My lungs reduced to waterballoons. Calves set on fire. Flecks of snow turned to stray sparks across the skin. The wind icing my bones. The euphoria of looking out from flying lands. Beds of moss abounding. The sun a welcome friend checking in. Sips of water tickling my throat. Some harsh hiking this time around.
I’m not one for philosophizing while I hike since I’m often distracted by photogenic scenes and perilous potholes — curse you weak ankles — but a discussion with a friend the morning of this hike put me into a reflective mood.
Our chat had wandered into the topic of human suffering. Why does life become so hard for some people? Why do certain brands of negative experiences seems to frequent our lives? I brought up an idea I heard once, which always seemed suited to this particular set of questions.
Before we are born we are a collection of souls. We don’t know hunger, restlessness, fear, envy, pain, anger or sadness. We float through the universe on a plain of bliss. But we don’t know it’s bliss, because we have nothing to compare it to. No other plain to judge our relative situation. So everything feels flat. We just are. Then we make the choice to explore other realms of experience. We become scholars of emotions. We say, “I want to discover sadness, so I can discover happiness. That will be my lesson this life.”
And we descend to Earth.
I like to think the lesson I assigned myself is impatience/patience. I don’t plan. I do. And sometimes that gets me into trouble, especially when my thin plans break.
What will I say to myself when I become that eternal being again? Will waiting by the oven for the cookie timer help me jump with glee when an aging star goes supernova after waiting on it for thousands of years? Will I realise how special an event it is despite a supernova’s occurence being as frequent as sunsets in my presumably expansive experience? Everything that is good in this life has a basis of pain. New life. Birth and Death. Love. Loss. Faith. Vulnerability. But it works the other way around too. There is always the chance to find peace in a bad situation. It’s just a lot harder.
Tranversing Glen Clova’s Loch Brandy and the Snub felt like crossing a lifetime. I’m used to paths that wind and twist, but ultimately merely climb up and then descend. Here though, was a sturdy metaphor for life’s intensities—with all its wretched distractions and minuet beauties. We started at the carpark near the Glen Clova Hotel. As we stepped from the car we completed the descent from easy voyaging to the most basic of human transport systems. Our legs. From here on out our advancements would be the result of personal struggle.
Step. Step. Step.
We reach the bottom of the hill and begin to stride up the path. The ascent doesn’t hesitate to start right from the beginning. The sun warms our backs and for a moment I revel like a fern in spring beams. It’s so comfortable not even the crisp wind can keep me from sliding off my coat so the sunlight can lick my arms. We climb and climb.
I fall back with each step, struggling to keep up with my sturdy companions. Blood rushes to my face and my breath falls short. My stomach churns and a burp reminds my tongue of the taste of breakfast. I turn out to the valley, gulping down the view like an energy drink. The car is beginning to look like a toy, the valley extends on into infinity and a meandering river dutifully spreads its rich nutrients. Up ahead my companions look down, explorers scouting the unfolding land.
I catch myself praying for the ability to teleport.
But life isn’t so kind. Nor I suppose so cruel. The height of this walk is the lightness in my heart every time I catch up, beam and get to pitch an awful joke.
“I am BATMAN,” I croak huskily as I lift my jacket’s tails to catch the wind.
“Do you suppose this Brandy is the one who lost to the sea as life, lover and lady for the sailor in that song?” I inquire as we gazed down at Loch Brandy.
“I’mmm dreaming of a whiiitteee Easter!” I squeak as snow flits through the air around us.
But this is all yet to come.
Step. Step. Step.
Marching on with my head ducked in weary drive I spot a commotion of movement at my feet. The path is putting on an astonishing light show, a glittering visual symphony of delight. The eighth wonder of the world for magpies lies at my feet! I muse, the thought bringing a chuckle dancing out of my lips. The joy is in the movement. When I sway to a stop the pinpricks of light are lost in a miniature desert of dust, but when I move forward they dance up the path. These tiny, unsettled constellations lead me on as faithfully as the stars.
In time I have again caught up, this time at a false summit.
In the distance a series of figures silently conquer the spine of the valley. Distant heroes with recent experience fastened onto their belts. It feels like the distance between myself and the people in the jobs I want. What separates us is minute and vast, all at once. How long till I have there, being watched with envy and aspiration?
The group trudges over a lip and Loch Brandy comes into sight at last. A cool drink for the eyes though not our stomaches. Tea instead is sacrificed and soon tumbles down into our bellies alongside a hiker’s buffet of cheeses, beef jerky and bread. We huddle in a dip, hiding from a frigid wind which cuts across the loch. As my fingers nip about our delectable picnic I glance at the next beast to be broken—a towering mound called the Snub. Instead of a path, a ladder of stone clings to its ridge. I look down again at the food and attempt to reel my thoughts back to the present ease.
Fingers jab to my feet and poke at the tips of the rubber soles. They bend away from the boot like putty. PANDA POO.
My shoes are literally falling apart on my feet.
Now 2010 Allison would have been like fuck, that’s it then, I’m out… call the helicopter! But 2017 Allison was a (luckily? unluckily?) gives n-less fucks wardrobe-malfunction-on-the-trail veteran. I root around the backpack for something to save my dignity.
And excavate a bungee cord.
Yep. That’ll do, I mumble as I tighten it around the worst boot. So now I have a steep incline to tackle and boots that may or may not cause me to kick the ground, fall on my face and possibly go tumbling down the rocky mountainside. I notch my “careful meter” up a few states. All too soon the food is stashed away and its time to tackle the uncertainty blocking my view of the future.
So I take a deep breath. And I step. step. step.
Will continue in another post. 😉 My 1,000 words limit has been breached! Le gasp!
Surviving the Snub
Budget: It’s free! But you’ll need a car.
Age group: 7+ or so. Unless you have a particularly tough child.
Clothes: Waterproof layers, hats, gloves and good shoes. Especially good shoes.
Culture: Respect the landscape. Anything you bring you take away.
Food: There is a hotel in the valley you can grab food and a drink from. Nothing on the hike though so bring snacks!
Transport: You have no choice but to drive. We’ve joined a local carclub called Cowheels which lends us electric cars for cheap!
Time: 6 hours if you climb up to the Snub and then descend to Loch Wharral. You can see our exact walking specs.