You know, there’s a lot of hiking groups in this area. They go around and hike all the peaks together. You should check it out.”
“Thanks! That’s a great idea.”
“Have a good day,” he said.
“I will,” I replied, sure of my words, “you, too.”