The snow crunched magically beneath my feet. Mt Rainier towered over us, as we huffed and puffed and struggled our way higher and higher. It felt like we should have summited the mountain by now, based on how much effort it felt we had exerted. I rubbed my belly.
“Please don’t name your baby Gordon.”
“Deal,” I laughed.
Tomorrow I would be finding out if “Poppyseed” was a little girl or a little boy. Everyone was contributing their thoughts to the naming process, which meant they all wanted me to name my child after them (except for Gordon). That was January 3rd, 2016.
One year later.
Anxiety welled within me as I gathered my snowshoe gear. We were heading back to the same place. The same group of people.
It would be my first time back on my snowshoes since little Ayden Nicole was born.
The first time snowshoeing since losing my little girl.
I hadn’t even considered declining the invitation to join our group’s now annual snowshoe adventure. A bunch of coworkers just being intentional about spending time outside. What was wrong with that?
That’s why I’d agreed to go without even thinking.
But as I realized that the last time I was out with them a year prior was the last outdoor adventure I would have ever had before my heart had been completely wrecked, the nerves started to overwhelm and take over. The same day we found out she was a little girl, we simultaneously found out about her birth defect, which was “incompatible with life.” That last snowshoe trip before my world had been turned upside down.
Zero part of me wanted to go.
Couldn’t I preserve my last snowshoe memory, and call it good? Back when the world was still put together, everything made sense, and I didn’t have this gaping hole in my heart? Going out again felt like I was painting over a beautiful piece of art. And the new piece of art was not going to be as beautiful. It was going to be darker, incomplete, empty.
I thought about canceling. I texted my sister instead.
“You’re still going tomorrow, right?”
Curses. She never backed out of things. I guess I’d go if she was going.
Anxiety levels continued to climb higher and higher.
We didn’t make it to Mt Rainier because of a road closure, so we settled on a forest service road at the top of White Pass. There was a few feet of fresh powder, and our group blazed the trail, as we were the first intruders that day.
The weather was perfect, the company was excellent, and I didn’t want to be there.
I still wasn’t in the greatest shape after everything from the last year, so the six miles felt like an eternity. My hip-flexors felt like they were going to just fall off my body. At the end of the trail, we had no view. It was just more forest. It was meh.
But by the time I had gotten home that night, I realized that I had pushed through what felt like unreasonable amounts of anxiety. I had survived my first snowshoe trip since losing Ayden.
I’d done it.
Something about that felt really, really good.
Getting out and doing something for the first time after loss or trauma can feel debilitating. It can feel meaningless.
It can feel like you are painting over something perfect with something you know will never be perfect.
The mind games we play with ourselves can seem endless. You might wonder if you’ll actually survive. And you will most certainly wonder if it will be worth it.
It is worth it.
Fast forward another year.
January 6th, 2018.
Without really connecting the dots, I ended up back on the same forest service road at the top of White Pass, snowshoes once again strapped to my feet, crunching my way through the freezing air. This time in different company. I was with my friend Stacey Arnold, who I had met through a hiking Facebook group.
We met up at 5:30am so we could try to catch a sunrise. The typical grey of Washington winters prevented us from being wowed by the start of a new day, but we didn’t care. We tromped on the Forest Service road, then found a frozen lake to walk around. We did 8 miles before noon, and called it a day. We laughed a lot. Stacey made a functional tripod out of trekking poles. We talked. We breathed. We took joy in simply existing.
This was the first outdoor adventure I’d been on in 2 years where I hadn’t been riddled with anxiety the 24 hours leading up to it. It was refreshing. It was empowering. It gave me hope for the progress I’ve been making in terms of trying to find healing, wholeness, and joy.
The first time getting back out there wasn’t what I would call fun, but it was progress. It was me saying I would not be controlled by anxiety. It was a step forward. And after surviving that first adventure, I knew I could survive more. There were plenty of times I wondered if I would ever be able to face the trail without first having to navigate through anxiety. There were plenty of time spent wondering if it would ever get easier.
Hundreds of miles later, I finally found that yes, it does get easier. And I have no way of knowing whether or not this will rein true of all future adventures, but I do know one thing for sure – I have never regretted stepping foot on the trail.
The more time I’ve spent in the mountains, the more I’ve been able to find healing, wholeness, and joy.