This weekend I went on my first backpacking trip in Brazil. It was something I had signed up for in September, when everything sounds like a good idea. The trip was postponed, and rescheduled, and then it was rainy season, and all sorts of things that make you think “huh. yeah. i dont even want to go anyway, so…” (The super convenient thing about being a Christian sometimes is that a few things can happen, and you can say “Oh I think God’s saying we should totally not go on this trip, and I deserve a full refund.”)
As the day crept closer, the forecast called for massive amounts of rain, I was getting zero information about the hike (turns out the leaders were emailing the other Rachel on staff the whole time), and I kind of just wanted to curl into a little ball and watch Christmas-themed movies, eat cookie dough, and try to find the right combination of OTCs to combat the pains and emotions associated with the female affliction, which was hitting me harder than normal for whatever reason.
I thought it was truly the nail on the coffin when I was assigned “vegetables” as my item to bring for the dinner potluck. I am allergic to most vegetables.
But the more I thought about it, I realized that maybe this was exactly what I needed. I’ve been in a bit of a slump, you see. But nature, hard physical work, and two days straight with people you don’t really know can do a lot to challenge and stretch a person in a good way. So I dutifully rolled up the dry-fit everything, packed the extra socks, planned the proper rotation of layered clothing. I spent hours at the grocery store deciding on what candy I deserved to eat along the trail. I made the coLOSSAL error of pre-chopping the onions, which resulted in everything about me smelling like onions for the entire weekend. Then me and 30lbs+ of gear and nine other people (friends in the making!) were ready to go at 6am.
And off we went. Well, in true Brazilian fashion, we left about an hour after scheduled to leave. And the rented school bus climbed higher into the mountains, out of the Rio traffic, through the fog, towards the sky.
The hike started uphill at a steady clip. We ran into a horny toad, a neon frog, berries, orange leaves, red leaves (we had a very enthusiastic guide). We thought we would faint of hunger and demanded a food break. We peed on the side of the trail, we told life stories, we kept climbing. My legs burned, my lungs ached, my heart pumped. I felt that hot/cold/sweaty/burned out muscle feeling of hiking that makes you feel really, really alive again. We looked around and found ourselves above the clouds. Hiked further still – swatting at violent bamboo, sticky leaves, jumping over waterfalls, balancing on rocks and then “awwww MAAAANNNN” falling in mud puddles.
We arrived to the tiny lodge that was to be our home for the night, tucked inside descending clouds that looked like ewoks might swing through them on vines at any moment. We had reserved to sleep on the floor, and PRAISE JESUS there were open beds for us that the lonely rangers said we could sleep in for free!
Us womenfolk made spaghetti, drank tea, screamed when rats ran over our feet, and tried to feel warm. We ate pasta, played music on a transistor radio (with an ipod hook up, but that’s not as romantic), and later tucked into bed with late night prayers and sleepy wishes for each other.
Sunrise brought about the new proverb – “A cheerful neighbor too early in the morning is like a bucket of cold water on your head.” (Some of us were verrrry enthusiastic about being alive before the rest of us were okay with being alive.) We hiked to the summit, where we saw the Finger of God, hundreds of swarming swallows singing to no one, a gorgeous gorge, and the tops of clouds. We read from Psalms – the Heavens declaring the glory of God – and it’s amazing to me every time I see something so beautiful and incredible in nature that people can think there isn’t something bigger and better involved in the making of our all.
Hiking back down hurt in a way that reminds you that despite best efforts, you do get older. Reminds you of previous hikes and travels and people you spent them with, and to ice your knees when you get home. We talked about everything from linguistics to Ironmans to the tiny fish in the Amazon that can swim up a penis (after which Tess and I said a prayer for our future husbands, asking God to protect their sperms, so that we may bear cute children). We ate canned tuna and dodgy crackers with the gusto of those who have never seen food before.
On the ride back, we fell asleep sitting up against each other in the same rented school bus, briefly remarking on how strange it was to live in a place we know so little of that we have no landmarks to indicate we are drawing nearer to home. For the first time, I missed the windmills of the Livermore hills.
I made it up to my apartment, collapsed into the easy chair in the living room, saturated in sweat and dirt and the kind of motivation and profound thoughts that hit you when you’re in nature, but slowly slip away as you realize the kitchen sink is still clogged from three days ago, and you have nothing but Oreos in the house, and the socks in your backpack smell like moldy old people, permeating everything within, so laundry cannot possible wait. Wished my body would recognize it is home and let me finally go poo after two days of trail food. Dreading work in the morning.
But oh – how good it felt to not care how I looked or smelled, to think of nothing more than the next beautiful thing I would see and the next yummy thing I would eat and to keep putting one foot in front of the other. To see things bigger and better and more important than my daily. To feel the deep breaths of a steep climb and to know the accomplishment of completing something to the finish. I feel centered and purposeful again. Thanks, outdoors stuff. I hope to see you again soon.