Grieving with a Backpack On

The inevitable is happening – turning sixty is only a few years away, so what better time to experience a new adventure? When my children were young, my husband, Matt, often took them backpacking, teaching them about his lifelong passion. I, on the other hand, had no interest whatsoever to carry a pack on my back. But since birthdays seemingly arrive faster and getting older is a sure thing, I was inspired to try something new. When the summer of 2017 came around, I told him I was ready to wear that pack and leave my footprints on the trail. I had enjoyed listening to my family’s tales of their past trips, but now I longed to be the narrator of my own stories.

Their trips were weekend get-a-ways, and although Matt had gone on two 50-milers in the past, these short outings were a subtle way of introducing backpacking to his family and much more manageable for his family. And so, my first trip was on a weekend in July, backpacking in Point Reyes not far from home. After pulling into the parking lot on a Friday afternoon, we “suited up” and I almost toppled over, feeling a bit like Lucille Ball in one of her slapstick scenes – although I managed to find balance eventually. 

When we found the trailhead, I had to document this new beginning with some photos, then we were on our way. The trail was fairly easy with a few minor inclines and dips. I tried to enjoy the scenery, but I was fixated on each step in my what-felt-like “moon” boots. The bulkiness took some getting used to, but it was humbling to carry everything I needed on my back. After just over an hour, we arrived at Coast Camp, sweaty and slightly dirty. Our site was nothing fancy, but it came with a picnic table which proved to be convenient. We set up the tent and made our wilderness bedroom as comfortable as possible. The trip was off to a great start…

We hiked around local trails, reveling in the beauty of the wildflowers – shades of yellows, reds, pinks, and purples – while the bees serenaded. We trekked down to the beach a few times where the temperature had dropped and the wind lost its temper. The ocean inhaled then exhaled, greeting us with a palpable roughness as if to say, “Don’t you dare come in.” We wouldn’t dare, but the sight was beautiful just the same. After trekking back to our campsite, we had a reaffirmed respect for the ocean.

Our dinners were convenient consisting of freeze-dried backpacking food such as beef stroganoff and chicken and dumplings. Occasionally, we indulged in our favorite desserts – raspberry crumble or apple crisp. All we had to do for hot meal preparation was heat water, pour, stir, wait a few minutes, and dinner was ready. In the morning when the sun rose, we had oatmeal and that cup of coffee, which hit the spot. Fruit, cheese, nuts, and sometimes, a little salami and crackers served as lunch. We definitely did not lack in nutrition or hunger.

We appreciated moments of sitting together in silence, reading, enjoying nature’s entertainment, or watching other hikers pass by. Everyone offered a familiar wave as though we were all members of the same backpacking club out for a weekend. Other than an unexpected allergy attack, the trip was a success. When Sunday morning arrived, knowing it was time to pack up and leave, I was sad that this amazing experience was coming to an end, yet I was eager for a hot shower. The drive home was picturesque on the quiet country roads with only the cows lifting their heads to see us as we drove by. We drifted into silence, absorbing the wonderful adventure we had together. A few days later, we jumped into the planning stages for our next adventure to Shealor Lakes in the Sierra for the following month.

Sometimes though, plans do not always work out. Soon after our July trip, my dad’s health suddenly weakened. He began having heart trouble, which initiated a much-needed hospital visit. Dad was ninety-seven years old, but surprisingly, he had never suffered through any major health issues. My family had no reason to believe he would not get the chance to blow out ninety-eight candles in two months. The only pain we knew he felt was missing Mom – his wife of sixty-seven years who had passed away five years prior. Dad was poked, prodded, and x-rayed, and after only three days in the hospital, he peacefully passed away.

It was all so strange – losing my dad, and at the same time having planned the trip. After talking to my sisters, they encouraged us to stick with our original plans. “It’s what Dad would want,” they said. I was unsure, but after much thought, we took my sisters’ advice. Yet, the slight guilt of going while it was all so fresh could not be ignored. If Dad was still in the hospital, I would have stayed, but he was at peace now, no longer suffering. In some otherworldly way, I felt his approval.

We began our four-hour drive a few days after Dad’s passing. After arriving, we unloaded our stuff and “suited up” just like on our first trip. While we prepared and packed, as well as on the drive, Matt repeated to me, “It’s only a mile and a half to the lake!” What he failed to mention was that the hike entailed an ascent over a huge granite dome. I stared at the dome that I was about to embark on and became anxious because I did not feel physically prepared. But Matt’s confidence in my ability was apparent, so we began the uphill hike. What was I going to do, back out now?

After hiking for forty-five minutes, we reached the top, and when I looked down that sleek granite dome, I was amazed at what I had achieved. Never underestimate our abilities. On the other side, Shealor Lake was in full view. We gave our legs a short rest, quenched our thirst and souls with water that tasted better than ever, then headed downhill with the enticing pull of the lake’s beauty. As we neared the bottom, my emotions ran wild. I felt relieved that we finally made it, but a sudden wave of grief washed over me. We removed our packs and rested on a nearby log. I was so overwhelmed that I did not fight the tears. I let them roll down my cheeks with purpose. I cried for the loss of Dad and I cried for having completed this hike that I did not think I was capable of. I would have wiggled out graciously had I known the details much earlier.

Once the last tear had fallen, I composed myself and looked to the lake. The water was a jeweled phenomenon. It sparkled, inviting us for a swim. While we set up our back-country camp, the orange-hot sun blazed down on us as if we had drastically turned up the thermostat, so the cool lake water soothed our sun-kissed skin. The fact that we were all alone in this canyon full of forest and smooth granite was beyond welcoming. The tranquility offered me the chance to reminisce about Dad and my parents together. The solitude afforded a perfect destination to grieve, think, remember, and cry. Mourning the loss of one parent was difficult enough, but losing both felt surreal – a new stage of life had begun.

This Sierra adventure provided a chance for hiking and granite-rock hopping. The sun was our alarm clock, bidding us good morning and night as it rose and faded behind the hills. In the evenings, we sat mesmerized by the campfire’s dancing flames and were enchanted by the dark, star-sprinkled sky. No matter where we explored, magic wrapped us in its warm embrace. This trip challenged my mind, body, and soul. I gained insight into my deepest being, learning not to limit myself. This amazing destination and experience proved to be the best medicine.

I approached that summer with enthusiasm for a new adventure to backpack and I am proud of my ascent over the granite dome. I often wonder if my grieving process would have been more difficult had I not agreed to go on the second trip. I will never know, but I believe I made the right choice at a time when my life unfortunately shifted in a hard-to-process direction. I thanked my sisters for encouraging us to go; their intuition knew it would be the right thing to do. Now, I can honestly say that my footprints are embedded in Point Reyes and the Sierra, and I am grateful to finally be my own narrator. I know Dad would be proud and I can not wait for a new story to emerge on the horizon.

Lauren Scott (c) 2020

 

 

 

43 thoughts on “Grieving with a Backpack On

  1. Sounds wonderful. When we lived in Marin County (Novato) we would go to Point Rayes very often. We also loved Inverness and Tomales Bay as well. When we moved to the town of Sonoma we didn’t go that often. Thanks for sharing your grief and your adventure.

  2. Beautiful memories Lauren, and such an experience of being One with your surroundings… Poignant as it is entwined with losing your Dad.. And I am sure your Dad would be proud of you no matter what…
    I am all the six’s next month… and turning that corner of the six isn’t half bad…
    Love and Hugs Lauren and good to see you back in WP again my friend…
    Love and Blessings and Much love your way ❤

    • Hi Sue, it’s so nice to see you here and to read your lovely comments again. Thank you for your kind words and I know Dad would be proud. I love that you’ll be “all the six’s” next month and it’s encouraging to hear good things about that side. 🙂 My hubby just turned 60, so it’s my turn next year. But all is good so far. We’re healthy and still feel young at heart, so onward we march (or hike or backpack!).
      Love and hugs to you also, my friend. 💗🌼

  3. A beautiful tale of your first trail walking, the beauty and serenity.
    It couldn’t be better for you to deal with the loss of your Dad. With all
    that stillness and beauty around and your family. Bless.

    Miriam

    • The beauty and serenity were absolutely divine, Miriam. Thank you for your kind words and for taking the time to read. We hike a lot, but this was the first backpacking experience and it sure is humbling to carry all necessities for a weekend on your back. We’ll continue as long as our bodies allow us. Take care, Lauren 🌷

  4. Oh, my dear Lauren, precious memories… Amazingly beautiful place. That was indeed a wise choice. In a way, your dad was there with you.
    As for getting older… I like to say, getting better, so enjoy every minute!
    Many hugs xoxoxo

  5. Thank you for sharing your adventure and your willingness to try something new. I am sorry to hear the loss of your father, I am sure he was with you in those gorgeous surroundings.
    Best Wishes, Charlotte

    • Thanks, Charlotte, for reading and for your kind words about my dad’s passing. It was a weekend I’ll never forget for all the anxiety, grief, joy, and beauty it embodied. And I’m sure Dad was with me all along. Stay well, Lauren 🌻

  6. Loved the pictures. Long hikes are a thing of the past for me now at this age but I have very happy memories of trekking through varied climates and landscapes over the years. Hiking is great for health and peace of mind being out in the great outdoors.

    • Thanks, Ian. We’ll continue with hiking and backpacking until our bodies literally say, “NO!” 🙂 Your thoughts on what hiking is good for is exactly why we do it.

  7. Reminding me of Lucille Ball made me smile, Lauren. Freeze-dried backpacking food tastes wonderful when you are hungry. I am very sorry to hear about the passing of your Dad and your Mom before that. Sixty-seven years is inspirational. It is interesting how extreme beauty can sometimes evoke emotion and grief. The photos are stunning. I especially like the last photo and the exquisite reflections. A great post!

    • I am a big Lucy fan, so I immediately thought of her when I was a bit clumsy in the beginning. I’m happy to have made you smile, Erica. And you’re right about the food, and honestly, the freeze-dried options are more delectable nowadays than decades ago. Thank you for your kind words about my parents, and yes, the beauty in that canyon by the lake evoked many tears and grieving. But as I wrote, it was the best place for me to be at that time, and I’m so grateful I chose to go. I toggled back and forth between staying and going, so it worked out in the end. Thank you about the photos, too – all taken from our iphones. I will admit that last photo is stunning and I was a little shocked at how good it turned out 🙂 Thanks again and take care, Lauren

      • Thank you for sharing about taking the photos with the iphone. I have only started using my phone more, since, of course we always have our phones with us. You captured the stunning scenery. Beautiful!

      • You’re welcome and it’s amazing how good the cameras are on our little phones. They’re so convenient and you can delete the shots that don’t turn out. Thanks again for your kind words, Erica. Have a wonderful Friday.

  8. Your trekking account, adorned with captivating pics and laced with poignancy of your dad’s recent passing, makes for a compelling read, Lauren. These forays provide a highly immersive experience of deep meditation amidst the whispering trees and gurgling waters. Spirits of those dear departed dwell in the surrounding silence to give added strength to remaining years of our lives. Let that thought sustain you as well.

    • Dear Raja, thank you for your insightful and elegant words. I appreciate them very much. This experience was definitely meditative amidst the beauty surrounding us, and the fact that we were alone within our little wilderness home, made it even more soul-stirring. Your last thought will surely sustain me. Thank you again for such a touching comment.

    • Thanks for your lovely words, Scott. For the last year, I’ve been writing personal stories and this one will stay special for obvious reasons. I’m glad the emotions I conveyed were palpable to you, the reader. And I’m happy to inspire. I haven’t blogged in over a year and here I am. So glad to see you like old times. 🙂 Take care, too, my friend…

  9. What a wonderful post, thanks for sharing it. It was a perfect way for you to deal with the loss of your father. The pictures are awesome. Nice to see you back. xo

    • Thanks so much, Darlene, and as I look back, it was the perfect way to grieve when my dad passed. I’m so glad I chose to go because I can honestly say that he wouldn’t have wanted me to change my (our) plans because of him. I know he was there in some fashion. I’m glad you enjoyed the photos too. Our trusty little cell phones do wonders. 🙂 Thanks for visiting and it’s great to see you again. xo

  10. What a fab tale, Lauren. It sounds like your grieving was as full, as your adventure. Nature took care of you. In the beginning and in the end, we are nature. This was a perfect experience! xoxo

    • Hi Resa, you’re right about the grieving being as full as the adventure. This lake was one of the most beautiful places I’ve seen, so the hike was worth it on so many levels (even with a bit of anxiety). 🙂 Thanks for coming by and wishing you a fantastic Friday evening. 💗

    • An enjoyable narrative, Lauren. And seems to me it was the perfect place to grieve. I can imagine that your dad fully approved, and was no doubt with you in that beautiful place. (It’s hard losing our parents – my belated condolences.)
      It was fun to see the photos too. Gorgeous scenery! ❤️

      • Thanks, Betty, and I know Dad would’ve approved and was with me through that adventure. Thanks for your condolences, too. It’s already been 8 years since Mom passed and now almost 3 for Dad. I know you share the same feelings of loss – how time is really irrelevant because it all feels so real and raw even after so many minutes and hours have slipped away. Sending hugs and I’m glad you enjoyed the photos. It was stunning to me after my first glimpse. Love to you! 💗💗

  11. What a touching share, Lauren. Nature is so balancing and being “in” it opens us up to gratefulness and wonder. I’m so glad you took the trip. Sorry about your dad too. My parents are getting up there and their health is not good at all. I hope when the time comes, I remember your post and remember how much beauty there is in the world. (Hugs)

    • Thanks for such a touching comment, Diana. Nature never lets us down, does it? I’m glad I went, too, and thank you about my dad. It is very strange when they’re both gone. Mortality becomes clearer and it really isn’t fair that we don’t live forever. I’m sorry to hear about your parents and will keep you in my thoughts. It’s not easy. Simple as that. And what you said about remembering my post is so thoughtful. Hugs back…

  12. Such precious memories, Lauren. I’m glad you decided to take the trip with Matt. Nature truly helps us heal. Dad passed away in 2002 and Mom in 2007. I find I dream of them often and my memories of them are comforting and wonderful. Love and hugs, my friend. ❤️❤️❤️

    • Thanks, Michelle, and I’m glad we went, too, now that I look back. Nature heals. But isn’t it surreal losing both parents? Time heals though, and now like you, I think or dream of them often and it’s comforting. Once in a blue moon, I admit to shedding a tear, missing them. But life goes on and that trip was a once in a lifetime experience for me. Love and hugs to you. 💗🌷

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