I grew up with a love for music, and that love grew into a passion as I entered adulthood and picked up my first guitar. But despite my love for music, no guitar riff rumbling out of an amp or song blaring from a speaker can compare to the best sounds in life: A creek tossing water over rocks as it tumbles down a valley. Gentle rain falling onto the roof of a tent, particularly if you, the occupant, are tucked safely into bed. A pot of coffee percolating over a gas stove, the rolling boil of water crashing through coffee grounds and the hiss of fragrant steam as it escapes the pot and marks a new day. This trifecta of sounds greeted me as I woke from my nap and began to ready myself for the morning ahead.
Normally a hike in the dark would cause me a fair bit of anxiety, my heart pounding through my rib cage, a dose of adrenaline making its way through my system while I run through “what could go wrong” scenarios. This particular morning (or should I say night, 3 am should hardly be considered part of a day) the sounds of water in the form of creek, precipitation and coffee set my mind at ease, and I managed to step out the door and into the darkness with much less hesitation than normal.
A few minutes later I arrived at the trailhead, and I’ll admit to taking an extra minute to sit in the safety of my truck, administer myself a short pep talk about why this escapade was even necessary (come on Llisa, you know you could really use the self confidence boost that comes from pushing past fears and achieving a goal, think of how empowered this will make you feel) and also to remind myself that the sunrise waits for no one, and if I was going to get any photos at all I had better get a move on.
Initially, a false sense of bravado carried me up the first kilometre of trail at a steady pace, despite every inch of my body screaming to turn back to safety. My voice meek as I called out to warn wildlife of my impending arrival. Eventually, my feet found their rhythm as I trudged up the path, my voice grew louder and I was becoming less anxious as each metre of the trail faded into darkness behind me. As I gained the ridge my pace quickened, if the sun had not yet risen, its arrival was certainly impending, and I began to survey my surroundings. For most people, hiking allows people to soak in the views and connect with nature. For me, it’s a constant source of inspiration in the form of compositions, and I was searching wildly for one. My inspiration presented itself in the form of a high point on the trail with a delicate array of wildflowers. I unearthed my arsenal of camera equipment from the depths of my backpack and got to work. A crocus peering out of the grass, a cloud inversion flowing through a distant valley and the first rays of sunlight streaming through the clouds. I snapped away happily, darting from one spot to the next and hurriedly switching between two different cameras for the occasional change in perspective.
Once I was satisfied with the morning’s catch, I turned my attention to the camp stove I had brought along, and prepared a cup of coffee to enjoy alongside the compositions. I lazed in the dew tipped grasses while sipping my coffee and observing a small cloud drift over up the face of the mountain I was on, and gently roll over the ridge. Clouds and dappled sunlight passed over distant and foreboding mountain ridges, constantly changing their appearance. I stared with great interest at the different forms a singular solid piece of rock could take.
Finally, with the coffee supply dwindling, the directional morning light erased by daylight, and a steady parade of hikers making their assault on endless switchbacks in the distance, my time had come to sneak away. The magic developed by sunrise and solitude would leave the mountain for the day as hordes of hikers, seemingly unaware of their peaceful surroundings, would chatter in groups as they made their way up the quiet trail I had just taken.
The descent went quickly enough, my boots slipped down a combination of rock and damp clay for several hundred vertical metres. Plant a pole, step. Plant a pole, step. Plant a pole, step. Plant a …”Oh, yes I am coming down already. The sunrise was nice. You’re almost to the top. Thanks, hope you have a good hike too” …pole, step. Plant a pole, step. And so was the pattern of descent, and it was a good pattern until I reached an impossibly small rock band. Plant a pole step. Trip. Flail. Plant two poles. Stepstep. Smash. Ouch. StepstepstepstepSTOP.
Things had gone so well up until that point.
I gingerly felt my right temple and cheek, instantly throbbing from the face plant I had taken in to the handle of my hiking pole. I wondered if I would be arriving home with a black eye. I stood on the trail for a moment and really thought about how I felt.
"How do I feel?"
"No, not emotionally, physically. How do I feel physically?"
Once the shock wore off a little bit, I decided that I didn't feel too bad, considering the knock to the head I had just taken. I straightened up, shifted my weight around to make sure nothing else was hurt, determined that tears, hysterics or helicopters would not be necessary today, and carried on. Plant a pole, step. Plant a pole, step.
Soon, the safety of my truck came back in to view, bringing the end of the day's lesson in empowerment and gravity. My feet were thrilled to sit down and be freed of the constraints of my hiking boots, but the rest of me wished I was still on the trail, forging ahead through the wilderness trying to convince myself of my self reliance, bravery and coordination. But my bruised toes and stinging cheek needed a break, and I suppose I could use one too. I settled back in to camp, put a pot of coffee on to percolate and sat next to the creek to listen to the sounds of water tumbling over rocks and coffee grounds. I jotted down notes about the day's adventure, and as I wrote the last sentence, a passing rain cloud spattered rain across the tent roof signalling my time to go indoors.