It is eerily empty here in the Red Rocks boondock. The gang all pulled out this morning bound for Kodachrome, while I am headed east to cross a couple more national parks off my never-ending task master, my Bucket List. But without a list, I lose track of my desires. And without desires, there is no expansion, no growth. Right?
The campground that has been my “landing strip” for the past week is now empty. It will forever hold the memory in my personal history book as my first boondock after retirement, and the first page in the next chapter of my life. I take some time to walk around the campground after the others have left. It feels like an empty movie set now. Void of energy. The wind is blowing up some ghostly-looking swirls of red dust around me. I want to leave and I don’t want to leave. I seem to be lacking focus, but I guess that is to be expected after leaving a job of 24 years.
Yesterday, I did a solo hike in the other side of Spring Canyon. After having made it two thirds of the way in, I wanted to see what I had missed on the other side. The rest of the gang had done this part of the canyon prior to my arrival, so while they all went in to fill and dump tanks, I “filed a flight plan” with Debbie. “If I am not back by dark, I’ll be in Spring Canyon.” Her response is comforting. “I’ll come looking before dark!”
I realize mid-day is not the best time for photographs, but the walls of this canyon are so vivid from the sun’s reflection off the red rocks that it looks like my eyeballs are bleeding! The others have promised a visual feast, and they did not exaggerate. I have the entire canyon all to myself as I wander through these hallowed walls for almost four hours, marveling at the beauty of nature’s impermanent sculpture garden against the stark architectural angles of the canyon walls. I am filled with awe to have such a place all to myself.
I have always enjoyed solo hiking. Since I am not focused on keeping pace with others, I spend more time reflecting, basking, and pondering quotes like Emerson’s “Adapt the pace of nature; her secret is patience.” Instead of thoughts focused on whether or not I will be able to keep up, whether I can make it up the hill, following butts and boot heels in front of me, I relax more. I see more of the vegetation along the path, the rock formations, the topography that unfolds in front of me. I hear more of the clicking of insects and melodic birdsong. And I embrace the sound of my own labored breath in the silence, rather than worry that others will perceive it as struggle.
But hiking with “the gang” has given me new insight into the joy that can come from hiking with people who share my same lust for adventure and exploration. Particularly those with a higher skill level than me, as I have always wished for a group of friends who would inspire me to “take it up a notch.” Doing things like scrambling over boulders, fording streams, all at once I am a kid again, back down on the farm, following in my big brother’s footsteps. Doing crazy stuff like “base jumping” out of the second floor barn door with my Barbie parasol as a parachute. Tunneling through my Dad’s wheat fields like a maze. Flying over terraces on my bicycle. It feels like being a kid again, not something I have done much of over the past 30 years.
So as with everything in life, it’s a tradeoff. Surrendering one’s ego to always be at the back of the pack, in exchange for the thrill of exploration? Giving up intimate immersion in the solitude of nature to enjoy the laughs from an adrenalin rush? Dealing with the group dynamic in order to go places I wouldn’t have the nerve to go alone? Is it possible to have the best of both worlds? I don’t know, but I sure would like to try…
“And the day came when the risk to remain tight in a bud was more painful than the risk it took to blossom.” ~ Anais Nin