It’s a good day for a mountain, the woman said to no one in particular when she rose from her bed to blue skies. Her negative voice—she called it Dick—said, clouds are moving in. We’ll just wait and see then, said the woman.
Two hours later she decided it was indeed a good day for a mountain. She packed a lunch, put her walking shoes and water in the car and took off for Mt. Zion, a hike on her list that promised great views. Probably up-shit, muttered Dick. With rhododendrons, the woman countered.
It was a lot of up-shit, though not—as promised by the trail guide—anything insane. Just relentless. Up and up and up with a few level spots for relief. It’s not unlike my life, the woman thought. Go slow and relish the easy spaces, she told herself. Coming down, she knew, would not be a whole lot easier, just a hell of a lot faster. You’ll probably lose your toenails like you did on that hike a year ago, Dick said, and they are almost grown back out. Shut up, the woman said.
The rhodies were underwhelming; some still in bud, some already gone, a few in the lower elevation in full bloom. Not unlike my life, the woman thought again. I keep expecting flowers, but they are few and far between. Here were the switchbacks described in the trail guide. Will this never end, the woman thought. Probably not, crowed Dick from his perch on the woman’s left shoulder. Yes, it will, said the woman.
Finally, the summit. As promised in the trail guide, the tenacious conifers had grown to heights that almost completely blocked the view. But, the trail guide said, keep going another half mile to the end of the trail, and you will be rewarded by a magnificent vista. Sounds like a fairy tale, Dick said. She ignored him.
Very soon it became clear the trail was less maintained than it had been to that point. This wasn’t mentioned in the trail guide, Dick mocked. The woman met a couple on the trail with whom she exchanged pleasantries. No, she told them, I didn’t lose a pair of prescription glasses. You act like you lost your glasses, Dick chortled. They went on.
The trail disappeared. Better turn back, Dick said. It’s okay, the woman said; it’s just narrow. She pushed past the rhododendrons that encroached on the path. The soft hemlock needle and dirt path gave way to solid rock. You should have asked those people if there really is a vista, Dick said. No sense doing this otherwise. Yeah, the woman said as she ducked under a cedar branch beginning to have doubts, I wish I had.
The narrow trail’s edge dropped off to a cliff. That’s a trail? Dick roared. Oh my god, you are not seriously going on!
The woman had a moderate fear of heights that was increasing in ratio to her age. Her heart beat faster. Turn back, Dick cajoled, you don’t have to do this. The woman tested the strength of rhododendron and cedar branches and grabbed on as she crept along, hoping if she slipped they would hold.
Nah nah nah nah nah, Dick sang. You can’t do this. You’re too scared. Didn’t I tell you? And you can’t tell what’s coming next! The woman said, one more scary part, and then we’ll see. She successfully navigated another rock ridge. You know, Dick taunted, even if you get there without falling off the mountain, you have to go back, too. The woman considered this truth. My life is like this these days she thought once more. The relentless up-shit with a few level stretches where I can breathe are one thing. But then there are the really scary parts, unmarked trails, blind corners.
Dick had always been with the woman, ever since she left the mapped road. And she had shaken off the persistent naysayer many times. Now, living with her elderly mother, she realized the old woman was the embodiment of Dick. Not only did Dick live in the woman’s head and on her shoulder, he had become flesh and blood and was living in her home, for god’s sake. Hadn’t the old woman told her daughter just a few days ago that the woman couldn’t do something she was trying to do? That it wasn’t possible? That she would fail if she kept on? The woman told her mother she could try, and she would try. Her mother used to be brave, early in her life she did brave things. But too often through the decades she let her own Dick win. She had done it so often, she had become Dick. Even when she did hard things in spite of her negative voice she didn’t congratulate herself; she told herself it wasn’t good enough. The woman thought, it’s up to me to live the life my mother didn’t. It’s up to me to reclaim the small deaths she suffered every time she gave in to the negative voice in her head saying you can’t.
The woman kept going. She had to now. She had come this far; she had to see how it ended. She had to finish the metaphor of the trail.
The return was not frightening after all. The woman knew what was coming now. She had been here before. She had been to the mountain. She had finished the journey. Dick was silent the rest of the way.