Once upon a time, there lived a princess who married her perfect prince. Although the princess didn’t believe in happily ever after, she did believe she found the closest thing to it.
Sadly, one day, the prince left unexpectedly, and in a month’s time the princess would lose her husband, her dog, her cat and her life as she knew it, thus beginning the darkest period of her life. Without much hope for herself or belief in who she was, the princess did the only thing she knew how to do best. She went to the rocks. And she climbed, and fell, and failed, over and over again.
Not too far into her new life, she found photos of her six-year-old self in Yosemite National Park and realized that while she felt like she could not survive without the prince, there was another dream, a bigger dream that had been with her all along. So the princess traded her castle for a pumpkin, one with four wheels and that could hold a bed and food and water.
She traded her name, “princess,” for one much more suitable for her. She would now be known as a “dirtbag.” In three weeks time, this aspiring dirtbag will leave for Colorado to begin a new chapter. One filled with climbing, adventure, trails (after covid, of course) and that is greatly focused on healing and growth. Much like the heroines in the Miyazaki films she loves, “she’ll need a friend, or a supporter, but never a savior. Any woman (even herself) is just as capable of being a hero as any man.”
Divorce is disruptive. Every part of my life disassembled at its mercy. Yet, it was anything but merciful. It was a mirror that reflected parts of who I was that I did not want to see but that desperately needed to be acknowledged. I grappled with how I wanted to announce the divorce for quite some time, feeling limited in my silence but uncertain that my words would give the experience justice. It wasn’t until I was back in Utah, embarking on a ride I had journeyed once before, that I realized exactly how to speak to what I had been going through. It became so obvious. The best way I know how to express my experiences is through movement. So here goes...
We start up the mountain and everything has changed since my first and previous ride a month ago. The trail looks different, but is familiar at the same time. In the beginning, the ground that was once rich with life and greenery is now dry, exposing roots and trees twisted in turmoil. Death is apparent.
The fog was a slow burn that morning, quietly rippling up the mountain and eventually retreating to the top where rock meets sky, blurring any distinction between the two. Like foam washed upon a shore, it lingers omnisciently at the peak of the mountain.
At first my wheels fight against the current of snarled roots that appear to bubble up from the earth, but these bubbles are unyielding and threaten to knock the bike off the trail. As the ride progresses, the nature subtly changes. Parts of it nourished, colorful, other parts bare and muted. Somehow, though, no matter what part of the trail I’m on, the grass appears to be greener elsewhere.
Eventually the trail becomes blanketed by golden fallen leaves from a summer come and gone. My wheels begin to turn effortlessly under me, propelling me up and over root and rock and the decorative patterns the foliage seems to intentionally make. The ground is disrupted by nature’s limbs and stone that were once apart of the mountain. The climb increases in grade as the journey begins to set in. Shortness of breath ensues. A steep incline becomes visible ahead. It’s familiar and stirs a visceral feeling from a previous attempt. But this time, the fear is met with a surprising glide up and over the unstable ground. I have made it. There’s brief reprieve and a small downhill allows the wind to run its fingers through my hair and gently kiss my face. Happiness peaks through the rigid consternation. The vegetation begins to change. The Alpines give welcome to the Maples. There is debris scattered among the strong and proud standing trees. If they mourn what they’ve lost, they do so silently. The wreckage lain at their roots doesn’t make them any less beautiful, though. They serve as a reminder of their resilience and the conditions they’ve weathered from four changing seasons. Like scars, they each hold their own story.
As I near the top of the mountain, the sun begins to peak through the branches, like broken dreams it weaves in and out of the shadows, creating patterns of interchangeable darkness and light. Both equally painting beauty across the trails. The top is near now. Hairpin switchbacks tempt to propel me off the mountain. Just when I’ve exhausted my last breath, I’m forced to unearth power to survive the final rocky incline. Then, there’s stillness, save the rise and fall of my chest. The leaves above begin to ripple against one another, mimicking the sound of rain, but instead of a storm, the sun shines brighter. Now, the fog seems to have disappeared entirely. Evidence of its presence only known by the dewy drops it left behind.
The top of the mountain, itself, is not profound. There is a bit of wonderment at how I’ve already arrived. It takes a minute to sink in, and it demands a thoughtful glance around and down its landscape. Suddenly, there’s a clearer picture. Like looking at a roadmap, the trails and pathways weaving in and out of varying terrains, and the big and small indentations, are what make the mountain this mountain. There is no other just like it. The entirety of this mountain is made up of every past experience that has befallen it. It’s strong. It’s grounded. And, perhaps surprisingly, it’s forgiving to the changes it has seen, and wholly and lovingly thankful for every part that makes it what it is. The mountain is unmovable, despite the evidence of impact it has endured. And I realize, the mountain is much like me. Similar to the mountain, there is infinite love and insurmountable grief that actually was surmountable. At the top, a mind mostly clear with scattered fog that gives way to new territory unexplored. Like breadcrumbs, the fog serves as a guide of what is yet to be unearthed and what demands to be discovered. Parts of the trail are reminders for the people that were met along the way, the moments when the wrong gear almost knocked me off track, and the ups and downs that I overcame. There is peace. There is also a looming uncertainty of what is to come. Because I’ve learned enough by now to know the downhill, while down, will be no easy feat, nor should any assumptions about it be made.
The first time I attempted this ride, much like the first time my husband walked out on me, I was left feeling like I was wrapped so tightly in a cocoon that I might never come out of. Now, I pause at the top of the mountain with a new set of wings flapping rhythmically against the changes around me. Exhilarated and terrified for the next climb. Yet, still, tethered to the ground by the humbling humility this journey brought me.