“You have arrived.”
I scan the road ahead. Rounding another hairpin corner on the windy mountain road, I see a clearing in the trees -a large paved pullout with a Forest Service trailhead sign.
Finally. I take a deep breath and pull over. I've only been on the road for 2 hours, but within the last 4 days I've now driven for a total of 24 hours. Add that time to the daily meetings, stacks of paperwork, and my overflowing email inbox, and I’m exhausted. I need some hiking therapy.
I climb out of the car and approach the sign. A map of the area reveals that I am not at the trailhead, but a pullout about a quarter mile away. Frustrated, I get back into the car and slam the driver-side door shut. I’m not adding a detour to my hike after all this damn driving.
A short drive later and I see another pullout, this one packed with vehicles. This must be it. “Probably gonna be crowded,” I mutter bitterly.
I grab my water bottle and make my way to the trailhead. A wide wooden bridge is suspended across a shallow river. I pull out my phone and snap a few photos, hoping that one of them turns out good enough to post on Instagram. Then I make way across the bridge and into the woods beyond.
As my feet take me into the wilderness, my mind leaves the dirt path and returns to the small conference room I was in just 2 hours prior. Around the table sit 8 interns, just having returned from 4 months of maintaining trails in Northern Idaho. They’re exhausted from the long days and grateful to have completed their term of service, but mostly they’re energetic and filled with a sense of pride. Their energy is a welcome reprieve from the day-in, day-out desk-work, and this brief meeting reminds me why I do the work I do.
As suddenly as this memory enters, it is joined by an alarming thought: “Did I have them fill out all the forms they needed to?” I begin running through a mental checklist and nothing seems to be missing, but my anxiety wants me to believe otherwise.
I return my attention to the trail, facing a sudden incline. My legs haven’t been conditioned by a regular exercise routine, a fact of which I’m reminded as a steady burn creeps into my thighs.
“What happened to me?” I think. “When I was in the military I was in the best shape of my life. Why did I stop?” I briefly consider the notion of joining the reserves. There are some benefits I could definitely use: better healthcare, a chance to be a part of the camaraderie again, and opportunities to deploy and see the world. Then I remember the realities of military life: never knowing what time I was going home for the day, hazing rituals, and friends who have seen more death than they care to.
“Am I doing enough with my life?” I wonder aloud.
I pause at the top of the incline, blinking as a ray of light peers between the trees. The trail ahead is bordered by a lively brook, babbling fervently through the wilderness. Tiny padded feet dash through the underbrush and a chipmunk leaps onto a tree stump in front of me. Taking a deep breath, I inhale the fresh smell of pine trees. I hold the breath in for a second, then exhale gently.
I’ve been on the trail for 20 minutes and in that time I’ve spent none of it in this forest. Drawing in another breath, I count slowly to 3, hold my breath for a moment, and then breathe out, counting to 3 again. I feel a cool breeze kiss away the sweat on my forehead.
The deep greens and ruddy browns of the forest fill my vision - a stunning contrast to the grey concrete of the road. I continue to focus on my breaths and enter the forest, now feeling present in the moment.
“This is enough,” I remind myself.