Pain is something that never lasts. I am speaking of physical pain, discomfort. There is always a time when it subsides, and in the case of pain induced by one’s self through exercise, it most definitely always has an end. It really is only a matter of time until that end is reached, and usually, suddenly, as if the pain never were, you feel elated. Today I drove up toward Emerald Bay to go for an afternoon run. I was acutely aware that this would be my last run here in Tahoe for the next six months, at least, maybe longer. Not only would this be my last run here for some time, but my last everything here until September, save perhaps a two day resupply from the PCT around the second week of June. At that point, I will have walked here, 1100 miles, from the Mexican border. Also, at that point in time, being here, will not be about being here. Rather, it will be about passing through. If I begin my PCT journey on my Birthday, the 24th day of March, then I have exactly 28 days from today. Time feels certainly like it is closing in on me, with so much to do. This week here in Tahoe has been an enormous blessing, I’ve been able to get a lot of my food preparation started. Started only, though. I am leaving here with two giant grocery bags of dehydrated food that I have been preparing all week, and I am not really sure what kind of yield it gives me. Is this enough for one month? NO. I still have to supplement with store bought pastas and sauces, nuts and cereal and granola and bars. Never mind all that though, this is not what I sat down to write about. So back to my run today. Driving over to Emerald Bay, I felt emotional, almost irritable, and a touch of sadness was hovering around me. It could be so many things, and I was certain that a good solid run through the woods would cure it all. Along my run, I felt tired, cold, and honestly not that strong. I pushed on, it was beautiful anyway, with the afternoon light pouring through the spaces between the trees in the forest, warming up the bark on the trees and offering beautiful reflections on the silky surface of the lake. It was magical and I allowed myself plenty of moments to stop and take a picture, to take it all in and commit it to memory, as the next time I will be here it will be different. I will be different. That is for sure. I stopped to visit my favorite tree, a giant Ponderosa Pine, maybe 200 feet tall or more, and the girth must be 20 feet around by my estimation. I love this tree. It is a masculine tree, and I always stop to hug and kiss him. He holds sacred space for me so well, and as I stand there and connect with his roots, his bark and his branches, I smell the woody fresh scent in the cracks of his bark. I breathe, and find a still point. I am held.
The further along I went on the trail, the more snow pack revealed itself, and I had stashed my microspikes behind a rock thinking, perhaps prematurely, that I would not need them. I plodded along anyway in the snow, my feet becoming wet and heavy, but the trail was so beautiful. I kept on at a steady, slow pace and sucked in the frigid air on the brief stair step climbs. For some reason, my body does not feel strong today, and my emotions are also feeling tender. Could it be hormones? Could it be what I ate? What I drank? Is it the cold and the altitude? Am I out of shape from less exercise this week or am I tired from all the outdoor activities I have supplemented my workouts with? Who knows, and it really doesn’t matter. There was nothing I could do about it at that moment, and all I knew was that I had to turn around and run back, and, run up that giant hill at the end. That hill is always daunting to me and every time I approach it, I think, no, I can’t do it today, maybe I should just walk. Immediately, that voice inside me says, no, you are going to run it and you are going to set your mind for it right now. You can do it and you will do it, just like you do every time. OK. Fine. So, after a brief interlude with a waterfall, as I stood gazing at the flowing ice melt water as it descended on toward the lake, I decided this is as good a turn around point as any. When I run up here, with all the elements of cold, snow, altitude, I run for time, never distance. It is embarrassing how little distance I actually cover in the given amount of time. As long as I feel good about what I did and I pushed myself, endured, I know I became stronger today, stronger than I was two hours ago, and that is worth it to me. I cruised back along the Rubicon Trail, snaking through rocks, trees and over snow along the water’s edge, finally reaching the dreaded hill. I checked my watch before I started up and with my head down, I tuck my feet under my hips and bend my knees and start the climb. Steady, slow, no stopping. It takes a full 10 minutes to reach the top, which isn’t really that much at all, but it always hurts like hell and that 10 minutes seems like forever. It occurred to me as I ran this evening, as I pushed on, that this pain I was enduring was so very temporary, and that it was really only a matter of minutes before it would stop. Why then the dread prior to the climb? By body told me I am tired, don’t make me do this, let me walk up. My mind told my body, you are capable of running up, even if you are tired, that is no matter, you can still do this and you will. So, I entered the zone of concentration and trudged up, up and up. I passed a few folks walking, some stopping to take a rest on their climb up and I was motivated to push on with a smile as I passed them. I smiled because I was honestly grateful that I can do this, that I have the mental and physical ability and drive to run up this hill. To run period. In the cold. In the snow. In the high altitude. I am so grateful that I can do this here, in Lake Tahoe, in the Sierra Nevada Mountains, in my own back yard. I finally reached the top, it was exactly 10 minutes, the same grueling 10 minutes as usual, and my chest burned, my breathing labored and snot running out of my nose and dripping down the back of my throat, but I had done it once again. Then, the thought occurred to me. You are stronger than you think. Remember that from now on, you’re gonna need to.