Ode To The Parking Lot
I summited Mt. St. Helens for the first time on Tuesday.
It was a clear sunny day, warm with soft snow. A sharp contrast to a year before, when I attempted to do the famous Mother’s Day climb in miserable rain and consistent steep snow. I had turned around with 2 others in our team after a few miles, while the rest went on to summit, finding sun in the last 1,000 ft.
I struggled a lot last year that day once the other team came down all smiles and talking about their summit. I hated that I felt jealous, less than, and like I didn’t belong in the group. And I learned a lot in the year that followed. Not every day is summit day. Not all goals are realized. Knowing when to say, “nope, not happening” is fine. Suffering isn’t always strength. Listening to your heart and body is.
And I truly enjoyed the climb this Tuesday. I felt better prepared after training hikes. A lot of snow had melted already and the six miles were varied with rock and soft snow and well kicked steps in the snow. It did start to feel like an endless snow staircase, but I was with great people in the sun and outdoors in the mountains.
The last 1500 feet were really hard as I felt exhausted and dehydrated with the blazing sun reflecting off of the snow. I focused on one foot in front of the other. I dreamed about the dinner I wished I could eat that night. A big cold salad and french fries…And then, finally, the summit. It was beautiful, overlooking Mt. Rainier and the crater of what blew apart almost 38 years ago. And yet, it wasn’t complete joy. I was tired and really hot. And I was already a bit nervous about going down.
The summit is only halfway. I love the summit photos, the summit treats and views. Feeling accomplished and worthy. But the summit, you realize, is only 1/2 way. And downhill, for me, especially on steep slow or screw, is scarier. It’s easier to fall, and if you are lucky enough to do some glissading, while fun, can get scary quick, and especially if you are already tired.
The real celebration? Getting to the parking lot after what seems like the longest stretch of the last mile. Taking off stiff dirty boots and changing into flip flops. Changing from sweaty hiking clothes to a tank top and skirt. Grabbing a cold drink from the cooler. Eating a chocolate sea salt cookie that a teammate brought as a post summit treat. Laughing over summit stories. There’s nothing left to worry about. No blisters or fears. Every muscle was used and you feel spent, tired, and oh so fucking alive. The day was lived in it’s entirety and all that’s left is good food and a well earned long sleep.
The parking lot isn’t sexy, let’s be real, no one is taking those photos. But it’s the place of gathering, of hopes and accomplishments, of sorrows and sometimes regrets. And the thing about parking lots? There’s always another mountain or trail parking lot to greet you.