Arizona Hiking: One Year Later
I grew up hiking, and have always loved spending time in the “great outdoors”. My dad is from Washington state, and our family used to make an annual “trek” from Oklahoma to visit the Puget Sound area every August. The cool, Pacific climate offered an ideal respite from the relentless Oklahoma heat, we watched ferries cross the sound from my grandfather’s kitchen, and the Nordstrom anniversary sale was always on—needless to say, I looked forward to the trip every year. But the highlight was always the hiking that we went on.
Unfortunately for this Oklahoma girl, the hiking options in Oklahoma are rather limited. That being said, there are some local places to go, and I make an effort to find trails when traveling to locations such as Asheville, North Carolina, and Phoenix, Arizona. Hiking is a pastime that will be incorporated into the life that I am working to manifest for myself. Therefore, my recent experiences hiking in Arizona this past week provided hope that I am making progress towards this life, and also illustrate the impact that nourishment, rest, and time can have on physical strength and personal experience.
I had just submitted applications for residency and was anxious about the next step in my life. I was not confident that I would be successful professionally, valued in my relationships, or what I wanted from my life. This stress manifested in my regimented eating patterns, which were not sufficient to fuel my active daily life, let alone the exercise this outdoor-loving girl would want to do on vacation. While in Phoenix for the Fiesta Bowl, I decided to hike Camelback Mountain, which is known for its wonderful views and rocky terrain.
The experience on the mountain reflected the emotions and sensations of my day-to-day life at this time: cold, dejected, afraid, and weak. The weather was unusually cold and misty for Arizona on this particular day, and my body lacked the reserves to keep warm. The terrain was slippery from the rain, and I frequently slipped and lacked confidence in my balance. I could not envision what the view would look like at the top of the mountain or believe that it would be worth it, just as I could not envision what life after graduation would look like. I struggled frequently, but was too proud to ask for help. In contrast, my climbing partner was physically fit and excited for the views from the top of the mountain. While I completed the hike, I remember commenting afterwards that I “would never do that again” and that I was “afraid of rock climbing”.
I am a month in to recovery. My physical activity has been limited during this time, but I have gained reserves and strength. I no longer define myself as solely a pharmacist or by my ability to restrict and overexercise. I have no idea what exactly my future will hold, but I know my future will be good. I know that I want a life of strength, perseverance, and gratitude. And I am happy to say that my January 2018 hiking excursions reflect this new mindset.
One day, I went on a 0.5 mile “kids hike” with my brother, sister-in-law, and their two kids. The trail had 12 stops with signs describing plant and animal life in the Sonoran desert. Rather than stressing about “getting a workout in”, I was able to focus on the physical beauty of the mountains in the distance, the genuine curiosity of my 5-year old nephew, and the pleasure of warm sun in January.
The first “traditional” hike I went on was a 2 mile out-and-back trail at Pinnacle Peak. The conditions on this day mimicked those of my hike on Camelback one year prior. The difference? I could withstand the cold and rain. I was actually…wait for it…warm. While the conditions prevented our group from seeing better views, I was grateful for the rain because it showed how far I have come since last year. I followed the path with confidence, and although I did become fatigued at times, I knew I could complete the journey, that the more difficult moments were temporary and the experience would be worth it in the end.
When I finished the hike, I felt strong, empowered, and proud. I have further to go in my recovery journey, and similarly, a goal to complete more difficult hikes in the future, but that does not preclude me from being present and joyful now.
Finally, I re-visited Camelback Mountain. This year, it was warm and sunny. The terrain was still rocky, steep, and difficult, but I was sure-footed and strong. I knew I could complete the journey, and that the view from the top would be worth it. I had no difficulty being vulnerable and asking for help when I needed it. I am so glad that I got over the rock climbing fear that had manifested last year.
The profound contrast between fueled and underfed, rested and exhausted, regimented and “take it as it comes”, proud and vulnerable as exhibited in each experience is reflective of the contrast between living in the disorder and living in pursuit of recovery. Recovery is not easy, and it is a conscious effort and fight each day. However, I want to be able to hike and enjoy the outdoors and my family in the future with strength and gratitude. I want to approach life with vulnerability and confidence, despite the uncertainty of the future. Hiking is a lot like recovery: it needs to be taken one step at a time. There are more difficult moments, but they pass and lead to moments of respite. Stopping to ask for help is critical. The view from the top is worth it. And the best views come from the hardest climbs.