Reflections from the Trail – Elwha River 2022

I often tell my clients that we spend too much time up in our heads in modern life, not fully present in our bodies and the full range of sensory experience. As we juggle work, family and a seemingly endless to-do list, we often rush through our lives without stopping to see the beauty that is there in each moment. I am no different.  For many years, I’ve made an annual commitment to myself to step off the hamster wheel and into the wilderness in my backyard – Olympic National Park – in order to remember and reconnect with sacred awareness – the preciousness of life, the freedom to make choices and explore conscious experience in order to grow and evolve and carry gifts back to my community.

Sometimes the mind forgets that the body it inhabits is not the same as it was thirty, twenty even ten years ago. Next month, I turn 63 and wilderness dreams are increasingly reality-checked by accumulated aches and pains of this well used piece of equipment (i.e. the body). 14 years ago, a knee surgeon told me that I would need knee replacement surgery in 15 years. She also recommended that I give up backpacking – advice I’ve completely ignored.

Can I do this. Will my knees hold up? Will my back hold up? How close can I get to my physical limits without becoming a burden on my friends? Or worse – requiring a Search and Rescue mission? These are important questions to consider before heading off into the wilderness. 

The trail was overgrown in places.

We were all happy to find this bear can which unexpectedly came loose from David’s pack and rolled a long way down the mountain.

Modern life is increasingly lived in front of computer, TV, and phone screens – for work, for communication, for entertainment. Eye strain and screen induced fatigue are increasingly a health issue. Open views of the horizon help to relax and open the mind. The full spectrum of natural light from the sun benefits the body and relaxes the eyes.

The trail leads on and on. Sometimes life is as simple as putting one foot in front of the other.

Full moon, stars, the rush of the river deep in the forest.

Crossing over the footbridge below the Grand Canyon of the Elwha. A ten mile continuous uphill trek awaits. The body ached with a variety of painful sensations from head to toe, low back and hip. Once, one of my bodywork teachers told me, one of the best ways to relieve muscle tension and naturally adjust the spine is to go walking.  As the day progressed, while the fatigue increased, my stiffness progressively eased.

Lying in a thick mossy carpet, resting shoulders, back, knees, feet, mind.

Second night on the trail. Our goal was to reach a much higher camp but 3200 feet of elevation gain over the course of 9 miles proved quite enough for the weakest member of the party (me). This quiet campsite deep in the forest proved to be a delight. There was fresh spring water close at hand, level ground for sleeping, and complete silence at night, only interrupted by the haunting call of an owl. We encountered one bear and no other humans that day.

Silence in the deep woods.

I was in my sleeping bag by 6:00 p.m. while my friends hiked another 4 miles round trip to Dodger Peak to enjoy the sunset views of Mount Olympus and the Bailey Range, returning by headlamp.

The Strait of Juan de Fuca and Canada in the distance.

 

I never let go of spiritual aspirations – to free my mind from delusion and karma, and develop my positive mental qualities limitlessly. However, I often modify worldly goals and plans. We had hoped to hike through the Bailey Range and out the Hoh River Valley, but I just wasn’t feeling the mojo for another 2000 foot climb, followed by a long wilderness bushwhack and a weather forecast for increasing heat. A flexible mind always sees many options in every situation and thus avoids coming to grief.

Down, down, down. We covered 15 miles on our third day.

Resting by the bridge after crossing the river again.

Actually, you need to add 7 miles to all of these trail distances due to a washout in the park road which may never be fixed – which would be just fine with me. The bears and critters of the world could all use a bit more wilderness roaming space.

Nature’s beauty never ceases to fill me with wonder.

**

 

Ten years ago, the Elwha dam was removed. All of the lighter color trees have grown up in the old lake bed since that time.  Salmon are now found as far upstream as Elkhorn and beyond. Nature can heal itself if we allow.

Our third camp – this time next to a paved road with no cars, only the occasional bicycle. The boarded up ranger station sat opposite the creek. We dubbed this post-apocalypse camping.

Two bus rides later I was back at our starting point. Yes – you can take a city bus for one dollar (plus park entrance fee) from Port Angeles to this very spot.

My stalwart companions. Thank you good Earth, trees, river and creatures. Thank you to the Elwha/S’Klallam people who cared for these lands for many thousands of years.

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