I’m not sure if this letter is supposed to be to the 26 year old version of myself, looking back at where I was a year ago, or the 27 year old version of myself, hopeful for things to come. Maybe it’s supposed to be a reminder of where I am right now, writing down this moment independent of any nostalgia for the past or wishes for the future.
I am, at any given moment, convinced that I’m doing it all wrong. Do you know how some people just know? They have that feeling in their gut that tells them they’re on the right path, or that they’ve found the one, or that they aren’t about to be murdered? I think I was born without that. I have a feeling in my gut that consistently tells me I should turn back.
This is an inconvenient realization to have when everyone keeps asking you if you’re sure that you still want to climb a mountain in the dark. If my gut was anything to go by, we would have never even left town and just camped in the basement at the Heathers’ house, eating Gushers and Fruit Roll Ups and singing happy birthday over individually wrapped Zebra Cakes.
If my gut was anything to go by, we were all about to be murdered. It would be a sensational story, they’d probably make a movie about us: seven young women decide to climb a mountain to celebrate a birthday. Tragedy strikes. A tumble off a cliff, a bear attack, a crazy person with a machete. The last known footage of the girls shows them around a kitchen table, arguing about if its a rock scramble or a rock crumble. They had such bright futures.
We started hiking sometime after midnight. It’s disorienting hiking at night, when your world shrinks down to everything that you can see by the light of your headlamp. There is a lot to worry about. There’s the usual, immediate stuff: the wet log up ahead is a bear; the wind shaking the trees is a bear; there’s a bear behind me; basically anything and everything is a bear. And then there’s the usual, existential stuff: you’ll probably be alone forever; you’re nearly thirty, what do you have to show for it; if everyone dies, this was your idea, let’s think about all the other bad ideas and regrets you’ve had in your life.
I’ve never been fully at ease in the dark. There’s a lot of things that go wrong in the nighttime. Car crashes and phone calls with bad news. Panic attacks and the overwhelming and crushing certainty that the sun will never rise again. You can only prepare for the things you see coming and, when its dark, that’s not a whole lot.
But maybe that’s the trick to being 27: you know all of the ways things can go wrong but you also know a scant handful of ways that they can go right. So you choose to keep going.
There’s a Cheryl Strayed quote from Into the Wild that I adore: “There’s always a sunrise and there’s always a sunset and it’s up to you to be there for it. Put yourself in the way of beauty.”
I can’t control the bad things or the bears or the chemical makeup of my brain. But I can force myself to stay awake for 32 hours, to put one foot in front of the other, to show up, to try.
We hit the summit around 3 AM. By the time we hang our food bag and our hammocks, its sometime close to 4. Everyone’s clothes are damp with sweat and there are 2 sleeping bags between 7 humans. No one really sleeps, just shivers until the sky starts to glow, then we’re doing jumping jacks and hopping in place to warm up.
On the way to Cracker Barrel the next morning, after being awake for about 27 hours, that was the thing I was most in awe of. Not the physical accomplishment of the hike, not the rows of mountain ridges, not the sunrise or being knocked around by the wind on the edge of a cliff. Somehow, everyone is still alive.
There’s always a sunrise. Improbably, the world keeps spinning. Seven girls walk out of the woods, not murdered. Life goes on.
Good luck with 27, M. Lord knows you’ll need all the help you can get.