The crisp winter air bites on the tip of my nose and fingertips, but I feel warm and ready to tackle this mountain. I stretch my microspikes over my boots and pull my wool hat down around my ears. The fresh powder snow below me makes me question why I put my spikes on today, but I let it be and continue on the untouched trail. The sun peeks through the dirty smog as I ascend higher and higher. The silence that flows between the pines reminds me to slow down, to stop and listen to the message I am here to receive.
My whole life I have felt a connection to the beauty of the outdoors. At a young age, I would stop and marvel at the artistic value of my surroundings. I grew up believing that God was the greatest artist and we were all copying his work. This was my first winter hike and I happily went about, passing a few fellow hikers along the way. When I reached the falls, I hiked in the hollow where the water falls and meets the stream. A majority of the water’s flow was frozen solid, but there was still water cascading down the edge of the mountain and onto the ice below. The ripples of ice reminded me of wrinkled cotton sheets. The ice would fall, collect below, and instantly freeze on top of the previous sheet of ice. I pulled out my phone and recorded the majestic scenery and sent it to my husband.
“It doesn’t get any better than that,” I said as I spanned the falls back and forth.
I tucked my phone back into my pack and headed to the view above the falls. I stopped at the top and took a deep breath in.
Why don’t I get up here more often? I feel so alive in the mountains.
I reached back to grab my protein bar, without taking my pack off. When I glanced behind my shoulder, I caught a glimpse of someone standing across the trail and behind me a few yards. I turned towards her to say hello, but no one was there. Often, while hiking, I will catch a branch or foliage that looks like someone is there. I often glance up to smile or say hello and no one will be there. I laughed at myself and reached for my snack again. I unwrapped the foil package and took a large bite of peanut butter and fruit. I scanned the trees slightly above my head and caught a glimpse of her dark hair blowing behind her shoulders.
I thought to myself, I knew I saw someone, so I turned back around and in the same motion said “hello.” No one was there.
This time I turned my whole body around and I stood there looking at the corner of the trail, where I felt she was. I knew someone was there. I hiked passed where I thought I saw her standing, and then turned around quickly as if I’d catch her standing there.
No one was there.
A handful of times when I hike alone, I will get scared or I'll allow my mind to think the worst. In this moment, I wasn’t nervous, I felt calm, and I felt tested. As if she was saying to me “can you see me?” The question was so clear and real in my mind that I answered her out loud, “I can see you.”
As I type this now, every logical part of me wants to say I was worried that someone on the trail would hear me talking to myself, but I wasn’t. I was so confident in my response, I replied without restraint. She wanted me to see her there, but I don't think she expected me to respond. I heard no verbal response back. I didn't need one.
I felt with every fiber of my being that I should enjoy my hike today. I should enjoy my life. Be grateful for my life and be joyful.
I responded out loud to this as well and said, “It’s beautiful today and I will enjoy every step for you and for me.” I tightened the straps on my pack and started to run down the trail. The ice shattered below my spikes as I hit each step with force. I felt powerful and strong. I ran with caution, but aggressively and I smiled the whole way down.
That evening I asked my husband if there had been any deaths on Battle Creek trail.
He said, “Not any that I can remember. Why? Were you scared up there alone?”
I instantly felt foolish for even thinking it and I responded, “No, it was fine, I was just curious."
That night as I laid in bed, I Googled deaths on Battle Creek Trail. Nothing popped up and I felt this sting of stupidity. Every day since I have meditated and thought about this dark haired hiker. I thank her for her message and promise to be joyful and grateful.