The storm brings a cold front that sweeps down the mountain into the campground. I'm woken up by the chill and as much as I try, I cannot get warm. I'm kept awake by the winter chill and my inner critic's banter. "Should've upgraded your sleeping bag. Why the hell did you drive 8 hours to the middle of a desert? There are closer crags to climb near your place. You could have saved yourself all the hardship. This is foolish, and now you're freezing and all alone. Balls in your court amigo...what's your move?"
This was supposed to be a group trip. Two friends and I had planned to head down to Bishop California for a climbing trip. All things were good to go....then I get a text message, "Hey...so Sue broke her leg....we gotta back out. Sorry man." My heart aches for my friend Sue, she had been looking forward to this trip so much. I send my get well regards. I reach out to another who shows interest but then backs out days before. I shake off the misfortune the way one shakes off the snow in their stride, ponder my thoughts, eventually arriving to the idea of a solo trip.
I had been inspired by my friend Sandra, who shared stories of solo adventures. They brought her to life, brought joy, learning, and personal growth. Maybe it could do the same for me. I decide to go for it and make plans to head to Oregon. I get all my gear, food and supplies. I am excited to say the least. I check the forecast and it shows good weather. I tell my family and friends, they too are excited and happy for me.
I wake up on the morning of my trip like it's Christmas morning. I gather my things and am about to begin the drive but get a strange feeling and an itch to check the weather one more time. The sunny symbols that hovered over the dates have now turned to rain clouds. Everything comes to a hault....but not to a panic. I take a deep breath and exhale the sadness and begin creating a counter plan. "Tahoe? Nah. Joshua Tree? Nope. How about Bishop? Hell yes!" I scope out and find a handful of walk up campsites, then hop in the car. My excitement lingers through the city as I make my way over the Bay Bridge. "Just 6 hours and we are in Bishop baby!" I rejoice. But then I get a strange feeling and an itch to check the roads. Tioga pass is closed and my next best option is to go through Sonora pass. Another 2 hours of travel isn't so bad if I weren't already running behind.
By the time I get into Bishop, it'll be past 7pm and the chances of finding a campsite become slimmer. I get word of a storm and know that means a cold front will be sweeping down into the valley, dropping the temps to almost freezing. I scratch climbing from the itinerary, what matters now is finding a site and setting up camp before it gets too cold. I strike gold, finding vacancy at my first option at Forks Campground. I set up camp and make myself dinner and a hot cup of tea. I turn off my head lamp and have dinner gazing up at the stars. I spot shooting stars sipping my tea and watch stars shimmer in varying brightness as though they were putting on a light show. I am enamored by the cosmos, the natural world and solace is romancing me and restoring me in ways that the modern world could never. I am here, fully present, taking all of this as a gift, feeling it resonate in my soul. I head to bed that night with a heart full of contentment....and awake in early hours of tomorrow later to a painful, blistering cold.
The cold front sweeps through my sleeping bag as though it were a fishing net. Even layered up, I cannot shake the cold off. My feet are aching, nearing numb. My thoughts join in concert with the cold. and sting me with the obvious plight. It's an insult to injury...with frostbite. "Here comes the storm again," I whisper. "Buck up Cowboy, it's time for the rodeo." And just as before, the torrent of negative thoughts and emotions came, but I was not swept away. I learned from previous ones. I was ready to counter. I allowed myself to feel everything, the years and sediments of my life emerging all at once. In time, the internal storm died down simply by letting it run its course. Now it was time to problem solve. I first needed to get warm so I could think straight and clear. I bolted to my car and cranked the heat as I brainstormed a solution.
The negative thoughts, emotions and criticisms continued. I acknowledged them but I didn't hold onto them, they were no good to me. I accepted I could have done better, then I began to create a plan to make things better. My tent and sleeping bag wouldn't do, but I realized that my car could be a heated cocoon and a saving grace. I headed back to camp with the heat cranked. I leave the car in park with the engine running, grab my sleeping bag and head back into my car. "This is it kid" I whisper. "Let's make this work." I let the car run with the heat for a few minutes more, feel myself sinking into a slumber. I wrap up in my old army surlpus sleeping bag, turn the car off and pass out like a Jehovas witness.
It's nowhere near the best quality of sleep, but I've made it through the worst to a sun rise shining down into the canyon. All storms have died down. I rise out of my makeshift haven with a smile. Once again, nature greets me with endearment, wowing me with the expanse of the deep blue sky, the grandeur of the mountains, flirting with me like a teenage crush as I make breakfast.
I head to the Butttermilk Boulders and have the time of my life. I climb in a state of joy as I canvas the area for climbs. I come across fellow climbers and make instant and organic connections with them and join them, working to solve the beta for climbing problems. I end the day with pair of climbers, sharing stories of our lives and celebrating one of their birthdays over a hot cup of tea and fajitas.
I come back to my camp with a new sleeping bag and a renewed spirit. I immediately feel the warmth and protection as I slip into the bag and zip up, the cold and my thoughts, no longer penetrating and piercing. As I feel sleep slipping over my eyes, I reflect on all that's happened. I've grown from this experience so much in body, mind, and soul, finding further redemption of my heart. I started this out this trip solo, but am going home with a deep connection to those I've shared life moments here, and a realization that I am not alone in this journey called life. Sometimes pain can hurt us so much that we feel desolated on an island, far away from anyone's warmth and reach. But if we breathe life into hope and weather out our storms, the dark clouds disappear, and we see that just like the blue sky, people are always there for us. Perception makes such difference. The more we heal, the better we can see.