My mom told me once the happiest moment of her life was when she went to the mountains for the first time. I sure understand why.
My parents met during a mountain trip and since then they’ve made a habit of spending every summer holiday in nature. They’ve raised me and my brother in the same spirit and took us hiking since we were toddlers. For more than fifteen years we went to the same cabin in the woods, surrounded by a rich meadow, with two arms of the same spring crossing it one on its right, the other at the bottom.
The week before our departure was always brisk. Those days were meant for list making, grocery buying and packing. It’s safe to say my mother is responsible for my list-loving as an adult. We had a food list, a clothing list, an “other things we need” list, a “don’t forget to do” list and every time we crossed something out, I saw it as an immense accomplishment. The night before the trip I could barely fall asleep because I was too excited and too afraid they might forget and leave without me. That, of course, never happened but I wasn’t willing to take the risk and did my best to stay awake for as long as I could.
Every time we went hiking my parents used all kinds of ammunition to keep my interest up and my legs moving. I had my pockets filled with biscuits, toast or chocolate squares and when those weren’t enough to keep me going, my father used to tell me the same story, over and over again, so much that sometimes he needed to change it and make stuff up, just to have some fun of his own. Hence, once in awhile, instead of getting lettuce from the fearsome bear, Prince Charming went to get cans of beer, which was equally healthier and more delicious. At least that’s what dad thought. But even that had a limited lifespan and when I could do no more, I used to look for a big rock, sit on it, and in a very serious voice I would tell my parents we needed to “exhaust” ourselves a little because I was too tired to take any more steps. Mom still laughs every time she recalls my word mixing.
Even though I looked trifling amid the mountains, I never felt small. They were my escapism, my protectors, my source of wonder and adventures. I didn’t need to invent something magical or fantastic, for the happiness and freedom I felt there were magical in the most candid way. I witnessed otherworldly nights around the fire, with so many falling stars I didn’t know what to wish for anymore, and whispered stories mom had to tell me again and again, until I’d finally fall asleep. I looked in awe at majestic views and had numerous adventures, rich in stories, swift rain showers and the best food I ever ate. I still remember all the times I returned to my mother, face purple blue from all the blueberries I had eaten, making her laugh in tears, or the delicious scrambled eggs mixed with fresh mushrooms we picked from the forest.
But more than anything, I loved being there because it made my parents happy. I was grateful mostly because my father seemed to transform into a completely different person, with no stress or grumpiness inside him, no mumbling and no arguments. He was fun and he told me stories and made delicious barbecues and took me to adventures. And that was all I needed back then.
This year, after a long break from going there, I went to the cabin once again with my parents. Bitter sweet feelings crossed my heart as I watched how much it changed. The once hidden and secluded place was now filled with forest workers and their noisy machines. The owners transformed the cabin into something less rustic, more touristic, more “modern and comfortable”. It was strange and fun to see everything with new, yet the same eyes. How big everything seemed to me when I was a child – the cabin, the roads, the trees, the shortcuts we used to take, that ironically seemed endless back then.
These days, the only time I feel the same happiness and freedom is during my trail runs. The magic is there, waiting and welcoming, embracing me and guiding my steps towards the same overwhelming connection. There’s something magical about trail runners communities. There’s a shared vibe and tingle among them, just like there is between people connected through music at a live concert.
But running is not as easy as singing along with your favorite band. You need to put on a lot of work and discipline and train your mind as much as you train your body. On the long runs, when you’re out there alone with your thoughts, your brain will do anything in its power to convince you to quit. But when you overcome that, when you push your limits and realize you can do so much more than you initially thought, oh my, so much happiness and joy and pride. When I run, I let myself get carried away and connect with nature through every sense. It’s like some invisible strings go through my body and connect me with the ground, the trees, the plants, the air, everything surrounding me.
I don’t think going to the mountains had taught me big life lessons, nor had I had epiphanies or found myself in the way people who go travelling the world do. What I did find though, was a place where I can be happy and free.