This Love

IMG_5851My phone rang. I looked down to see Shirley’s name light up on my screen, a client who had become a dear friend/grandmother.  My heart tightened. “She’s calling to tell me something had happened to MC.”  MC, also my client/friend/grandmother, was admitted to the memory care unit at Ashleigh. I haven’t spoken with them since earlier this year.

“Hi, Kim!” Shirley said in a rather delightful voice.

“Hi, Shirley!”

“You know that MC, myself, John and Carrie made the joint decision for MC to be placed in the memory care unit at the Ashleigh center.  We did that back in May.”

“Yes, yes I do. I called you around that time just to reach out letting you know I’m here but didn’t expect a return call. When I didn’t hear from you, I wanted to give you space. I get updated from Sue periodically.”

”Yeah well lots has happened with my health too including double vision and I can’t drive anymore. The doctor is doing a series of texts to get a sense of what’s going on but we don’t know yet. John and Carrie have been Godsends, flying in about once a month each. I’m wondering if you would be willing to come out and give MC a massage. Her neck. She’s saying her neck is tight and sore. I think a massage from you would be wonderful. I totally understand if it’s too far.”

”Of course. I’d be honored.”

Upon arriving at Shirley’s house, I saw her shrinking rugged frame sitting in her chair at the edge of the open garage. Her bright eyes met mine as her smile gently appeared. I walked up to her, kissed her and leaned into a tight, endearing hug.

”Hi, you! You look so good!” I share with her.

”So do you! Cute as ever!” She declares back.

“We’re looking at a reflection of one another, then!”

We catch up. I get the scoop on MC as we roll toward Leesburg.

Opening the door of her room, we see that MC isn’t there. “AWW, I told her to be here, she’s getting a massage today. She must be down at the dining area.” Shirley states.

Shirley’s moving much more slowly these days and so a walk down to the end of the hallway seemed like an entire football field. “I’ll go get her. Just tell me what to do.” I reply.

I walk past a group of people sitting in a large circle with oversized soft rackets and a jumbo balloon. There was a moderator – a soft-spoken African man who led with such compassion as he served the balloon with his racket to each senior in the circle. It was fun watching them know what to do. Off at the other end of the dining room, I saw my friend sitting in a wheelchair eating her pancakes. She looked similar to when I saw her last. I say that because another client I went to see a year ago in the memory care center of another facility had declined so rapidly, I no longer saw “her” in the decrepit little body occupying the wheelchair. When did she succumb to a wheelchair? It was only months before she was driving to my office!

I’m smiling as I step up to MC. I sit.

“Hi! How are you?” MC says to me looking as if she is flipping through her Rolodex in her brain.

“Do you remember who I am?” I ask.

“You look familiar. Did you drive all the way down here from Pittsburgh?”

“No. I didn’t come from Pittsburgh. I live in Arlington.”

“When did you move from Pittsburgh? She asks again.

“I never lived in Pittsburgh, Marycarol. Do you remember how you know me?”

“Kind of.” Her brain appears to be working hard. “You know, I know something is off, I see these faces like yours and I know you have been in my life but I just can’t place how. And it just takes too much out of me to remember. ”

“I used to massage you at my office.”

“Oh, that’s it! I remember!”

“Do you remember the words of wisdom you passed on to me when I would share some of my girl drama with you?”

“I did? No, I don’t remember.”

“You said, ‘Don’t be a narcissistic bitch!’ when I was trying to figure certain patterns that continued to play out in my relationship with some girl at the time. I’ll never forget that,” I say laughingly. “It was very powerful advice.”

She laughed and said, “Wow, I said that? That’s good advice!”

“Do you realize that you were instrumental in so many people’s lives as a psychologist?” I ask again.

“Sometimes I remember what I did and I just can’t believe that I did that. Sometimes I think I’m in my office when I’m here.” She replies.

“How would you like to get a massage now?”

“Oh, I’d love that!” And for a moment she recalls all the kindness that people have shown her in her life and speaks through her tears with such gratitude for how wonderful her life has been. Her tears are tender and loving.

I stand behind her chair and begin to wheel slowly down the football field of a hallway to her one-room apartment. I open the door to see Shirley sitting with her book 7 feet away. She stands.

Shirley’s eyes light up. “Hi, sweetheart!” She says with a most gentle, authentic smile, love emanating from her body.

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“Hi!” MC adoringly says back as Shirley leans in to kiss her. They kiss and separate. Each says ‘Hi’ again, lovestruck when they return towards the kiss. They are teenagers falling in love for the first time. “Hi, my love!” One of them says. And they kiss again. Tears are falling from my eyes. I have to turn around for a moment so I don’t go audible.

“Are you ready for your massage? I brought Kim here to help you.” Shirley shares.

“Yea, I’m ready. And then I’m going to go see a Dr. for my neck. It’s sore.” MC declares.

“This is why I brought Kim because she’s going to help you with your neck,” Shirley tells her again.

“Oh, okay! Well, then we better get started.”

I massage her on her bed and within minutes she is out! MC can sleep in a moving car while driving, so of course, relaxed in a bed would be fitting to fall asleep. Shirley watched with a mixture of love and sadness strewn across her face.

As MC lay there with eyes closed, I kiss her forehead as I finish.

I peer over to Shirley as I signal to her, asking if we should wake her. She gently shakes her head, “No.” Shirley walks over to kiss her lips and MC awakens. She lights up in joy. “This was so nice. Thank you for doing this for me,” she says to both of us.

The girls kiss. They are 18 again. They kiss. And then another and another. I am both tickled and honored to be standing in the energetic field of this perfect love. “Bye, sweetheart. I love you. I’ll see you in a couple days.” Shirley says to MC.

“I love you, sweetheart. Thanks for coming today. One more kiss.”

So they do.

This love. Tonight I will hold my wife a little tighter. Because someday I’ll wake up, and this may be us.

 

 

 

 

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Day 3

A 90 minute listen to meditations and coaching I’d missed within my Awakening Feminine Power framework started my day the moment I opened my eyes. While I emptied the entire contents of my much-disheveled suitcase bag to re-introduce organization, I would STOP and sit in meditation at Claire’s cues to drop into my pelvis and feet. Multitasking at it’s finest. I’m learning in the last few minutes of this 4th decade that it doesn’t have to be perfect. Anything! While she shared her wisdom, I sorted and packed, when she softened and slowed her voice and her breathing became slightly more audible, I sat, closing my eyes. My years of experience as a bodyworker and meditator serve me well in that I could “connect and feel” rather quickly. If it didn’t happen now, it wasn’t gonna happen at all today. Giving myself permission to “do it” this way without judgment like I’ve done in the past created a successful and liberating morning.

I stopped by the breakfast station inside the hotel, scanned the food choices, thanked the hotel silently for free nourishment, but decided to pass it up in exchange for something that would make my taste buds dance. While my taste buds never did dance this particular morning, my spirit did when I walked into Wheat Ridge Cyclery. The most amazing showroom of a bike shop I have ever stepped into! I was greeted by Steuart who invited me to tour the shop. As massive as the showroom floor was, the “behind the scenes” were just as capacious: multiple wrenching areas – I think I counted four, a demo bike wash room, a room dedicated to the eye-popping demo fleet, one for the triple stacked new bikes boxes, repairs, an upstairs that split space between bike fittings and admin offices. I was definitely in heaven.

While Steuart prepared my bike, pumping the shocks to my physical stats, we talked about local trails. He printed off a map for Three Sisters at the request for technical, fun, flowy, great views and well marked. Phew! He sent me on my way and off I went.

A quick photo of Lego Laura starting the ride alongside me made me feel like we were together. IMG_5325

A full blue sunny sky with temps around 80 somethin, my heart was tingling. As is not uncommon, I rode 15 minutes on this well cared for, yet rugged trail, before feeling uncertain of which direction to go. As well-marked as a trail can be, there is ALWAYS an intersection that is obscure and not on the map. So I took a right. And right away, a dude was riding toward me who turned me around. I met up with him again 5 minutes later and ask him about the rest of the trail.  Actually, I’m heading in the direction that you want to go and I’m out for a chill ride if you want to hang.”

“I would love that,” I said. “But this is your backyard. I will only hold you back.”

“I haven’t been on a bike in three weeks. I’m just grateful to be out here. And it’s more fun to have someone to ride with!” Jim replied.

 

 

 

And so we did. It’s true I was sucking wind but it didn’t matter. There was fun to be had. Especially on the section of trail called Sisters, across the street from where I was parked. Switchbacks and an amazing technical descent through rock gardens. This is my jam! Rocky and fast, furious and fun with the occasional natural rock jump, this trail provided many opportunities to practice “butt off the saddle riding.”

I’m always so grateful when I’ve finished an incredible ride successfully, happy that it’s done without any take-home evidence, except a smile.  Jim and I hugged as we shared our excitement for having met each other and amplifying one another’s ride.  #TravelMagic.

I jumped in my car and entered my cousin’s address into the Waze. I was already in Evergreen so didn’t have far to travel.

I met my cousin, Lara, who I hadn’t seen in two years. Seeing her and meeting her new son was a treat. Her daughter, who was no longer in the baby stroller like I’d seen her last, was up and about and communicating and animated and like 4! A wonderful moment indeed. Sitting on her porch was icing on the cake.

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I checked the calendar of artists before I left for CO and Shakey Graves was listed for Thursday night at Red Rocks. I checked him out on YouTube and wondered how I’m only hearing him for the first time. I bought tickets.  I was about to check off another box on the dream list – that is to make it to Red Rocks Amphitheatre. I dressed for the occasion and set out toward Morrison.

 

Seeing a concert at Red Rocks is a sure commitment and another reason to stay fit. Or get fit by running the stairs each morning at sunrise. Yeah, it’s a thing.

The stairs went on…

 

IMG_5380 and on…..

IMG_5378 and on….

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But then, I understood.

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IMG_5406The headliner didn’t arrive on stage until 10pm. I was hoping the concert would be wrapping it up about that time, not just beginning. Shakey had two openers that took to the stage from 6 until 10.  I watched and listened to the crowd go wild for 30 minutes with his performance. My eyes and energy were content, and I left. Signs were posted all along the road declaring a noise ordinance would be in effect around 10 or 11pm. I was disappointed that he would probably be playing for an hour in total, and well into my eastern time zone weary bedtime, considering the 6pm show start time. I reminded myself of my initial goal. I made it to Red Rocks. A cool show would just be more icing.

By the time I pulled into my cousin’s driveway and entered their home, Ed, my cousin’s husband, and Lara were asking me about the show.

“More importantly, I want to know if you have everything you need for tomorrow’s ride?” I ask Ed. Before I left for the concert, Ed asked about the mountain bike in my car and where I’ve ridden so far. After I told him, he seemed a little surprised. I had my own quiet surprise because all I knew of this man was that he was a retired CEO of one of the largest accounting networks in the world. I thought something like mountain biking would be beneath him. Amazing how we see people sometimes.

While at the concert, I received a text from my cousin saying, “Ed is scared to death but he wants to join you on your ride tomorrow. He is picking up his mountain bike from the shop now as it’s been there for 3 months.”

“Tell him to be ready at 9am,” I text back.

“I think I have everything.” As he told me what he has.

“Bring him back alive, please.” Lara states.

“I promise to bring him back alive and I’ll ask him to make sure I don’t make any ER visits. That’s become a thing for me. Rather a thing for Laura with me.” I reply.

Laughing, Lara shoots back, “Don’t make such promises.”

“And fun!” Looking at Ed, I smile and add, “I promise you fun tomorrow.”

 

 

 

Day 4

IMG_5419Buffalo Creek is comprised of pea gravel. What’s pea gravel, you ask?  It’s those tiny pebbly stones that crush down into a sandy like spread. My guess is it’s used to abate erosion. It also makes for a flatter surface which invites a varied level of experience to enjoy the trails.  Ed and I got BC around 10:30. Looking forward to sharing the joy of mountain biking with an avid road cyclist who has just purchased his first mountain bike. Ed is 62. Anyone is my hero who makes a decision to hop on a mountain bike on the back 9. Ed has altitude in his wheelhouse. I don’t.  I have the 30 years experience of mountain biking in mine. He doesn’t. SO we’re even!?

 

Oh my, Buffalo Creek, high up in the mountains overlooking other mountains. My happiness factor is at about a 10. (Having Laura with me would have made it an 11!) The ride is a gradual rise in altitude, meandering trail.

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Nothing technical, well except for bits here and there, but we won’t count those. Ed and I go on to have a wonderful ride on the different sections of trail. Lego Laura came out to pose for pictures here and there. She’s like that, you know.

 

Thunder threatened our ride a couple times exaggerated by flashes of lightning in the horizon.  The entrance of showers was a welcomed refreshment! Ten, fifteen, twenty miles and more, we go up we go down, but we mostly go up until we get to Sandy Wash. All the pain in the ass collections of pea gravel in the curves of most trails, slogging our cadence, finally made sense. As I began Sandy Wash and my rear wheel slid side to side and through at speed, I FELT EXHILARATED! Oh my gosh, I WAS BIKE SKIING! I whipped around those corners feeling, LOOK AT ME!!! My oh my, I was having a blast utilizing my skills and feeling really lucky! I nailed it, almost losing it a few times but I hung on.

Six hours later, Ed and I high fived on the road back to the car. His first official long ride, I think he found his inner child on this one, especially when I coached him over a manageable rock, that he, well, rocked! Taking his picture as he coasted over, I shouted, “Awesome!!”

He replied, “Can you get my heart out of my stomach please?”

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I hugged my cousin’s husband “Goodbye,” took to my car, uncovered my smashed peanut butter and jelly tortilla wrap,  and drove away.  As I flowed down RT 70, Brandi Carlile is up next on my Spotify Chill playlist. I turn the volume to the right until it won’t go any higher. At the very top of my lungs, (and wishing I sounded like her), I sang. Modulating my speed right around 80, particularly with a statie driving nearby, I sang. Stomping my entire left leg against the wall where the floor pedals attach, I sang. My happiness fully unleashed, bounding, I was free.

An hour later while returning the beloved Yeti at Wheatridge Cyclery, I am greeted by Anthony.  “How was the ride?”

“If I didn’t own this exact bike already, I’d be pulling out my credit card!” I said, and I went on to share my joy of riding these last couple days. He sat and listened, taking in my euphoric energy. When he stood as I was saying goodbye, he just put his arms around me. It felt so natural. My heart is open!

I get outside and pop open the trunk of my rented brand new Nissan Murano. I like this car! While it’s still daylight I decided to pack my pack. Thinking through what layers I’ll need, how much water is a smart idea, what food will sustain me,  I push it all into my REI Flash Pack. Pulling up Waze, I enter ‘Rocky Mountain National Park”, specifically, Moraine Campground, into GPS.  I put my hand on my gear shift and motion it into drive.

One hour and 51 minutes later, colored by lots of great music and sweet mountainous landscapes, I arrive in the park in the darkness of evening. Glad that I had pulled up my reservation 2 hours ago, as “No Service” was spelled out across the upper left corner of my phone. I pulled into number 27, unfurled my sleeping pad and bag, wiped down my dirt-caked legs with wet ones and slid into my bag.

It’s true, I was dirty. Okay really dirty.

But I was happy. Really really happy.

Goodnight.

 

DAY 5

IMG_5521After a night of shivering in my car, I awoke to the faint signs of dawn at 6:07.

Why did I shiver all night? Because sometimes that duality between the right and left part of the brain happens, and being dumb wins out. My wife lovingly packed me the triple three: a lightweight sleeping bag, lightweight sleeping pad and a silk liner. My rented Nissan Murano was perfect literally for car camping. I had rolled into Moraine Campground the night before at 9pm, pulled into my reserved spot, unfurled my pad and bag and shimmied into the sack. Windows were cracked a couple inches as the temps were in the high 50’s. It would be too warm for the liner. I read. For eight minutes before my eyes were saying “Goodnight.”

Shivering took over at some point. My cotton shirt and boxers were beginning to get wet with sweat. See I WAS hot! I pull the hood of the bag over my head to generate more heat. What if I suffocate on my own CO2? I quickly dismissed that thought attempting to get warm. I took off my cottons. Which left me, yes, naked. I can hear Laura reminding me that you don’t wear cotton to bed. I answered her in my brain, “But it’s 50 ish degrees.”

Cotton is off. Better but still cold. And dirty. Barely removing the caked on dirt from my legs from yesterdays 6 hour mountain bike ride earlier that day is not helping. My brain doesn’t want to dirty one more item. See, logic, why? It’s a silk liner the size of my two fists rolled up. I pull out some socks. They’re wool. I dirty those.

Shivering still. Getting out of my bag for the 3rd time, I grab my already dirty Carhartt sweatshirt from the front seat. Shivering reduces. Sleep is even more greatly reduced. My brain tells me to grab the liner. I refuse. I fall into a half sleep/half aware that I’m shivering and awaken at 6:07. Time to go.

No idea where the trailhead is, non-functional GPS the park ranger station still closed, I decide to head down Bear Creek road. I remembered the online description saying my campground was 6.7 miles away. I turn right and head up the road. GPS turns on and I’m headed in the right direction. I see an elk loping up the side of the road. I like the others in front of me, snap an iPhone picture. Glacier Gorge Trailhead is FULL, already! It’s only 6:50am. I turn around and park down the road at Bierlake lot. This man asks me about a shuttle and says it doesn’t arrive till 7:30. “I think my girlfriend and I will just stick out our thumbs to see if someone will give us a ride,” he says.

“Good idea. Think I’ll do the same.” I reply when I realize I still had sandwiches to make and a few items to add to my full bag. Done, right as the shuttle was pulling up.

I begin my hike at 7:40am on this sunny cool morning.

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It’s everything I love. Rocks, rugged, raw beauty. Pine trees and other trees that look like pines. I walk. I pull Lego Laura from my pocket and position her on rocks and bridges to make it look as though she is walking. She’s so cute!

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I pass people posing for the camera in front of the first waterfall we see. I snap a picture of the falls; one with Lego Laura, one without.

I am happy. I am thrilled at the thought of doing just this for the next 12 miles. That’s of course if I decide to do both Sky Pond and Andrews Glacier. I’m a mile in and I meet up with the guy from the lot and his girlfriend. We talk. I ask if they would take my picture and it becomes one of my favorites.

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“I’ll see you guys in a bit, I’m sure.” And I walk on.

I approach Loch Vale, another name for beautiful mountain lake, I’m convinced.

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Let me take your picture, I say to John and Susana as they were approaching while I was gazing at the amazing landscape. Susana hands me her camera and John walks past me, quickly whispering something. I can’t make out what he said but decide that I’ll figure it out. They pose. I click. He kisses her and tells her “I love you.” I didn’t snap it quickly enough and hope he kisses her again. He does. “Click,” the camera sounds.

“You know I love you so much,” he says to her again. My brain and heart are in sync and I step to it, I think he’s about to propose!

John gets down on one knee. Smiling and heart racing, I snap another picture. And another and another. He is expressing his love to her as he opens a box to her showing her a diamond ring. Snap snap snap.

Her hands are holding her face. She is shocked and crying. I snap more photos.

She looks over at me and says, “Have you guys been planning this?”

“I am in awe as much as you are, Susana. There is something that I like to call travel magic and this being my last day, this moment is absolutely the icing on the cake, the culmination of that travel magic! What an honor to be a part of this!”

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And so this moment was.

It’s amazing what happens when the heart is full open. What one could attract. The connections that take place. The next day I received a text from Susana saying, “Thank you. We met you for a reason. You were the angel that needed to be there.”

I walked on, my feet feeling the sensations of rugged nature coming through the soles of my shoes. Savoring every step, thrilled that I have 10 1/2 miles to go. I kinda don’t want this feeling to end. Every turn opens up to a new perspective, a different expanse. Raw beauty.

I look ahead to see people assisting one another ascend a vertical section of trail where parts of the waterfall are touching. A girl from England says, “People care about other people in the US. They help one another. It’s not quite like this where I’m from.” I’m feeling even more grateful in this moment, and even unexpectedly, more pleased to be an American.

“Yeah, people do help one another,” I reply. “That’s cool that you pointed that out. And now you get to carry that back with you and do the same if you wish.

I carried on, noticing my breath with every step. I reached Lake of Glass and my eyes, my body, my heart and my mouth broke out into a huge smile. 10,000 some feet! This alpine lake was straight from a fantasy book. IMG_5552

 

I sat for a few minutes before someone said to me that I hadn’t yet arrived to Sky Pond.  I couldn’t believe there was more beyond this stellar moment, so I had to see. Approximately 1/4 mile more of rocky goodness,  I arrived. Happy for reaching the “summit” but the view, the lake, or pond rather, was not nearly as tantalizing to my senses as Lake of Glass. So I snapped a couple shots and headed back to Lake of Glass where I enjoyed lunch.

I finished my peanut butter and jelly wrap and decided to sit in meditation for the next 20 minutes. Breathing in love, breathing out gratitude, and doing so for each breath feeling living in the moment. I open my eyes to see a marmot just feet away. “Aw,” I say. Excited that I

 

Excited that I get to take a picture of some wildlife. Cute marmot. It walks toward me, growing larger in my iPhone frame. And then, it’s assaulting my backpack and sticking its head inside the opening. “No marmot, you can’t do that! No get out!. Please don’t bite me!” As it gets next to my leg and appearing as though it wants to jump on it. I have visions of a wild animal bite and having to get rushed back down the mountain for the next 5.5 miles. That didn’t happen and so I laughed, as did the other people nearby that were watching the whole scene.

 

On the way back I decided to take the other fork in the path toward Andrew’s Glacier. I determined that this hike was exponentially harder than toward Sky Pond. The “path” indicated by cairns…..if you could see them…..if they were not blown over by the gusty wind drafts, were still somewhat tricky to see. I love the au natural idea though, as I am someone who lives by the symbol of the cairn. IMG_5577Do you see a path anywhere?

It was tricky and yet right in my wheelhouse. Every 25 feet I believe I rested for approximately 15 minutes. I saw some people coming down – a couple – as I had been alone for quite some time now. They were over there. “Is there a trail there?” I shout.

“Yes! And we kept getting off trail on our way up too!” They reply. I laugh and horizontally on all fours find my way shimmying over to the trail. I breathe a sigh of relief, as this was clearly a path. I continue in my vertical motion at this seemingly 80 degree pitch. Step. Step. Step. It’s amazing that every step really does bring you to the point that you’ve set out for not quite sure how you’re going to arrive, especially when you feel like someone keeps moving the finish line further away. I see no one else. I ascend this last crest and there he was: Andrews Tarn, as it’s called.

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Victory for Lego Laura and I! I have reception on my cell and give Laura a call. So cool talking to her at this moment. As I have been alone now for about 45 minutes, I think of the movie “27 hours” and make an attempt to let someone know my whereabouts. Even in the remotest of places, cell phone technology finds it’s way. I connect with her, it feels amazing and it begins to hail and thunderstorm. She texts me back, “GO! Text me again when you feel you are “out of the woods!”

 

Three additional hours and hiking the path down towards the trailhead, I am so happy, even with a blasting headache. Despite all the water I carried, Hammer products – protein and electrolyte drink – I am dehydrated and am probably feeling some side effects of the altitude. I walk and deeply breathe as it helps me manage the headache. I drink loads more water. and intersperse it with electrolytes. After chatting with a couple about spending the night and rock climbing all day I reach the trailhead. The bus was just arriving so the timing was perfect. I unlock my car door and climb inside the hatchback and lay down after popping an Excedrin. My headache is at an 8. I lay in quiet drinking and drinking. It decreases to a 6 within 45 minutes and I take another 1/2 a tablet. The pain drops to a 4. Still a bit nauseous I want to take 2 more points off before I decide to drive. And it does.

I turn my iTunes on random and a song comes on I never remember hearing before. Funny, as I’ve downloaded everything on my iTunes. Also, does anyone listen to iTunes anymore? It was a song about letting go. See, I don’t even remember the title but what I do remember is the feeling that transpired while I was driving out of the park. It was a feeling of complete overwhelm. I began to sob. The joy was there, unshrouded as if it had been there all along; each cell embracing another in a beautiful dance.  I was complete in this moment.

As I drove through the touristy Estes Park, scanning the shops to snag my well-earned  shirt, ice cream, beer, or rather, all the above, I felt a sensation of diminishment at the thought of purchasing something material in an attempt to culminate my profound joy. It’s amazing how the body talks to us all the time. It’s even more amazing when we decide to listen.  I drove all the way through grateful that I heard my own voice.

My 14,600th day in 2009

Grab a cuppa coffee. Or a beer and look at your clock now and again when you finish. And settle in for a roller of a story.

My Self fell into bed the night before prepared to turn 40. I had changed my voicemail message to “Hi, you have reached Kim at the Art of Massage, and I will be unavailable all day today. I am celebrating turning 40 by hiking with my little black dog in the Shenandoah mountains. I look forward to hearing your good wishes when I turn my phone back on later today. Thank you for honoring my birthday!” On Facebook the night before my message said: “….still 39.” The next day when I went to change it to my “Happy Birthday, Self” message there were about 22 messages waiting for me to read, all wishing me a Happy Birthday! By noon there were 6 messages on my phone. By 8pm there were 14.

I awoke into September 17th feeling a mixture of sadness and elation. The sadness had nothing, absolutely nothing to do with stepping into 40. That IS the elation. So ready and happy to embrace 40, to thank it for welcoming me in. For a life thus far that includes a body that has put on over a million miles powered by its own strength. A million sounds like a big number. Truthfully, I really haven’t been calculating. After 4 months of journaling about a girl that I felt a connection with, an energy so powerful…this feeling of being ‘Home’ the number of times we’ve hugged, yet wondering if I was making more of it than it was, I drew up the courage ask her out after months of inner work…. And that if she said ‘No’ I wouldn’t feel as rejected, but instead could move on. And, if she said ‘Yes,’ it would make me happy instead of afraid. Still, the asking would be from a place of friends as, even though I felt she felt what I felt in the hug, I couldn’t know for sure as she hasn’t gotten in touch with me since the last time we hung out together. Oh, the last time we hung out together. “I’ll be your partner in crime anytime,” she spoke sweetly into my ear at the end of a tight wonderful embrace. A creation of dreams inside my body became alive when an evening of getting to know one another unfurled into magic, for even though she knew I was, I wasn’t clear if she was. Closeness. Intimacy. Holding. Loving. Words. Seeing beyond the eyes beyond the skin. Touching each other’s soul, for a minute anyway. Shared expressions of gratitude, excitement, and being in the loving. From magic and an opening, expanding heart, over the course of less than a week, to a well of emptiness within. Like a little kid holding a string attached to a balloon high in the sky, only to notice the same string lying over his finger and resting on the ground, Her heart quietly and suddenly released my heartstrings, pulling my own heart to the earth, just a couple weeks prior. I was broken. Like a death, it felt, as she pulled away so wordlessly and yet so loudly, after 6 months of dreaming and fantasizing within all the uncertainty; unknowing which direction she leaned. Yes, I was falling in love. Again. And, again, it became unrequited.

This is how I entered the doorway of my 40th birthday. Patch….. Thoughts…. Joy…. Sadness…. Raw…. Awful…Grateful….Broken…. Mom and Dad sang to me together on my voicemail that morning as did Sherry, MJ, Barb, and Linda. But my 40-year-old heart, which I permit to feel emotion, felt hollow. Sunken. My stomach, sucker punched. Many friends asked how I would be spending my special day. I had decided that one on one time with my friends, over the next few months, was what would give me greater satisfaction; greater than some party or gathering of multiple people. I meant it. I delivered the message to them without sounding glum and dejected. It is what I wanted to do. But, it also excused me from having to spend my one and only 40th, pressured into celebrating with friends and family because that’s what’s expected. I looked alive and even happy to others, but, on the inside, truth infiltrated my cells. I was depressed. Really, really sad. Hurting. Confused. Disregarded. Unacknowledged. Rejected. Unappreciated. All as if I was grieving a sudden death of someone I loved. If I couldn’t be spending the day with her by my side, then the only one I wanted to be with was my soul friend, my companion, Patch. I think she’s the only one who could truly hold my series of rollercoaster-ish emotions. Patch, and a couple of my closest friends. Nonetheless, she can’t talk using words so, a quiet walk in the mountains, just me and her, and the occasional bear, sounded like the perfect way to spend my birthday.

We arrive in the Shenandoah around 3 pm.  Me, and my dog who walks beside me, in front of me, behind me, would remind me that I was not alone. Even though I was doing what I loved on my birthday, I felt alone. My heart heavy,  I open the door to the visitors center.  

“Good afternoon!” I say to the Forest Ranger. “What good hike should we do today?” He listed several, ignoring my word “Today” as he mentioned this 12-mile hike. “That’s the one I want to do,” I silently say. The ranger looked at me as if he heard my thought.

“You can’t do this hike today. It’s too late. But it’s a good one to come back and do another time. This hike has a turn around point at 3 miles. You can come back and add the 6-mile loop that’s attached to it.”

“Well, what time does it get dark?” I ask, knowing that we were in the mountains and a reasonable guesstimation was around 7pm.

As with everything else in life, when I am thinking things through I have an infinite amount of time. And it’s my birthday. If I want to do this hike, well then, I’ll not let this man who knows these woods more than most people and his wise words/thoughts squelch my desire. He doesn’t know how fast I walk and that my dog and I can walk forever.

In an unassuming way, he says,  “Around 7/7:30.” He reminds me, “Maybe 6 will be okay depending on how vigorous you walk, but you don’t want to push it.”

I park my car at the trailhead some 20 miles further down the road in Shenandoah National Park. My sadness, the one I’d been clinging to as if it were some prized possession, is on the back burner for the moment as Patch and I set out on our next adventure. A six, probably 12-mile hike. I calculate. We now have 3 ½ stretch to 4 hours worth of time. Twelve miles in 4 hours means 3 miles per hour. Piece of cake. Two bottles of water and treats for both her and me with temps registering as a low 70* day.

“C’mon Chief! Are you ready to have some fun?” I say, with a backpack slung over my shoulder and a spring in my step.

It had been awhile, maybe a year, that Patch had hiked even 6 miles. Eight to ten miles?Years. Twelve? I know she’s had to have done 12, but I can’t think of a single moment. Patch is almost 10 years old. But she can do anything. I don’t call her Patch the Wonder Dog because it only sounds cool.

My little dog responds how she always responds when we embark on a new adventure, or any adventure for that matter – with a big, toothy, open-mouthed smile, a wiggle in her torso, and a gallop in her step! Patch is free and happy, grateful and ready.

“Let’s go, Chiefie!”

We enter the woods. We are bound to see a bear. I mean, we’re all alone for 12 miles!  And when we do, we’ll have that divine connection when our eyes meet, pausing to honor the sacredness of that meeting, standing in the deep knowing that animals and humans are a part of one harmony.  Then, Patch and I will walk on.  I’ve always been accused of being a dreamer. I like the attribute. Briskly, we walk. Patch is ahead of me but in eyeshot. “What if we do see a bear? What if a bear sees Patch? What if Patch chases the bear?” The internal dialogue is manufacturing thought after thought as if to warn me or worry me, not sure. “I should have her on a leash. Oh, my God, I’d never forgive myself if she was mauled by a bear. We’re so happy now, but that would not be a happy birthday. I should put her on a leash. But she is not free when she’s on a leash. No one is free on a leash.” I decide to not follow that train and trust that all is gonna be fine.

It’s quiet out here. No voices. No cars. No continuous buzzing of circuit breakers or power lines. This is what I’ve craved. To be in the stillness of nature with no one knowing where I am. My heart is broken. As I descend beyond the surface of my splintered heart of yet another girl I fell head over heels for, I allow myself to feel deeper. It’s broken. Broken by a family who rejects a core aspect of who I am, making me feel like I don’t belong here or don’t deserve real happiness unless I adhere to the family code that they’ve subscribed too. The shame I feel for being me is ALWAYS there. Aware now that the bag that I cling to is a bag of shame. Somehow, I feel like the next woman is gonna be the one to cut it from my hands and show me how worthy and worth it I am. How loveable I am. That if only my family could see how wanted I am by women, and for that matter, men too, that they will say, “Oh, we got it wrong. We now see how worthy you are! You’re alright. We approve now and accept you back in.” But so far, no matter how much my illusory confidence and charm intrigues these women and even gets them in the door, it hasn’t worked. Here I am. Walking with my raw pain on my 40th birthday. Not how I imagined I’d be celebrating this milestone.

I check my clock against how far we’d gone and damn if we weren’t making great time! We were on it. We could’ve turned back, certainly a cautious idea to some, but at this point in the hike, it wasn’t going to be too much further if we kept going. I checked in with Patch and she drank as I offered her water from the smashable bowl I pulled from my pack. I would stop and peer through the woods, hoping to catch a sighting. Most people don’t want to come within eyeshot of a bear, but for me, that’s a reason TO walk these woods. Nothing. We see nothing but leaves on and off the trees. A thinning forest a couple thousand feet up. Or couple hundred. I don’t know. And we walk.

“Chief?! Let’s pick up the pace, buddy. I think we can do this.” I continue to calculate, matching our time to the impending darkness and decide our pace. A brisk stride will be our rate of speed for the duration. I am down to one water bottle with many more miles to go. Treats are good and we both seem to be feeling high levels of energy. My map is useless as I haven’t seen any mile markers in awhile, but I know I’ve only seen one path. And I trust this path. Some reason, I trust this path.

“Thud!” The sound of a big foot pounding once against the earth entered the space. My heart skipped a beat, excitement, and fear held hands at this moment. “Phmmpp!” Again I hear from behind a tree. I look at Chief. Stopped in our tracks, I look all around us, sort of hoping to see him. The gender is arbitrary at the moment. Nothing. We see and hear nothing. Slowly, we take our next step and another and the next one. Hearing what I think was a bear and not seeing one, is, for the moment, scarier than seeing one. We walk on.

It’s beginning to dawn on me that I haven’t seen a sign that we’re on the correct path for a little while. The trail begins to curve and twist and head downward. I feel confident about it descending but a little worry enters in. I pull out my little map and try to figure out where we are. It looks similar to what I think we just did. At this point, we are very very committed as we’re deep in the woods. Patch is dancing down the rocks that have currently become the terrain of our trail. Thoughts of the girl took over. Thoughts of what I deeply wanted and fantasized and dreamed with her overtook me and I let the emotions lead the way. I cried. I cried and cried making all the noise I wanted and needed. Crying a river is so cathartic but this river had been expanding and lengthening over the last several years. I wondered how or if I’d ever be aligned with the self-love necessary to sustain and nurture a romantic relationship with another woman. Thoughts bouncing every which way, the story becoming more and more colored by my own racing mind. Crying, spewing profanities at this girl to purge my system of anger, I trudged down the path. I did this for, oh, until we came within sighting of a pole.

“A marker!” I ran toward the 4-foot tall wooden square structure that I hoped was an indicator. “Please, please, please let it be so,” my mind shouted as I was sure, but not sure. The closer I came the more my momentary dream was coming true. I “hallelujahed!” as we arrived at the post with the teeny letters telling us we were going the right way. “6 miles.” It pointed to where we began our day’s adventure.

My next dream come true would be the stream we came upon that would provide a water source for Patch as my supply was just about gone. She shot down into the stream just to find a clear indication that it hadn’t rained in a while. Dry as a desert. She looked at me. I looked at her. “I’m sorry buddy, c’mon. There’s gonna be water soon,” as the remainder of this path was mostly beside this stream bed. The time was now close to 6pm. As we were in the lower end of the thick of the woods, I decided to run/walk. Run for a few, walk for a few. Patch, I could tell, was quite OVER this whole adventure thing. She jogged when I wanted her to but it was clear that she’d had enough. “Here we go again… where I trust you and then you forget that I’m not the 4-year old I once was. Leave it to you, mom, my life will never be without adventure.” Her eyes said to me.

As unenthusiastic as she was, the Chief followed and lead, followed and lead, as we ran and walked. It was the only way we’d make it out, hopefully with some light to spare. Dusk was falling upon us much more quickly than I’d anticipated. I was so much happier now that we were beside a stream bed with puddles of water and in some cases, more. I was so much happier now that I had a certainty of our direction and the remaining mileage. What I didn’t have a certainty of was whether we’d make it out of the woods with enough illumination. As we walked, I began planning our overnight stay. The temps were comfortable. I had a light jacket to cover me. We would curl up in a pile of leaves in between some trees. I had a knife; like I’d really use it to kill something anyway. We are fine. I was surprised and amazed by the absence of fear or worry. We’re gonna try and make it out, but if we have to stay, I have already surrendered to that thought. I felt peaceful inside. With the stream to the right of me and the dense woods to the left, I happened to turn my head and look far through the trees.  A bear’s eyes met mine. We held a gaze for a moment as if it were the equivalent of seeing a squirrel. The time of day clearly outshined a bear sighting. My dog and I marched on. Running walking, running walking, I encouraged Patch like a parent celebrating their child’s first milestones. “You’re doing so great, Chief, you’re doing so good, buddy! Thanks for trusting me. We’re really almost there!” Dusk was duskier, but even in the dimly lit woods, we could see enough to stay on the trail.

“Another post!” The post I remember seeing when we entered the woods. The post that stood promptly at mile one. Or was it two. Maybe three miles in. I’m not sure as I couldn’t make out the mileage etched into the metal plate. My second burst of joy in the last 6 miles of this course at this sighting as I felt the energy of accomplishment and confidence that we were absolutely making it out tonight. Patch, for three seconds anyway, matched my joy and bounced up and down as she could feel and see mine.

“C’mon chief!” I shouted for the 17th time today. Seriously, buddy now we’re really close!” Even though I wasn’t sure if there were one or three miles to go. We ran. This time we really really ran. It was as if dusk held a candle for us for the last 3 miles. It seemed to never darken. It wasn’t until the moment my foot hit the pavement and saw my truck, God turned off the lights as the space we stood in went black. I opened the back door to my car, scooped up Patch and placed her on the back seat. As I was getting into the driver’s seat, I turned around to see my little girls eye’s already closed as she was curled up.

“Done!” I thanked God in that moment and shook my head again at another true precarious adventure ending in success.

As I began the 20-mile drive toward the exit of the park, little pairs of white bright circles pierced the darkness in an eerie sort of way. All the wild creatures that inhabit this park lay still along the grassy edge of the road watching us go. I got out of the park and as my phone came into cell range, the chime of messages rang over and over again. People remembered my birthday. I listened to messages from my brother, cousin, and other friends. My gas light turned on as I was about to pass the Shell station on my way out of town. It was 8pm. As Patch lay asleep in the back seat, and my tank was filling up, I decided to stroll inside to see what trashy gas station food would become my birthday dinner.

A Moon pie or hot dog? Which one?” I presented these options to myself.

My phone rang. It was my birthday twin, Paige, who was calling to wish me a Happy 40th. “Ahhh, Happy Birthday, girl!” I said to her. “How are you celebrating?”

“Just finished having a wonderful dinner with a group of friends and we’re about to have dessert.”

“That’s great!” I said with a smile of dichotomy, staring at both the Moonpie’s and hotdogs. Alone.

I walked out the station empty-handed and jumped back into the car to see my sleeping dog. Everything I thought I knew about life, about Karma, about love, about courage, about journeys, I certainly don’t. I know that life is fascinating, always telling a story. My story. Am I writing it? Or is it pre-determined? I’ve lived this story before. I must’ve hit the playback button, again. Different scene same outcome.

I’m 40 years old today.

“Okay.” I sighed deeply and drove.

2010-day one.

so I decided to sleep in this morning. no alarms. no commitments. nothing. just excitement that i would get to sleep in this morning without any guilt. so I did. until 11:40something. I went to bed at 11:55. My eyes fell shut before I could acknowledge the shift of one year ending and another beginning. it was okay with me as I had just cleansed my body under a long hot shower of any energies of people I may have picked up at the party I had just come back from….and from the energies I may have picked up from the years past.  I wanted to be clean went I went to bed, so that I would wake feeling and beginning fresh. I woke at 7 something and fell back in to sleep and again 4 hours later. My black dog, Patch, lay long and sprawled out on her own bed. thankfully, she too, likes to sleep. My phone had been turned off from the night before and I decided to keep it that way. It was quiet. the world, for me anyway, was quiet. I wanted to be un-commited to anyone. unexpected by anyone. I think what I’m trying to say is, instead of checking to see who texted/called me at midnight and this morning, I wanted to be as best I can, in a place of truly appreciating My Self. and only My Self. a hard thing to do as our whole world consists of relationships. now, it would have been much different had I kept my phone on and noticed that no one reached out to me or let me know they were thinking about me. that would have made me sad. forgotten. this way, however, gives me back my power and fosters the development of my relationship and love for Self. today was completely about nourishing and nurturing me. and of course, Patch. We went for a run in the woods. other people had the same idea, that is, to be outside appreciating nature. my thoughts were varied. more on that later. perhaps in another post. anyway I drove on over to trader joe’s just to find that they closed today. I’m happy for the people who work there that get to have a day off. I drove across the street to the international mart. something different from my usual shopping routine as it caters primarily to the asian population and to a lesser extent, the hispanic population. and then there are a few aisles of which I recognized the items. ahh, the comfort when we are in a “foreign” place and see something that is familiar. I purchased lemons, fresh beets, my first pomegranate, and a ChocoLove chocolate bar, with ginger added. the healthier chocolate bar. Of all things, I  didn’t expect to find a ChocoLove bar at the I-mart. and who knew that upon leaving the store, a New Year’s Day gift would be handed to me and all the other guests, by the manager….a 4 pack of I-mart toilet paper. kind of an odd gift, I thought, but certainly a useful one. I smiled and thanked the man for his kindness. 

I told a weary Patch that I just got free toilet paper from the store. She didn’t quite seem to understand. it was okay though. I stopped at REI, my true comfort zone of a store if there ever was one. 

I arrived home with my REI purchase, groceries, and new toilet paper. it was now 3:30 and all I’d eaten all day was a couple of chocolate squares. certainly not a usual way of eating for me, particularly when I’ve exercised. so here it is almost dinner time and i was about to make breakfast, lunch and dinner. i created a dubliner grill cheese sandwich with an egg and tomato and I made 365 whole foods pizza. obviously, I was making up for lost time. I sat and ate beside my christmas tree and black dog, while listening to the last 30 chapters of the art of racing in the rain…a meaningful and deeply moving book…narrated by a dog named enzo. a book that made me laugh. laughing is so good for the soul. just as sleeping is. a book that made me cry. cry deep sad heavy beautiful tears. tears of the joy and gratitude  for the message shared and teachings of how one can live more authentically, more richly, if we “stepped” into the soul, the body and became like a dog, like enzo, like patch now and then. I paused the story to follow up my tasty and comforting new years day meal with a cup of peppermint hot chocolate. as I spilled many of the twisty chocolate shavings on top of the marshmallows in my deliciously warm beverage, I paused to close my eyes and be in the moment.  an “alone” New Years Day. a choice for me to know that it was okay. despite the tricklings of internal dialogue asking “am I a loser” or stating “I’m a loser” or feeling like I needed to be with people was all the more reason to embrace being alone this holiday. i did anyway. and i survived. the first day of a new year i nourished. i loved. and i let go of what no longer served me and used my gifted toilet paper.