All throughout that day, I kept stopping to say Thank You. I was alone, so the thank you wasn’t expressed to a particular person. As a lifelong atheist, I did not express my gratitude to any higher power. But each step, each breath of the crisp, thin, wild mountain air, I moved and breathed in gratitude.
My sister, once untamed and spontaneous, has changed now that she has become a mother. She was very nervous about my trip. She didn’t think that I was prepared to hike the Rockies. She warned me that it wasn’t safe. What if I got lost? What if I fell and couldn’t get off the trail? What if someone was seeking out a woman hiking alone to attack them? Having always been the level headed planner among my siblings, I laughed as I told her I would not be going to Colorado without a hike in Rocky Mountain National Park. I made her feel just a little bit better as I listed off the items in my day pack, which included a compass and a whistle.
When I first started my hike that day, I had a few moments when I worried maybe she was right, maybe I wasn’t strong enough. The air was so thin and sharp and at first no matter what I did, I could not catch my breath. But as this was the only day, the only chance that I had to see the Rocky Mountains, I pushed myself. I tried to focus on my breathing. I channeled deep within my blood and my bones, and I became acclimated to the altitude.
Each turn on the trails led to even more splendor, each surprise encouraged me to quicken my pace so that I could see even more before the sun set. I became a friendlier version of myself – encouraging other hikers to push on. I made sure I told the only other solo woman hiker I saw to keep her eye out for the female elk just ahead on the trail.
In my daily city world, I am disgusted by rodents. But that day, a very friendly critter seemed curious about me, and I let him crawl on my shoes and stare at my socks. I thanked him for his visit.
I learned to love hiking and spending time outdoors during the six years I lived in California. As a child and young adult I found solace in museums and theatres, and I did not spend much time outside. Perhaps one reason for this is because I grew up in eastern Massachusetts, spending time at the beach was for the most part, the only time I spent extended periods of time outside. I also fit in with the other people in my life who lived in their minds and imaginations. I thrived in intellectual and artistic settings, excelling at school and studying classical music. I shied away from dirt. I wanted nothing to do with my mother’s life as an herbalist and horticulturalist. But living in California, surrounded by the majestic beauty of the Golden State, I relished every visit to the beach – knowing that I would see sea lions or dolphins from the shore. I learned to love the redwoods, hiking for twelve exhilarating miles at a time, wrapped in the wonder of the timeless forests. Now, I can find peace and joy both at at theatre, and in the grandeur of the outdoors.
All throughout that day, I kept stopping to say Thank You. The slopes and valleys of the Rockies did not seem to be real to the naked eye. My visit happened to be during elk mating season, and I was treated to very close and personal visits with the giant and peaceful creatures. I hiked as far as I could. Strangers asked me, was I really alone? I answered yes, but somehow I felt that I was not. I cannot begin to describe the overwhelming sense of peace, of gratitude as I stopped to enjoy each waterfall, or glorious mountain range, named for some great explorer from long ago. People who managed their hikes in much more treacherous times before me. No hiker blogs to guide them, no high tech clothing to keep their sweaty bodies warm. I thanked them for their fierce sense of adventure, long before the millions of visitors had stamped out trails among the mountains.
I thanked those that protected and preserved the unreal beauty that surrounded me.
I thanked my work, although dull, as I couldn’t have afforded to travel alone without it.
I thanked the land, each vista point allowing a brief moment to touch on that which is sacred.
For the first time, I thanked myself, for taking this extra time to honor my goals and dreams to see more of this magnificent country.
I even thanked the government, for keeping the National Park system alive.
I breathed in deeply as I sat alone and watched the sun set in Rocky Mountain National Park.
All throughout that day, I kept stopping to say Thank You. I spent my one day in the park physically challenging myself. More than that – not allowing myself to say I could not go another mile. I thanked my body for believing in what my mind asked it to do. I thanked my muscles for taking me to see so much rare beauty. I embraced the feelings of gratitude, awe, and contemplative craving for time alone, time to wonder about myself, my mental strength, and my body’s limits.
All throughout that day, I kept stopping to say Thank You. A day feeling lucky that the mountains reminded me I am healthy enough to hike, strong enough to be alone, wise enough to take advantage of the opportunity to travel within my own beautiful country.