Man, Woman, Mountain.

Man Woman Mountain 1

By Emily Pennington

“The surest way to mend a broken heart is through a forest wilderness.”
-John Muir

 

On really confusing evenings of self, I like to drink beer and make up quotations that John Muir definitely did not write. I summon him like my own, personal break-up Yoda the moment a man threatens to rip the sticky, sensitive tissue of my heart to shreds. I need this. A stubborn, fantasy-ridden reminder that things can still be beautiful, even when they do not turn out as I’d hoped. Though very much dead, Muir offers surprisingly warm company, a wild-eyed mountain guru who will hold my hand through the thick fog of being a suddenly single outdoorswoman.

 

On a chilly Friday in November, following a particularly gut-shattering break-up, I got my dates screwed up and realized that my friends were climbing Mount Baldy the following week. I thought it was tomorrow. I stared at the vacuous, blue light emanating from my iPhone as I wondered whether or not I should still set my alarm and attempt the 11-mile summit. On one hand, I had nothing else to do with my Saturday now that my partner was gone. On the other, my heavy heart had plummeted into the very pit of my stomach where anxiety gestates, and the thought of hiking to 10,000 feet alone and in high winds made me shiver. “Climb the mountains and get their good tidings,” whispered my ghostly sidekick. I fist-bumped the air above my bed, set my alarm, and rolled over to get some rest.

 

Man Woman Mountain 2

 

The following morning on the trail, I found my mind sluggish and distracted, wind kissing my cheeks with sharp sprays of cold air that turned my face a bright pink. My thoughts wandered. I didn’t often hike at high altitude alone. I set one foot in front of the other, just like I had done a thousand times before, and put my head down. It became a moving meditation as my brain began to massage the precise details of the breakup into something resembling a lesson.

 

“Had I asked for too much?” “Was my sensitivity too erratic?” “Could I have better shape-shifted into a form that fit the relationship?” I traversed the alpine landscape as my mind roamed through the rocky debris of my heartache. The sound of gravel beneath my rubber soles bit into the air with a familiar crunch. My lungs burned, and the tips of my fingers went numb from the cold. As the massive hump of Mt. Baldy’s east face came into view, I began to feel solid. Alone, but strong.

 

Man Woman Mountain 3

 

This was the moment my mind snapped fully into philosophical reverie. I wondered why I fancied malleability such a desirable trait in myself. It left me exhausted and resentful when partners could not follow suit. After all, what was there to change into anyways? I was already a dancer, a yogi, a mountain climber, a college graduate, a political activist, and a road trip sing along master. I read the news as well as the entire Game of Thrones series. I was everything I strived to be. Why was I depleting myself in frantic attempts to keep partners who failed to proffer the same effort?

 

Man Woman Mountain 4

 

“When we try to pick out anything by itself, we find it hitched to everything else in the universe.” I thought of John Muir’s apparition high fiving me as I rounded the top of the summit mound. It felt blissful to have soloed the massive peak alone and at my own pace. There was no one to impress but myself. I let out a deep sigh as the wind painted my arms with goose bumps. I was tugging at the thread of this break-up and finding it hitched to the universe of how I approached life itself. Perhaps my 20s had all been a vain attempt at searching for the best thing, the biggest job, or the most compatible partner. I began to feel like I had it all wrong.

 

Maybe the real journey is to give up the hope of better things on the horizon so that we can follow our gut and truly embrace all the good and badassery that we have in the present. I felt it on that summit, the need to hold fast to my strength and my self-respect so that I would not allow another love to topple my ego. “I am a goddamn mountaineer,” I thought. “It’s time to start calling my own shots.” And, with that, I took off down the mountain, feeling more free than I had in a long while, the halo of Johnny Muir’s phantom trailing behind me like a superhero’s cape.

Man Woman Mountain 5

 

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44 thoughts on “Man, Woman, Mountain.

  • December 10, 2017 at 3:54 am
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    I love camping and roaming around but i have a 1 yr old daughter, I can’t do all this solo now. I want to do it after sometime i guess. Thank you for such a great post.

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  • December 6, 2017 at 5:49 pm
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    Oh that’s the worse when you get dates messed up …. that actually happened to us.. but worse…for a flight! We would do the summit anyways. I mean why not? Journeys that are unexpected can be fun!

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  • December 5, 2017 at 11:31 pm
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    Well written story – kept me captivated. Sounds like it was a therapeutic adventure. Being alone in nature is wonderful.

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  • December 4, 2017 at 2:32 pm
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    I just love your creative flair – it is such a pleasure to read your articles here. You have a wonderful and unique way of describing yourself, environment and situation. You are a strong woman indeed.

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    • December 6, 2017 at 1:12 am
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      Thank you for the kind words. Especially during this time of transition, they are much appreciated. <3

      Reply
  • December 4, 2017 at 8:00 am
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    What an inspirational and adventurous read, I’m myself am an adventurous person and love hiking, though have done short hikes only as of now. I’m even planning to try trekking to Everest base camp sometime soon.

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  • December 4, 2017 at 7:17 am
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    What a lovely adventure!! I fell in love with hiking this year and I’m always wanting to get back to the mountains 😂

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  • December 4, 2017 at 3:40 am
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    What a great read! I’m not really a camping person but I would like to try hiking again soon.

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  • December 3, 2017 at 9:58 pm
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    This was such a great read! I love camping and absolutely feel that time with nature can help you find inner peace. It’s something we should all strive to make time for.

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  • December 3, 2017 at 8:54 am
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    This post is really very beautiful and you are such an amazing writer I must say. I never had this kind of experience, Now I am thinking about it.

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    • December 6, 2017 at 1:16 am
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      Oh, I’m so glad you enjoyed it! There’s much more where that came from on my blog too!

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  • December 2, 2017 at 11:59 pm
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    I loved this post!! Often we find such inner strength and peace through being with nature, especially the powerful mountains. John Muir is such an inspiration, his quotes are so poetic and beautiful. You’re such a beautiful writer and I’m glad you found part of yourself while hiking Mt. Baldy. My grandparents used to have a cabin up there, and I spent many summers playing amongst the trees!

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  • December 2, 2017 at 7:01 pm
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    Oh, this post is so poetic, just what I like. Mountain Baldy.. sounds and looks like Monte Baldo, in Italy, where I use to go hiking. I’d say very hike is like a journey into yourself, isn’t it?

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    • December 6, 2017 at 1:17 am
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      It’s actually a 10,000 foot mountain just outside of Los Angeles, but I definitely need to check out Italy and the Dolomites soon!

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  • December 2, 2017 at 6:42 pm
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    There’s something about hiking that always leaves me feeling renewed. Perhaps it’s having the time to reflect. Or perhaps it’s the feeling of accomplishment. Whatever it is, it sounds like you felt that too!

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  • December 2, 2017 at 1:41 pm
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    You expressed yourself so powerfully and beautifully here. Far more in-depth than the average hiker or mountaineer ever could in these circumstances. Love this post.

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  • December 2, 2017 at 12:21 pm
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    Wow thats so awesome that you were able to that. What better way to clear your head. Mt. Baldy is not that far from me. Maybe one day I will try hiking that beautiful mountain.

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    • December 6, 2017 at 1:19 am
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      You absolutely should! Bring lots of water and reserve a full day! The altitude gets real at the end!

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  • December 2, 2017 at 9:54 am
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    Good on you girl! I ain’t a mountain climber but to have done that and stood on that mountain and yelled out your truth ain’t nothing better than that. Taking control of yourself and your destiny is what traveling and challenging yourself is all about.

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    • December 6, 2017 at 1:21 am
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      Heck yes, sister! I’m always on the lookout for new challenges and opportunities to grow!

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  • December 2, 2017 at 9:42 am
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    A really beautifully written, quite poetic piece. I know only of John Muir through my visit to Muir Woods, and that was moving enough as it is. Nature has this awesome power to make you face your sorrows, but yet know that everything will be okay! I’m glad that your hike to Mt. Baldy helped you to find some comfort.

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    • December 6, 2017 at 1:22 am
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      Yes! I felt much more myself after standing on top of that mountain. I want to visit Muir’s house in northern California too!

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  • December 2, 2017 at 7:27 am
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    Well-written. I was reading word after word. I can feel your struggles and triumphs! What a therapeutic way to handle all those emotions. You go girl!

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    • December 6, 2017 at 1:23 am
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      Thanks, ladyfriend! I’ve been writing up a storm since the breakup and planning lots more mountain trips!

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  • December 2, 2017 at 4:35 am
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    I love your writing style! Hiking is so awesome, especially alone. What better way to clear your head than to go on a long walk! Looks like you had some amazing views along the way too!

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  • December 2, 2017 at 2:35 am
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    This is a really well written post. I’m sorry that you’re having a rough time emotionally, but i am super impressed with your mountaineering 😉

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  • December 2, 2017 at 1:44 am
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    Sorry for your breakup :/ I really like this article though, it’s insightful. The sentence, “Why was I depleting myself in frantic attempts to keep partners who failed to proffer the same effort?” caught my attention. I think people excel in different things and areas, and if they don’t exert effort in the same things you do, doesn’t mean they’re not pulling their weight per say. I guess that comes down to the issue of compatibility and finding others with similar ambitions.

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    • December 6, 2017 at 1:25 am
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      Yes, I suppose so. Breakups are funny, though, the feelings come in waves and sometimes look like anger and sometimes look like sadness.

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  • December 1, 2017 at 11:46 pm
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    This sounds like a great adventure! You can learn so much about yourself from hiking.

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  • December 1, 2017 at 11:41 pm
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    Love this! I’m a huge fan of hiking, especially alone – I feel like it’s so therapeutic. Love the way this post is written as well.

    Reply

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