In the morning it was raining.
I woke up. I listened to the rain. I thought, Not today.
I closed my eyes.
An hour later it stopped raining but still the air oozed dim. The tent poles arched heroically. A fly crawled around and around one, then buzzed weakly. It hit the rain fly, again and again.
I thought, maybe coffee.
I sat up and unzipped the tent and reached for my stove. I went against all black bear protocol I had ever learned or taught to earnest New Mexico Boy Scouts and made coffee from my sleeping bag.
I am Storming, I thought.
Tuckman’s stages of group development. I used to warn Boy Scouts about it. “Be mindful of each other when you’re Storming,” I said. “That’s the worst part. Be compassionate when that happens.”
I wished I had myself as a ranger to tell myself things like that. Exactly myself, outside my body, younger, to appear in a polo-shirted hologram and say, “That’s the worst part. Be compassionate when that happens.” Or to just smile at myself.
How do you do that for yourself, in the deep midst of Storming?
Forming. Honeymoons, idealism, applying for grants, reading about gear, opening crisp maps. High enthusiasm, low ability.
Storming. Feet with the texture and stability of ground beef. Rain. Flashy, intense emotions. Trailular Amnesia: inability to remember why you decided a thru hike would be a good idea. Low enthusiasm, low ability.
Norming. New boots. Feelings of neutrality. Your feet don’t hurt, and this surprises you. This thru hike isn’t so bad, and that surprises you, too, but you’re not quite ready to say it’s good. Better pace. Rhythm: morning coffee, morning trail, high views, rain. Low enthusiasm, high ability.
Performing. The best ideas come in the morning. The best ideas come when the sun shines and you stride along the trail like a nymph. Your legs stretch strong and tan and able. Your feet have calloused. You’ve ditched the worst of the gear and replaced it with warmer, lighter stuff. You discover Cheez-Its. You hitchhike by yourself. You decide, this is mine. This hike. This is my hike. Early, you reach a high, high altitude, thousands of feet above treeline. A pika watches you. You say aloud, hello, Colorado. I see you.
High enthusiasm, high ability. It would come, slowly, and once it had arrived I would not be able to pinpoint when.
Today, though, I was Storming. I sat in my sleeping bag. I looked out at the meadow. I held my coffee.
I didn’t think about much. I stared.
At home, I overthought. I thought, thought, thought. My thoughts looked like bean sprouts but pulled like chains. Thoughts tangled upon one another and knotted around each other, so that I should pay my parking tickets girdled How delicious this meal and how loving these people.
The thought, adulthood can’t be all about thinking too much, hummed beneath these thoughts, not a bean sprout, not a chain. Something living. An idea.
Now, in my sleeping bag, with my ground beef feet and my hot instant coffee, I thought nothing. I came hiking to burst out of the anxious adulthood I had accidentally built for myself. Now my feet hurt too much to think. Mission accomplished.
No wisdom, though. Not yet. Now, just physical pain.
I had one thought every half hour or so.
I thought, grumpily: pretty meadow.
Then, later, I thought: okay. I’ll get out of the tent.
I thought, But NOTHING ELSE.
I thought, I will sit on the log and I will do nothing else.
I got out of the tent and sat on the log.
I did nothing else.
Then the sun infiltrated the ranks of the clouds and shined on me.
For the first time since the day had started, I smiled.
I pulled my bare hamburger feet up to the log. I wiggled my toes in the gold sun.
“Okay,” I said aloud. Okay. I’ll hike.