I had a lot of time to think about this letter. I had a lot of time to think about a lot of things. It’s a four hour drive from Phoenix to the trailhead for Havasupai. It takes roughly 5 hours to hike 10 miles with a 30 pound pack.
Not that I was trying to do a lot of thinking. In fact, I actively tried to not think about things. If I did, I’d start to get overwhelmed. I broke the trip down to pieces: first, we just have to get to the trailhead and go to sleep. Next, wake up at 4 AM. Thirdly, start walking. Don’t stop, don’t think about how, for every step you take downhill, you have to take it again going back uphill. Don’t think about every time you thought you could do something, that it would difficult but you’d figure it out and make it through, you turned out to be wrong. Don’t think about how, if something happens--if you get bit by a snake or your back starts seizing up or your knee starts buckling or you simply change your mind--you can’t readily turn back. Set up your tent, take a nap, swim in the river, eat mac n cheese. Pare things down to the simple and essential.
On Saturday, waiting nearly forty-five minutes to scurry through a tunnel in a cliff, then shimmy down a series of steps and ladders carved and chained to a spray-soaked cliff face, I started to feel trapped. There was a woman at the back of the line who was loudly complaining about the wait, that someone needed to be supervising the one lane of traffic and volunteering herself for the task. It made me all the more determined to take my time.
I’m inclined to rush things. I want to know what comes next; ever since I was a kid, I’ve had this horrible habit of skipping ahead and reading the ending.
Life feels like it should be about the big moments, both the highs and the lows: trips and adventures, new jobs, the ending of a book series, babies and weddings and funerals, a diagnosis, landmarks on a timeline, Befores and Afters. But the majority of life is the stuff in the middle. The day in and day out of going to work and grocery shopping, the routine of after school practices and the daily commute, the mostly flat six miles between switchbacks and a campground.
I’m trying to get better about being happy in the middle, about finding things to be grateful for and fighting to keep myself grounded by them. A cup of really good coffee. A long paddle. Monthly dinners with book club. Asking a friend for a favor.
At dinner on Monday night, wearing clean clothes and realizing I probably should’ve shaved my legs because we were back in a place where those sort of things--clean clothes and shaved legs--mattered, we all said our highs and lows for the trip.
For the low, I don’t remember what I said when it was my turn because, at the end of the day, it was done. The lows became highs simply by the fact that we’d finished in spite of them, whatever they had been.
My high, however, was this: on Saturday, after we made it down the very slippery and very unsteady live action version of Chutes and Ladders, we made an easy, eight mile trek through a canyon to Beaver Falls and back again. And the sun was shining and I wasn’t wearing any pants and the water was cold and impossibly blue and there were enough green plants to look at to last me a lifetime and I could walk for as long as I liked on easy, hardpacked trails and I didn’t have to climb back out of the canyon yet or hike ten miles back to the trailhead. I was halfway through the trip, firmly ensconced in the middle, and blessedly content.
All of this is to say thank you. Thank you for picking up those cards and for packaging them up and for dropping them off at the shop. I’m not very good at asking for help so I’m grateful not just for what you did but also for who you are, for your quiet and steady and grounding friendship, for checking in and for always helping. Thank you for being in my middle.
You’re the best egg in town, pal.