Mud, Moss, and Mindfulness…
To say these are interesting times we live in would be an understatement. I was going to write this blog post a couple weeks ago- on the suggestion from a friend- thanks Rob! – but then life, as we know started to look different and I have been working at adjusting to my new norm, as we all are, and this got put on the back burner. Then I thought, maybe with all that’s going on I shouldn’t write about my day of hiking with some friends, then I thought life is so serious in so many ways now, maybe folks would want to read about mud, moss and mindfulness.
This is going to be a fairly long post, more like an essay, so make yourself some tea, coffee or your drink of choice, make yourself comfortable and come along with me.
Three weeks ago- hard to believe it has only been two weeks- two of my hiking buddies, Sherry, Patricia, and I, were practicing social distancing and went for a day hike. Life was getting a tad stressful for all of us and we knew that spending some time in the forest would do us some good. We meet at 9:00 am and drove down island to hike Nile Creek. We had started our hiking season early this year as we are all planning on doing the Nootka Trail together in June- so the sooner we start training the better.
Now this group has been trying to get together to do this hike for awhile now, but things just didn’t work out- we couldn’t find a time that worked for all of us, or when we did Mother Nature had other plans and decided to pour down, or it would be freezing and slippery. So, we were happy to be able to find a time slot that worked with all of the above. We have two other members of this group but they were unable to make it.
We arrived at the starting point and we were all excited to get out into the woods and gain some of our sanity back. – visualize happy dogs when they arrive at the dog park lol- so we have our packs-remember the training- I check my pack to make sure I have my two traveling companions attached- a small beanie baby turtle- as we are slower then most hikers, but we get there, and a little stuffed Chamois goat that I picked up when I did the Tour Du Mont trek. We got our trekking poles and away we go. This is an in and out trail, and about 10km total.
Our starting point was down by the old island highway- by the ocean and it is a lovely well-maintained trail. Whenever we saw that a tree had fallen across the trail, but was cut away to clear the trail we always thank allowed the “Trail Fairy’s” , the folks who take care of the trails we have the privilege to enjoy. The trail followed the creek, then crossed it- on a log I might add- but it did have a rope to hang on to, I still don’t like those but I am getting better- and then it moves up a small ridge line where it’s a clear and wide path and its lovely. It’s about this point where we all take in a deep breath and let out a big sigh- yep- feeling better already after only 20 minutes.
We continue to walk through the trees, observe the various types of moss, hear a Pileated Woodpecker banging on a tree- but we can’t see it. I tell the group that you can tell what type of woodpecker it is by the sound it makes when it hits the tree. When the Pileated hits the tree, it’s a much deeper sound, then if a Flicker, Hairy or Downey woodpecker. Have a listen next time your out and come across them.
We then hit the inland Island highway- the trail goes under the bridge and then once on the other side we step into a different world. One of my hiking buddies - Sherry- ( she is the one who says “Oh lets go do this hike it will be fun” who has pushed me so much out of my comfort zone) -says- ” I call this the mini West Coast trail” – and that is a perfect title.
As soon as we step into the trail it is noticeably darker in there. Just a few steps in and the sounds of the highway traffic is muffled, and there is very little, if any, birdsong. The moss, is a deeper shade of green and more variation then on the first half of the trail. Its wetter, there are logs on some of the trail- wet logs, often covered with a thin layer of mud, old growth tree stumps that turned into nursery logs, and mud. Did I mention the mud!!!! I am so thankful I have put my gaiters on.
The trail meanders along and I am cautious as I step on the old wet logs that cross the creek. There are also logs that we need to walk along as they are the part of trail. I do side step some of them as they are wet and, on an incline, its rather muddy on the sides but I navigate without too much issue, I just take my time and look for the best place to step.
I breath deeply and take in that deep earthy smell of the decaying nursery logs that are at least a hundred years old. A few skunk cabbages were just starting to push their way through the earth. The bright green and yellow foliage is a contrast to the black swampy world they are growing in. Spanish moss was hanging off some trees, totally still as there was no breeze and all we heard was the creek as it traveled beside the trail. It was a glorious day.
There is not a lot of elevation on this hike- I think about 800 feet- so a nice easy walk. There are a couple of spots its steeper, and the very last 100 yards it climbs, passing a couple of small waterfalls along the way. The last fifty yards were a challenge, it’s steep, there is a rope to help assist, you can see where there had once been steps but past rains had washed them out, and it’s pretty much fifty feet straight down to the falls if you go over the side.
With careful foot planting and negotiations, we all make it to the top, and it was lovely. We had a beautiful spot to sit looking onto an upper and lower fall.
As we rested, we had our lunch – (peanut butter and jam sandwich, covers all the food groups)- and re hydrated. We were serenaded by the falls and a curious Robin flew onto a low branch and watched us. We sat enjoying the moment and thankful we were able to do this and be in such beautiful surroundings. We mentioned how much better we all felt and the fact that we had not seen anyone else on the trail. About thirty minutes later a slight breeze comes up, we are feeling chilly and its time to get moving again, if nothing else to warm up- remember, this is the first week in March.
The way back was good and uneventful- until we got the inclined log. Patricia lost the bottom of her hiking pool in the side mud bank, which I managed to go back and retrieve it for her. As I now look back, I wonder if maybe this was a sign of things to come.
As we descend through the “mini west coast trail” we talk about how wonderful it is to be out and how we feel our minds have re-set. We then walk in silence for a bit and we come across a split log that is now a section of the trail for about ten feet. I’m cautious as we walk on this, and as I push off my right foot, I plant my left heal down, my left heal then glides along the wet muddy wood- ( I will interject at this time that my hiking nickname is “First Blood”, not because I’m tough, but because I am usually the first one to fall down, and draw blood.)- and yes, true to my name, I am the first one to wipe out. It felt like it was slow motion, but it wasn’t. My feet come out from under me, I land on my back-good thing I had the pack on. The right half my body is on the log, the left half is in the mud. My left upper arm lands on my hiking pole- I still have the bruise, - and my left bum cheek is in the mud, leaving a bum print- gaiters aint going to help with this!!! In the few seconds that I lay there I swear, realize I’m ok look up through the tree tops and think "it’s a lovely view and water seeps into my pants.
My buddies help me up. I check myself over and I’m ok, my arms a bit sore but I no real damage done. Patricia points out that my two traveling companions attached to the back of my pack however are now covered in mud, Turtle and Chamois do not look amused!!!
After the laughter we continue our hike, being cautious on the muddy spots and wet slippery logs, watching where the other person steps and letting the others know if a rock is wobbly, slippery etc.
The trail goes up and down a bit and as we go up the next ten foot incline its tad muddy, the trail splits for a short time before it meets up again. I am following Sherry, she takes the trail to the right, I have a quick look at the trail to the left, but Sherry seems to be doing fine so I follow. As we go up I watch her foot placement and put my feet on the same spot- this works for the first five feet.
I put my left foot down where she did- or so I thought-and my left foot starts to sink into the mud, and I don’t mean a couple of inches. I then plant my right foot down to get some leverage to pull my left foot out- there is no leverage happening as my right foot sinks into the mud. In a matter of seconds, I am up to my knees in mud. Glad I had my gaiters on!
Now let me explain about this mud. This is not the runny, mud puddle type of mud, its not even the thick brown mud that sticks to the bottom of your boots. I actually don’t even think what I was sinking into was mud! It was more like a very thick, stinky, black quagmire and I was stuck in it, stuck good and solid!
At first, there was laughter by all and I said “Oh for Feck sake, seriously!” I continued laughing as did my hiking companions, I mean it was funny. I go to pull up my left foot, nope nothing happening, then I try my right foot, nope. I try again, nope all I’m doing is managing to go down deeper. Shit, in then hits me and the group that I’m truly stuck. Not only am I stuck in quagmire, I am personally in a quagmire- how the hell am I going to get out of this?
There is an old log above and to the left of me, I put my left hand on it and try to pull myself up, the log breaks away, it's rotten. OK so that didn’t work. I sink down a bit more and the mud is now over my gaiters. The good thing is I seemed to have stopped sinking. I am now up my knee caps in mud. I find a small log- or thick stick across in front of me, I put both hands on it and test it and it seems to be solid. I don’t know how thick it is as I can only see a small bit of it. It holds my weight as I lean onto it and try to take the weight of my feet.
I try to pull my feet once again. I feel my left foot slip a bit on my boot. I stop as I really do need my boots- we still have another four km to walk out.
Its then that I realize that yes, I am truly fecking stuck, I can’t move my feet, I can’t get out, I can’t get away. If a black bear came down the trail, I don’t think I could have gotten out, I was stuck…well maybe one foot might have gotten out but not the other- I can feel the panic starting to rise in me. It starts in the pit of my stomach and rises up to my chest.
As a person with a traumatic and abusive past- being stuck and not being able to get away is a huge trigger.
I notice the panic rising and tell myself out loud to “take deep breaths, I am in the present, I am with friends, I am not alone, this is not the past, I am safe” I then take 3 deep breaths and I once again start to settle. For some reason I also start to think of the Outward Bound trips I have done.
I then tell my hiking companions “This, my children is why you do not hike alone. It’s not a matter of IF Shit, is going to happen, it’s a matter of WHEN shit’s going to happen."
Resting my hands across that log in front if me I try to pull my up my right leg. I feel the strain on my thigh muscles and my knee, but there is no movement. “Well, this is going to be interesting.” I say to myself. I try to move my left leg, same thing, no movement. Feeling the panic rise once again I take three deep breaths and say to myself “You have been on all those Outward Bound course’s, you can do this”
I then laugh and say “I am going to feel really stupid if the local fire rescue is going to have to come and dig me out. I feel like I’m in some 1960s B movie The Attack of the Mud Monster or something along those lines”
I try to flex my right ankle and I can feel very slight movement. I continue and after some time I am able to break some of the suction, and with great effort am able to pull my right leg out of the mud.
There is cheering from everyone in the group. But it is short lived as I swear and realize all my weight is now on my left leg. Shit!!!
Realizing there is no solid ground to put my right leg, I have to get the weight off the left leg to work on getting it out. I very slowly and carefully turn counter clockwise and put my right butt cheek on the log that is laying across. I have to be careful as I don’t want to twist my left knee to much as the bottom half is encased in the mud.
With my right leg now free I bring it across and over top of my left leg and start to kick out some of the side of this pool of stinky quagmire to try to help drain it. Patricia has got her hiking pole down onto the mud trying to find my left foot. She does and tries to move my foot, but its not working, so she gets her 2nd hiking pole down there and starts prying.
During all of this I’m thinking…”Well, if fire rescue does have to come and get me then at least its an easy trail to get in” and, “Well Suzy, you need to add some kind of shovel to put in your backpack in case anything like this happens again” and “ This gives me a whole new respect for bogs”
I had also handed Sherry my phone and asked her to take some pictures of this because no one is going to believe this.
As Sherry is taking photos and encouraging us, Patricians hiking poles somehow find the bottom of my boot and manages to move it up just enough to help break the suction. I then once again flex my ankle heal to toe, over and over and eventually I feel some movement. I keep doing this as I put both hands under my thigh and pull up as hard as I can. There is more movement. I then grab each side of my gaiter and pull and ever so slowly my leg and eventually foot slowly rise out of the mud.
FREEDOM and there is great cheering all round.
My leg and foot are covered in at least two inches of mud all round, and feel like they weigh and extra 10 pounds. I kneel on the log that is laying across and get up and look for a safe place to step and I get out and away form that quagmire. With a smile on my face I say to the group “Who needs to go to the gym to use the weight machines to strengthen one’s legs, just find this crap”.
It took me 15 minutes to get out of that crap, but it felt much longer.
We are all elated and Sherry says “You’re a real trooper, I think this deserves a coffee and cake”. We decide we are going to stop at a coffee shop in Bowser on the way home for that very treat.
I’m cold, I’m wet but I feel elated and we start back on the trail. I start to move a bit faster to warm up and I have rain pants in my pack if I need to change clothes. As we talk I tell the group that my experience in the mud was probably payback from my traveling companions, Turtle and Chamois for laughing when they got covered in mud.
The rest of the hike back was uneventful, and I was happy when we reached the car and put on the heater. We did indeed stop at the coffee shop and have coffee and a treat- it’s the small things in life- and we have great memories and something to talk about.
The census is out if my hiking nick name is going to stay as First Blood, or changed to Mud Cricket. Sherry’s nick name is Mud Cricket- as she is the one who usually finds the mud, but as she says, "You have got the crown on this one”
Little did we know that would be our last hike for a while.
We are indeed now living in interesting times. There is fear, there is the unknown but there are also amazing examples of folks pulling together, supporting each other in different ways.
I wrote to someone the other day and said that living in these times is like being on an Outward Bound course. We are starting off unsure and don’t know really know what to expect, let alone what we can do. Unsure if we are strong enough to get through it. As the days go by, we learn new skills, what works for us as a group and we discover we are stronger than we realize. At first, we may fight or struggle with the changes, but in time we learn to be more resilient and more adaptable to the daily changes on the trail. We become more cohesive as a group and become a community. We start the course as one person, and come out the other end different, changed for the better and have a different perspective on life.
And this too shall happen to us.
We, in this global community, are all in this together. Know that you are not alone and like when I was stuck in the quagmire, its OK to ask for help, and its OK to laugh. Find ways to take care of yourself, for you, for your family and friends.
I have added a link below from the Canadian Association on mental Health with tips on how you can practice self-care during these challenging times.
I miss my hiking with my buddies, my connections etc, but like any Outward Bound course- it will eventually end- even if it doesn’t feel like it a time. We will get through this together.
Until then, take good care of yourselves, practice self-care and if you like, stay tuned for my next blog post - like life, I have no idea where its going to be going
Sending you all loving kindness