Left, right. In, out.
That’s all there is when you’re on the mountain. The steady rhythm of your feet. The soothing sound of your own breath. Just your body and the trail ahead of you.
I write this atop East Rock looking down on New Haven, the hazy blue sea to my left, an endless stretch of autumnal trees to my right. There’s an adorable elderly couple a little ways away, chatting, laughing and holding hands — something I normally wouldn’t care to notice, given my perpetual state of hustling to my next class, the library or Blue State for that necessary caffeine hit. But up here, far from the seemingly never-ending rush of campus, I can see a little more clearly.
Before fall break (oh hey #5dayWKND), I was a mess on the verge of a breakdown. I felt suffocated, inundated in a wave of work and entangled in the web of my personal problems and the ones of others. I know, of course, that I’m far from the only one — we’re all lost in our own heads, attempting to navigate our own tempest. But this solidarity, while comforting on its face, seems to make it all the harder.
My depression, for a while dormant, had once again reared its ugly head to drag me under. I was drowning. So I decided to hike.
It wasn’t a decision I arrived to on my own — my friend chose this time to invite me to stay with her up in Vermont, in a house obscured by trees of every shade of autumn, virtually secluded from the rest of the world. Whether or not she knew it then, this trip would prove the life raft that pulled me out from beneath the murky waters in which I had struggled to stay afloat.
I rose Friday morning for my first full day and, as quite the delightful contrast to New Haven, wasn’t woken up by the excruciatingly loud beeping of rubbish trucks or the obnoxious gunning of a motorcycle engine. I stepped outside, the only sounds to be heard the light chirp of a blue jay and the wind whistling through the leaves, which at this time of the year were barely clinging to the trees.
As we embarked on our first hike of the trip, up Belvidere Mountain, I still struggled to quiet the swirl of infinite thoughts in my head, going round and round and round again. But the further up the mountain we climbed, the easier it became to let go. All I could think about was putting one foot in front of the other and measuring my breath. As we marched onwards and upwards, I watched the browned autumn slowly turn to a winter wonderland, a virgin layer of snow covering that dying season.
Gradually, my mind began to resemble the snow on the path: clean. Clear. The troubles that had so haunted me in New Haven became suddenly manageable as I grew completely absorbed in my body and the mountain. Left, right. In, out.
Coming down, the browned leaves that had so reminded me of death before were beautiful, creating a multicolored carpet that crunched ever so satisfyingly underfoot as we made our way back out of the forest.
I was worried that on my return to New Haven this state of clarity would leave me and I would be left once again to face my demons alone. I lay in bed Sunday night remembering all the things I had to do this week. Write a paper. Study for a test. Organize a fundraiser. Organize gear orders. Write another paper. Start research for a final paper. Write this column. And most importantly: Find a Halloween costume (in case you were wondering, I settled on hipster Minnie Mouse).
I could feel myself beginning to panic, that intermittent cycle creeping back into light. So I made a pledge: “Allie, tomorrow you are going to hike to East Rock.” Though comparably small next to the sprawling, majestic mountains of Vermont, that brief hike still provided me with that calm that had so relieved me up north. Left, right. In, out.
I’m not one to run away from things. I know that my problems won’t just magically disappear every time I go for a hike — they’ll still be waiting for me at the bottom. But with clear eyes and a clear mind, the kind only found in a trek up nature’s walkways, I know I can tackle them. I know that I am stronger than them.
If you ever want to join me on a hike, just hit me up. Monday afternoons and weekend mornings, rain or shine. Providing there isn’t over a foot of snow on the ground, of course. Ain’t nobody got time for that.