My employer feeds me. If I could opt out of this, I would, but I can’t. Living in a dorm in Glacier National Park requires me to eat what my employer chooses to cook. Every employee makes comments about how bad the food is, and how it resembles prison food. I have never been to prison, but I suspect that their food is probably better than ours. To make matters worse, I am vegetarian. The people who cook for us think that as long as there is some corn on the line, that will be sufficient.
I’m also not allowed to listen to music out loud. It’s as though I am living in Beaumont and Reverend Moore is running the joint. There is a bar about 30 minutes away but who wants to drink and drive? We are allowed to drink in the employee lounge but with no music, no cues for the pool table, and fluorescent lights we aren’t allowed to turn off, what’s the point? No amount of beer can make a prospective romantic endeavor look good under fluorescent lights. Oh, and we aren’t allowed to possess, or drink alcoholic beverages in our rooms. You know, the rooms that we pay for. And the bathroom doesn’t have toilet paper a lot of the time. And the showers aren’t the cleanest. And the WiFi is terrible. Many times I don’t know why I live here.
I’m complaining. There is actually a lot more that I could complain about. I’m sure you don’t want to hear it, especially in light of the fact that I live inside the boundaries of one of the most stunning national parks in the country. I don’t want to hear my complaints either. Actually, I hate the sound of my own voice. We are half way through the season and I am already sick and tired of all the rules we have to endure. I need to hike.
I got my boss, Kim to come along with me on the trail. The hike gained 2500 feet of elevation over four miles then descended another nine miles into the valley that I live in. After two summers in this park, “strenuous” doesn’t intimidate me much anymore, but this hike is 13 miles. 13 miles is a lot for me to do in one day, and it’s strenuous to boot. The first four miles gained elevation and provided views of two different glaciers, thousands of wildflowers, and the experience of walking across a scree field with a patch of snow crossing the path. The nerd in me thinks it’s super cool to hike in snow in July. We talked about work on the way up. I complained about the food that is served to the employees. I’m sure I was annoying but she brought work up too, so we’re even? Anyway, it felt good to vent about it and get it off my chest, but I also feel like I should have talked about more positive things along the way. Yup, I’m human.
The views at the top were spectacular. We sat to eat a snack and take in the view. You could see for miles. You could see as far as the curvature of the earth would allow you to see. Up into Canada and beyond. Maybe even all the way to Antarctica if I looked hard enough. The snow melt created a lake that was an incredible turquoise blue. The glacial silt that gets washed to the bottom of the lakes reflects light in such a way that it makes the water mysterious, almost magical in color. You half expect an ancient and wise, mythical creature to come out of nowhere and walk up to the edge of it. As we silently take in the view that is before us, I realize that not everybody gets to see this kind of thing. There are many people in the world who are not able, or who can’t even imagine what I am looking at with my own eyes. I wasn’t thinking about work anymore.
It was so peaceful here that Kim fell asleep. I left my bag and walked higher to be alone, to breathe deeply, and to simply sit and appreciate the view while I could. If the gods that control this world would allow me to see this view twice, I had no idea when that would be. My neurosis makes me wonder if it’s white privilege or just plain privilege to be able to see what is before me. Whatever it is I am beaming with gratitude for the chance to experience it. My ability to go from an ungrateful complainer to being speechless with gratitude sometimes gives me whiplash. Obviously work is not what was occupying my thoughts.
A bit later I noticed that two marmots were working their way closer to my friend and to my backpack that I had left unattended. I quickly descended down to where the bag was and just in time because the marmots were about to drag my bag off for themselves! The wild animals in this park are accustom to humans. Kim woke up to find me sitting next to my bag with the marmots licking my bag. I just couldn’t help but stare at these fascinating creatures at close range. I got my camera out. Kim and I both laughed at the playful curiosity of these adorable creatures and enjoyed their company for quite some time. Work was the furthest thing from my mind.
I could have communed with the marmots all day but we still have nine miles to go on the hike and knowing that we aren’t the fastest hikers we set out towards home. Besides the stunning scenery, this trail is awesome because you can start at the trail head and hike home. The nerd in me thinks that is super cool. We walked a lot of this way in silence. The number and diversity of waterfalls that were scattered among the various canyons, valleys, and rock faces along this hike was legendary. That feeling I had at the top of being in another world transcended into feeling like I was walking through the Lothlorian forest itself. It was a bit disenchanting that we didn’t see Galadria or Legolas along the trail somewhere. My apologies for the Lord of the Rings analogy, but that is honestly what this place felt like. There were times when the beauty was so sincere, it didn’t feel real – as if only Hollywood and digital technology could have created what we were seeing. But Hollywood didn’t create it. God did. Or whatever you it is you call the force that shapes all things. Whomever you think created it, they did a great, freaking job. I even touched the trees to make sure they were real. And as for work? What’s work? People who live in magical, mythical places don’t work!
We continued down the trail to the bottom of the mountainside. The magical scenery turned to dense forest and we couldn’t see much in the way of scenery. We hiked for quite some time like this and then saw a junction and sign that said we still have 4 miles to go. We had already hiked a total of 9 miles, but it was up and down a mountain pass, and four more miles felt like a lifetime. I wouldn’t let Kim get discouraged and proclaimed “We can do it!”, and I took the lead as we continued down the trail. A while later my knees started to hurt, I felt a blister coming on in the same place I had gotten a gnarly blister just two weeks before. This part of the trail was thickly forested so we were also getting all kinds of unwanted attention from the bug population. Some discouragement seeped into our attitudes. We felt each other slowing down, and exhaustion setting in. Then do you know what happened? The trail started climbing again. And my knees were hurting even more. And this is where the discouragement won. we slowed down considerably. And we started getting tired. And the bugs were dive bombing our faces. And I was back to complaining. Sick of hearing my own voice again, I asked Kim if we could stop. I had finally admitted to myself that I needed a break. We ate a snack, I checked for blisters, and we put bug spray on. I decided to say as little about work as possible from this point forward. I’m sure Kim was glad.
At just about the time I started obsessively repeating the thought in my head that we must just be around the corner, it turned out we were just around the corner. I exclaimed that we where home, and I don’t know where she found the burst of energy but Kim actually ran up to me, jumped up, and shook my shoulders in excitement. In spite of all the things I can’t stand about living here, I was glad to be back. The hike was difficult for both of us, but a triumph.
Kim and I parted ways, feeling satisfied with our accomplishment, complaints and all. I have two nasty blisters on top of my old gnarly one, and when I got home I collapsed onto my bed. I fell asleep before my head hit the pillow. At some point I woke up and the nerd in me had drool coating the side of my face. My own stench clouded my nostrils like a thick fog. I stumbled to the shower to wash off the stench and again collapsed onto my bed, falling asleep before my head hit the pillow.
As I am writing this, two days later, I can feel the pain in my muscles and joints and it hurts to walk down the hall to go the the bathroom. Every muscle in my body is screaming obscenities at me if I even think about moving, but I have accomplished something that was difficult for me. I have seen something not many people get to see. I have enjoyed time with a dear friend. I have stared in awe at the geological wonders of this world. I have done something that wasn’t easy and I had to push myself to do. I can endure another week of the parts of my job that I hate because all of the things I love about it. I can endure another week of my employer pissing me off. I can endure another week of being annoyed with my own complaints. I can endure all of this because I am glowing with that sense of self respect and accomplishment that comes with enduring something you think you can’t endure. On those days when I think I can’t possibly take another bite of corn, or when I feel like organizing a dance with loud music and strobe lights and debauchery and shenanigans just to make Reverend Moore pray for my redemption, I will just think of the sense of accomplishment I feel at this very moment. I will remember what it’s like to endure, and stay to the end.
Isn’t this what happens to all of us? We start off excited in the beginning. It’s so easy to cruise right along when something is new. Whether it’s a new job, or a new relationship, or a new house, or a new car, or a new trail head. Doesn’t matter what it is, the surge of energy we feel is real, and it feels as though it will last forever. Then we get to the peak. Everything seems perfect, as though the whole universe is conspiring to smother you in happiness. It’s as if the velvet robes part and the heavens open and the world couldn’t possibly be a better place than it is in that moment. Then we come down a little. We have to come down because Utopia can’t last forever. We are still riding the cloud nine train, but not quite as high as we did a while back. Then something happens and it rains, and when it rains, that cloud we were riding on sends us sailing straight for the ground without a parachute, and we crash. This is the low point where everything is hard and you can’t see the end. When you are exhausted and can’t possibly take one more step without resting. The part where time slows down and morale is almost non-existent. This hike was the perfect example of how cyclical everything is. It is important for all of us to remember to take a step back and notice where we are in the cycle of happiness. To take stock of how everything is going and keep perspective. To have the vision of the finish line even when it seems that the hard times are never ending. We must train ourselves to endure to the end. Life’s trials are training you to make it to the finish line. Endurance teaches us that everything will be OK. You don’t have to win the race, you don’t have to be in second place, or even third. Pushing yourself, enduring, making it to the end will leave you exhausted and sore, maybe even scarred. In the end though, you’ll have a huge smile on your face, and that alone is worth all of the effort. And if that isn’t enough to keep you moving, think about the fact that only thing you can do now is move upward, back towards the peak. Back up to cloud nine. Yes, my friends, endurance is a hard lesson, but a good one.
Today I am grateful for difficult climbs, glaciers that will soon be a part of history, snow fields in July, the nerd in me that enjoys nerdy things, grand scenic views, mystical blue waters, marmot spit, being able to see as far as the earth will allow me to, a landscape that is so picturesque you drain your camera battery even when it’s on airplane mode, bug spray, moleskin, animals that aren’t afraid of me, blisters that serve as battle scars, sore muscles, and endurance. The endurance it takes to live in a difficult situation, the endurance it takes to push your limits on a continual basis, and the endurance to reach the end, the endurance it takes to have a good attitude, especially when you just don’t want to.