Unscrambling Your Brain on a Mountain Trail

November 8, 2012
A summer vacation report, an inspirational mountain woman, and a stubborn mule.

Mono Pass

I am sliding back into writing for the blog again after several months absence. Of course, you may not have known that I wasn’t writing current posts because I had written what newspaper commentators call “green” material, because they are always fresh. And my assistant, Renee, made certain the pre-written posts were uploaded twice a week.

Since I’ve returned, I wrote the two posts last week on choosing goals and will write a number of current posts as the mood strikes me, like this one today. But then, as I did in the summer, there will be several that I will have written ahead of time.

You see, now that my fourth book — How to Love a Perfectionist Without Going Crazy — is almost ready for Kindle and a PDF version on Support4Change, I want to focus on a revision of Letting Go of Our Adult Children: When What We Do is Never Enough.

If I am to follow the advice I wrote about last week in Setting Goals and Making Choices and Reduce Stress With a Nothing Day, I know that writing two blog posts a week together with a revised book will be more than I can handle. Therefore, I am getting a number of future posts ready and you should be able to return twice a week for more pieces by me — and sometimes by guests.

In case you are interested, here is my report of what I did this summer.

My Report of “What I Did This Summer”

In June my youngest daughter come to visit with her two children. A few days after she arrived, my husband and I went to Portland with two of our grandchildren on a Road Scholar [Elderhostel] Program called “Grandparents and Grandchildren: Sharing a Common Love of Animals.”

When we returned, my daughter stayed for another month and did a yeoman’s job of cleaning out the garage and making meals. Playing with granddaughters while someone is making your dinner is the kind of visit I heartily recommend.

Over the next couple months, almost all our children and grandchildren came to visit. I was kept busy playing games with them and going to lots of the places in Southern California that tourists like to see. However, we didn’t go to Disneyland, where crowds make a mockery of being in the “happiest place on earth.” Waiting forty-five minutes for a 5 minute ride is for a younger generation.

One of the neat things we did with one of our older grandkids was to take him to a Road Scholar program called “Hollywood Film School” in Los Angeles. He wants to be in the entertainment business and this was a chance for him to get a glimpse of what he needs to do to make that possible — and for me to get some tips for when I make more videos.

Then the last of family activities was a family reunion of my husband’s four brothers and their wives in Oceanside, down near San Diego, the end of September. The house was on a lagoon and quiet, except for an occasional train.

A Mountain Woman Worth Her Weight in Beef Jerky

Now I’d like to tell you about a front page article titled “A High Sierra State of Mind” in the Los Angeles Times on Oct. 26, 2012 (so you know this post is pretty fresh). It tells the story of a self-reliant woman who sounds like someone I’d like to meet. It reminded me of a mule and a book. I’ll tell you about the mule below and about the book in the next post.

Mary Breckenridge had been a cook on commercial High Sierra trips for a number of years when, a dozen years ago, she began taking solitary trips into the mountains every September. Now, at 64, with arthritis and other problems, she wonders if she can make her annual trek by herself.

The picture accompanying the article caught my attention with its panorama view of Mono Pass and high country similar to many places I’ve gone backpacking when I was still able to backpack. The picture at the top of this post is one I took on a mule ride in 2004. (I’ll tell you more about that below.)

When Mary describes mornings when there was ice scenes were described, I also remember mornings when I awoke to ice in the water bucket. I’m glad I wasn’t alone and that my husband was a gem who brought me hot chocolate before I got out of the tent. It’s a neat way to greet the world.

In any case, I found the article interesting for several reasons.

A Reminder of How to Capture a Moment in Time

What she discovered on her first trip alone — and all those that followed — was focus. She uses the trips to counter feeling “scrambled in the brain” — by truly experiencing being where she is, a technique we can all use in the pace of life today.

The article said:

Someone once told Mary that the way to hold a moment in your mind forever is to list at least three things you can see, three you can hear, smell, feel.

She rides Surprise [her horse] beneath cliffs scuff-marked by ancient glaciers, adding to her lists: Her favorite flower — shooting stars — just past bloom. A jagged ridgeline, the smell of dust and horse sweat and butterscotch pines. Her skin prickled by sun, the shade of her hat on her face. Surprise’s breathing. Silence.

She hangs back.

“Being alone in the scenery, you get a sense of being a very small but very important part of everything around you,” she says.

My own experience tells me she is right on. The times I remember in the mountains are the times when I immersed my senses in everything around me. Today I can call upon those memories in a heart beat.

A Reminder of Bruno, a Yosemite Mule With a Stubborn Streak

In 2004 my husband and I had a great adventure visiting five High Sierra Camps via mule. It sounded perfect in planning.

Bruno the Mule

Our clothes and personal gear would be carried by the mules, at night we would stay in a tent, hot breakfast and dinner would be served family style in the mess hall, lunch would be packed for the trail, and all we had to do would be to enjoy the scenery.

Of course, we were told to get in a little horseback riding before the trip to get ourselves in shape. We did. The only part of our plans that we overlooked was the part that involved mules, rather than horses, specifically the innocent-looking Bruno to which I was assigned.

For six days we went on many steep up-and-down trails in mountains, more steep than we’d expected. In fact, four women from South Carolina were in our group of eight, and all were experienced horsewomen and/or owned horses. They had been down the Grand Canyon on mule and said this was the worst trail they’d ever been on. Of course, mules, being what they are, were far more sure-footed than the horses ridden by the husband and wife wranglers who lead us through the wilderness. But it took a lot of energy to stay upright and keep my mule from browsing along the way.

Since a mule has more muscles in his neck that I have in my whole body on a good day, pulling his head up once he started eating was impossible. The trick was to jerk the reigns just before he put his head down. But we also were told to give our mules lots of reign while going up or down because that made it easier for the mule to keep his balance. It also allowed the mule’s head to be closer to the ground, which was closer to grass. With little distance to move toward it since the reign was slack, he did more grazing than he would have with a better horsewoman. Mulewoman? And Bruno didn’t give a fig if he brushed past a tree and scrapped my knee or even took off my kneecap. Just another tourist. Just another load to bear.

My husband’s mule, Angus, was extremely skittish and Bob, who admits he’s no horseman/muleman, walked about half the way, which could be more than ten miles. At the end of every day we would take a nap before dinner in our cabin. There being no electricity, there wasn’t much else to do anyway and reading in bed wore out batteries.

Was the scenery great? Absolutely.

Was it an adventure? You bet your life.

Would we do it again? Not on your life.

At least not until they invent a guaranteed anti-aging technique. Such trips are for much younger people, or at least older folks in better shape than we are. My inability to get Bruno to pay attention to my wishes taught me all the humility I need right now.

The Next Post Will be Wild

The newspaper article and my memories of the Sierras remind me of Wild, a book I am reading to a blind friend of mine. It is about a woman who takes a solo hike along the Pacific Crest Trail, a trail that runs from the California border to Canada (though she does miss some segments).

In fact, I think I’ll make the next post about the book. I highly recommend it if for nothing else than her descriptions of what it feels like to walk those mountain trails by yourself. She definitely got her brains unscrambled as she healed some parts of her past and became more acquainted with who she was.


Did you enjoy this post?
Here are a some related posts from this blog, and articles from the Support4Change website:


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