Thursday, August 24, 2006

Lesson 8: You Will Never Feel the Thrill of the Crest if You Never Climb the Mountain

I've been talking about doing this for months. I told my old coworkers I wanted to do it. I told my friends and family here in California I wanted to do it. I researched it. I trained for it. I went to the gym every day for two months to whip my ass in shape to do it.

I wanted to climb a mountain for my 30th birthday.

And then I got sick. I rolled around in bed -- miserable -- for days. The landmark day crept closer. By Monday I was feeling better. So on Tuesday -- my birthday -- I hopped on the back of my friend's motorcycle and we headed up into the mountains.

We didn't have any intention of climbing anything. I was only recently recovering, still a little weak, so we decided just to ride and see where we ended up. We stopped every hour or so to grab a beer at some small-town bar or other along the way. We picked establishments with history -- This is one where we bought beer at 6 a.m. the day after an especially memorable three-day New Years' party ten years ago; This is the one his ex-wife started a fight in the parking lot while he was still dancing on the dance floor and my ex-husband left me there to find my way home ; This is the one where the effeminate male bartender wouldn't stop commenting on my friend's "sexy" build and served me liquor even when I couldn't produce an ID just because I was with him (I love gay men).

We made it up to the high country around noon, found a little meadow with a rolling brook amid a thick spattering of Douglas Firs, and stopped. I took off my shoes, hiked up my pants, crossed the stream and tripped up a hill on the other side, barefoot. It's the sort of thing I used to do, when I was a little girl. My brother and I would run around the foothills with no shoes on, imagine we were kings and queens and build fairy forts in the woods. It had been years since I thought of that. I found a tall rock with flat top and pulled myself onto it. Then I lay back and watched the clouds slip by.

Later, we climbed higher up the mountain road on the motorcycle until we found a 2,000-foot granite dome popping out of the side of the mountain. "This is it," my friend said, as he pulled the bike off the road and immediately dumped it in the soft dirt on the shoulder. The bike landed on top of me (somehow he had the foresight to leap off the bike before it hit). I was stunned, but laughing. The dirt was so soft that my leg sank into it -- if it hadn't been soft, I probably would have crushed my leg.

We parked the bike and looked up at the dome. The base of it was a mix of granite boulders and some low, spiky growth -- some plant I couldn't identify. We picked out a trail and started up the dome, scrambling over the rock and pulling ourselves up hand over foot through the brush that grew in the cracks.

By the time we reached the top we were both out of breath and a little dizzy as we surveyed the scenery. The Sierras stretched out, undulating in its grandeur, in every direction.

We were on top of the world.

I did it. I climbed the mountain. Sure, I fell on my ass more than once doing it (once on the way back down I fell backwards, we weren't using ropes like the dumasses we are, and I thought for sure, "This is it. I'm dead," but I landed on my ass in a pile of brambles, thank god).

I did what I set out to do. I'm still alive. And I'll hold that memory forever.

And I'm ready to climb the next mountain. I sure as hell am not waiting another 30 years to do it, either.

Sunday, August 13, 2006

Lesson 7: Happiness is a Journey, Not a Destination and Sometimes It's a Long-Ass Road

So I quit this job that I had for, like, four days. It was my dream job in a cute little town in the mountains, writing for the community daily.

But I wasn't happy.

My car broke the second day on the job and I was forking out $25 a day to drive a rental car an hour and a half up the hill from where I'm living now to the office, and I was miserable.

It was a nice drive. I'd leave at 6 a.m. and watch the sun rise over the mountain range -- the sun's rays casting orange spikes over the peaks -- the sky changing from midnight blue to gray to azure.

But I need more than a beautiful sunrise. I need hope. And I felt hopeless after four days on the job in a little hick town that shut down at 9 p.m.

So I quit and created chaos. The ridiculous thing is that I'm so happy to be freefalling again. Who knows where I'm headed now. My options are now severely limited -- there are no other newspapers within driving distance that I want to work at -- but to me, all that means is that my future is limitless. No more community newspapers. I'm headed for something new -- a destination unknown.

And that's fine by me. I am an adventurer at heart, after all.

Tuesday, August 01, 2006

Lesson 6: You Can Take the Girl Out of the Mountains, But You Can't Take the Mountains Out of the Girl

It's strange to come home. Strange to be climbing the golden, rolling California hills in my little Protege, watching the golden oaks slip by and the mazanita creep up the hillside. Sliding higher until the ponderosas take over and the scent of bear clover wafts through the open window.

I packed a bottle of red wine and a blanket and took my little, silver touring car four-wheeling a couple of weeks ago. I bumped down an old logging road past the last of the late-spring lupin and tumbled granite -- high up on the side of a mountain where I could look out over the undulating pine-covered range and breathe real, fresh air and just -- be. Sure there's scratches all over my new car's doors from the overgrowth along the trail's edge, but it was worth it.

A few days ago I tagged along with a friend to a little mountain town where they hold a world-famous annual frog-jumping contest. We visited some friends of his and drank a few beers. And it hit me. I haven't climbed an oak tree in at least 10 years.

So I stripped off my sandles, saddled my skirt up around my thighs and mobbed the first tree I found with a crotch low enough for me to hop into. My friend said I couldn't do it. Thirty feet up, I looked down at him and asked if he still thought I wasn't strong enough.

Don't ever come between a mountain girl and her oak tree.