Mr. HG had both had long, stressful workweeks, and a non-rainy Sunday was in the forecast. A couple hours under the trees with the dog would be the mind-cleansing, soul-restoring excursion we needed.
It was true — our minds were cleansed by exhaustion and our souls were restored by surviving. It was a far harder hike than the map let on.
We’d done most of the easy trail loops at the nearest state park, and they hardly justified the drive. But the last time I’d been there with our ever-game mixed-breed dingo-looking dog, I’d taken a closer look at the map. There was another loop! It was about five miles, which sounded perfect.
We parked and hung our state parks pass in the window, then headed out onto the trail. It was muddy, but not horrible. It had been a really hard winter of rain, snow, more rain, and mudslides. So a muddy trail was whatever.
It went up and down for a while, and we saw mule deer and their tracks and their pellety poop. We’d gone a couple miles when we saw the sign for the loop proper, the 2.5-mile lollipop at the far end of the trail. It had been a more challenging hike than we expected, so I checked in with Mr. HG and the dog. They were game. So we went on.
It wasn’t long before we were hiking along what is usually a lovely little stream but in these conditions was a very full, fast little river. The water table was so high at the bottom of this valley that the trail was an unavoidable 4 inches of water. Over the tops of hiking shoes, up to the 65-pound dog’s knees. Or his ankles. You know where I mean. The water was deep and there was no going around.
This was the first time my shitty mantra popped into my mind that day: What are you gonna do, stop?
Like I do every time this not friendly version of my very own voice pipes up to ask this question, I imagined stopping. In this case, it meant standing, sitting, and/or eventually lying down in a shallow swamp. I would likely become like those dead people trapped in the swamp that Frodo reaches out to in Lord of the Rings. I would wait there for the mule deer to nudge my pale, bloated body. So no, I was not going to stop.
After that, we rose out of the valley. And dipped back down. And up. And up. And down. And up. It was a lot more elevation gain and loss than we anticipated. We took a lot of breaks. I was glad I’d overprepared and brought water and snacks for what was supposed to be a pleasant little Sunday hike.
On one of the long, steep uphills, my shitty mantra piped up again: What are you gonna do, stop?
Well, no, but I can pause. I can catch my breath. I can pet the dog and make sure he’s doing okay. I can stretch my calves and appreciate the trees instead of staring at the muddy trail in exhausted frustration.
I don’t only hear my shitty mantra on hikes. I hear it on long runs too, where I imagine stopping a couple miles from home. Maybe calling for a ride. Maybe crying on the curb. Maybe wishing I’d brought money so I could buy a restorative scone at the coffee shop.
I also hear it when I have the kind of overbooked, deadline-filled week of writing and editing that I’d had before we hiked what turned out to be a black-diamond-rated trail, the only one in the park. As my eyes are about to fall out of my head and my brain wants to shut off with the help of much, much whiskey, I hear my shitty mantra:
What are you gonna do, stop?
And just like on the trail, just like on a long run, but maybe even more than either of those, the answer is no. I imagine what stopping would mean: abandoning my writing studio, getting a real job with hours and expectations that aren’t my own, buying business casual clothing. Oh, hell no.
But maybe I can pause. Maybe I can pet the dog, who keeps a bed in my studio, and make sure he’s doing okay. (In truth, he checks in with me to see if I’m doing okay far more often. He’s a good dog.) Maybe I can take a day off. Ha ha ha! I’m a freelance writer and editor who’s establishing a publishing business. Day off. No fucking way. How about just taking enough time to rewatch Rogue One? Maybe we can try that?
So it’s not a positive, Instagram-ready mantra. I’m not doing it while laughing and eating salad and wearing yoga pants. It’s not even very kind. It’s a pretty shitty mantra, really. But it has kept me going through rough spots for years, so what am I gonna do, stop?