Have you ever seen the movie Death Takes a Holiday? In the movie, the character of Death takes on human form to discover why people cling so desperately to life, and the whole time he’s on holiday, NOBODY DIES.
I wish Anxiety would take a holiday. Because if Anxiety took a holiday, then I could go on holiday without feeling like the cord that tethers me home is about to snap and release me into a pitch-black universe, alone, for eternity.
But alas, Anxiety never takes a holiday. Or if it does, it hitches a ride with me.
For five days in Truckee, I lived in its clutches. But all was not a disaster. I learned the following lessons, which I will now pass on to you.
1. Before you pack, make sure the air at your destination is breathable. After filling the car with my bags, my clothes, my hiking gear, my books, my laptop; after wrestling with my nerves for days—that internal electrical system that sizzles and sparks whenever I think about going away from home; after giving my baggage a final once-over and then locking the back door to my cottage, my phone rang. “Let’s check the air quality,” Dave, my road buddy, suggested. With all the wildfires in California, Truckee was in the line of smoke. Sure enough, the air quality index pegged Truckee as: Don’t Bother Going Outside Without A Gas Mask. Which meant living out of my suitcases for three days until the air cleared. And wrestling with my nerves all over again.
2. Bring snacks for the road. If your road buddy is anything like mine, he won’t stop for lunch. Or a vista point (well, maybe one). Or a pee break if that business can easily be accomplished on the side of the road.
3. If your road buddy drives like mine, shout encouragement, like: “Slow down!” and “Why are you merging back and forth?” and “Two second rule! two second rule!” If, on the other hand, you drive anything like me, be prepared to hear your road buddy shout encouragement, like: “The speed limit is seventy, not fifty-five!” and “Merge, merge!” and “Keep up with traffic!” Be prepared to see him slam on the imaginary brakes from the passenger seat when you speed to a stoplight, and make noises in his throat when you drive forty in a parking lot.
4. If you’re heading into an altitude of 6500 feet and up, pack a good salve. Your nasal passages will dry out and crack and bleed and the chapped skin around your lips will turn bright red and give you a clown mouth.
5. When driving to higher elevations quickly, be prepared for your veins to explode. They won’t actually explode, but they will feel that way. At 7,000 feet, my carotid artery felt tight. At 8,000, it was the veins in my arms. At 9,000 feet, I thought my head would burst. When we pulled into the parking lot at the trailhead for Mount Rose, I looked up to the 10,779 foot peak and panic set in. “I can’t breathe,” I said. Dave tried to reassure me by pointing out the woman waddling to the restroom who was a good two hundred pounds heavier than me. “If she can breathe, you can.” It helps to have a level head at high elevations, especially if that head isn’t yours.
6. When hiking through dry riverbeds filled with rocks that can send you upsy-daisy quickly, when trudging up steep granite inclines with no obvious marked path, or end, in sight, make sure you bring a competent guide. Dave has an eye like a compass. He can find his way anywhere. I, on the other hand, get lost in my hallway (which, if you follow my blog, you already know.) However, I’m good at keeping up a steady stream of whining, like: “Where’s the f—-*ing path?” and “Where are the f—-*ing petroglyphs! I want to see the f—-*ing petroglyphs!” and finally, “I can’t go any farther!” If your human compass says, “It’s probably only another mile,” well, do the math in your head. One mile means two miles round trip, and you still have three miles downhill retracing those unmarked paths over slippery slopes. So, refuse the invitation to continue upwards, park yourself on a boulder, dig out your peanut butter and banana sandwich from the bottom of your backpack and enjoy the view, even if you think you can’t swallow. Trust me, it’s not a swallowing problem. It’s anxiety.
7. After battling your nerves, cracked nasal passages and lung-busting hikes in high altitude, after feeling pretty good about overcoming all those challenges and kicking anxiety and its baggage to the curb, do not, upon your return home, squat down and attempt to budge an immovable object. You will blow out your spine. Which is exactly what I did. I spent the next week on ice, longing to be back in that high-altitude, nasal-drying, vein-bursting land of pine and granite, trudging up unmarked rocky paths to breathtaking views. Because in hindsight, or maybe just from the vantage point of the mattress, Anxiety isn’t so formidable after all.