I am truly fortunate to have a husband who is fervently passionate about embarking on big adventures to feel connected with the world. I call it a blessing, because it grants me an extraordinary opportunity. An opportunity to acquaint myself with the profound darkness— not merely spiritually, but literally as well. In this velvety obscurity, there lie lessons of resilience and endurance.

As dawn breaks at 6am, I leave Brent at the trailhead and commit myself to hiking up the Duck Lake trail as he is hiking out later in the day. The only area where he gets cell reception on his 36-mile high alpine hike is Duck Pass which is 6.5 miles from where I am due to pick him up. Taking into account his faster downhill pace against my uphill climb, I figure that we’re likely to meet after I’ve covered 2-3 miles. Doable I think to myself.

Those who have known me understand that one of my greatest assets has always been my ability to navigate life’s challenges with calm confidence and faith in my capabilities to endure and grow with whatever comes my way. However, over recent years battling chronic illness, I didn’t realize how much this trust in myself had eroded until we embarked on our sailboat voyage aboard Makara into the Sea of Cortez. My diagnosis of Parkinson’s disease and its accompanying struggles created an overwhelming distrust in my body’s ability to be functionally reliable and predictable. I found myself fearful every time I ventured into a bustling store due to potential sympathy or misunderstanding if my left leg faltered and I stumbled or an anxious mess with fear that I couldn’t perform mentally or physically with what was needed to keep ourselves safe as we headed out into the ocean.

I mention this because saying that a solo 3 mile hike being doable has not been in my repertoire for way too many years. Despite moments of physical strength, fears born from self-doubt always triumphed over belief in my abilities. By allowing myself grace to experience these emotions fully and growing mindful of when and why they creep into my being has enabled me to start having the courage to challenge this perception of incapability.

So here I sit after a day’s work, sinking into an evening movie as I await Brent’s call signaling his arrival at Duck Pass—my cue to head towards the trailhead and begin hiking. 7pm comes and goes.  8pm comes and goes.  OK, now it’s getting dark which is okay; he did say that he might be late.  He calls finally at 8:10 pm and by the time that I get to the trailhead, it is pitch black…even more so under the forest canopy.

Reflecting upon Stoic philosophy’s teachings reminds me that not every situation requires forming a judgment or opinion. So instead of reflexively questioning whether “I feel good enough” or “Am I capable?”, I step out from the car with poles in hand, headlight on head and start hiking; embracing whatever experiences unfold along its course.

What strikes me first is how eerily silent everything is; no rustling leaves, chirping birds nor human chatter disturb nature’s stillness. The next observation was how dark and solitary everything appeared—all that was visible was the small circle cast by my headlight illuminating each following step.

I found myself thinking about potential encounters with wildlife lurking unseen around corners; that bear that I’d surprise in the darkness or that mountain lion about to surprise me.  I chuckled at the thought of that funny post of a black bear freaking out upon seeing his reflection in a mirror.  Quite funny!  With the fear of the darkness creeping in, I engaged the other senses beyond sight.  Listening for twigs snapping or gruff animal breathing helped me control my spiralling apprehensions.  As quickly as doubts concerning my ability to handle unexpected situations arose, they were promptly replaced with solutions ; even reminding myself that mountain lions aren’t likely present where I’m hiking and the bears are most likely terrorizing dinner- cooking campers down at the campsites!  Reminder that our fears are usually not founded in current reality.

As I crossed the 2 mile mark, I contemplated how analogous this experience was to night watch aboard Makara.   While Brent slept, in total darkness, it fell solely upon me to steer clear of looming cruise ships heading straight towards us or to identify fishing vessels invisible on radar or AIS.  While sailing confidence still needs some work, the courage cultivated through being comfortable with uncomfortable experiences and maintaining faith that I am capable certainly seems strengthened!

As Brent emerged around a bend—I felt profound gratitude to him (though perhaps unexpressed directly) for doing what he does in the way that he does it as it allowed me to discover the enriching experience of solo hiking through the darkness!

Brent purposefully plunges himself into tough situations as it helps reinforce his perseverance against adversity where giving up isn’t an option.  By placing himself into these situations, he learns just how capable he is to manage not only these self inflicted adversities but also those that life inevitably likes to throw our way.  While spending 27 hours climbing a 16 pitch piece of granite may never be part of my repertoire, I am learning the value inherent in deliberately placing myself into challenging experiences just for the opportunity to step into that darkness.

A darkness that is neither good nor bad, but one that just is.


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