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Backpacker Magazine – June 2013

Nirvana Now!

Is hiking and yoga the ultimate path to rejuvenation? Our man takes his bad back and troubled soul to Yosemite to find out.

by: Steve Friedman

Illustration by Morgan Schweitzer
Illustration by Morgan Schweitzer

At breakfast, J.P. told us that we should “honor our cravings.” I took my third muffin and became aware that Authentic Steve thought J.P. was not such a bad guy.
We hiked through lupine and mountain aster and Indian paintbrush. We did yoga in a field where I commanded my toes to make friends with the earth. As we moved from one pose to another, some of us more gracefully than others, I realized that I was enjoying myself. I realized that I was not feeling anxious—about anything. Or was it Authentic Steve realizing that stuff? I was having a hard time telling us apart.
Afterward, we lounged next to another mountain lake. I basked on a big rock with some of my fellow Trekkers. I listened to their concerns. The Ogden gals were worrying about their 12-hour drive and the hairdresser was freaking out about some difficult clients. I suggested they stay in the moment, and I actually believed it.
The moment was good. Many moments of the trip were good. There were moments of pack nirvana and “The Backbreaker of Mariposa County” (another classic) and the three-legged hiking stool. The moments were better because Heather, Brieann, and J.P made all the meals and did almost all the cleaning. There was one not-so-good moment on our last night at Young Lake, when I volunteered to fetch some water from the lake a quarter mile from our campsite, then got lost and thrashed around for 20 minutes before stumbling, breathless, back to camp, waterless, and saw something that looked like disappointment, maybe contempt, in Heather’s eyes. Authentic Steve hoped he was mistaken.
On our hike out, during our final yoga session in another alpine meadow, Heather glanced my way. (It might have been because I was grunting a little.) I wondered how she would feel about bearing my children and raising them in the ways of the mountains and Pranayama. We did Downward Facing Dog and the foot-on-the-opposite-leg pose and another one called Warrior Pose. I still craved some Carribbean Coconut ice cream. I still could not forget the cranky toilet awaiting me in New York City. And yet. My back seemed to be healed. My mind—or soul, or spirit—also seemed to be doing better. I wasn’t worrying about my ex or my income or deadlines. I wasn’t worrying much at all. I decided that yoga and backpacking went together well. Both inspire focus on the moment—the step up the mountain, the pose in the meadow, the breathing.
“Anyone who wants to can simply practice Savasana,” Heather said.
Before this trip, I would have begun a fake diaphragm-breathing, wrist-waving motion that I think covers all the positions, or otherwise tried to hide my ignorance, or just gone straight coma, but this time—I am trying to be more in touch with my authentic self, after all—I asked, “What is Savasana?” Heather looked at me with a deep and enduring mountain type of love. Or it might have been pity.
Savasana is the rest position, Steve.”
For the next 10 minutes, I carefully and conscientiously Savasanasized.
During our final march to civilization, Heather gathered us and cautioned us that as we neared the completion of a journey—no matter how wondrous and transformative the trip might have been—we humans are tempted to focus on what is at the end of the journey: work, family, things waiting for us. Please, she implored, take a minute to enjoy the present moment. This is the moment we all have.
Authentic Steve was there, he really was, but he’s human. We can’t escape our past. Some of my other family backpacking mottos are “Where are we stopping for dinner?” and “I get first shower” and “You didn’t leave that candy bar on the front seat, did you?”
But the trip had worked. Whether it was the fresh air or the mountain lakes or the Savasana—which both Authentic Steve and I could use some more of—I realized that my concerns about the angry New York toilet and the Caribbean Coconut ice cream were not real, but mere phantasms. None of my anxieties were real. The mountains were real, the peace I felt in Downward Facing Dog, my healed back, the snowy peaks around us, the hot Ogdenites’ cool tattoos, Jeff and Jennifer’s good cheer, Heather’s enduring love for me and our future in the mountain yurt together and…
“Yo, Steve, have you noticed that the group is moving? How about shuffling your lazy Savasana-loving ass?” It was Petrina, from San Francisco.
On the way out, I inquired about Petrina’s childhood. I asked about nightlife in Ogden. I even chatted with Yodi/Ogi, or tried to chat with her, anyway. I pointed at Heather, and put my hand on my chest and fluttered it. “Good!” I said. “I mean, ‘Gut!’ Heather and me. True love-ski! Gut!” Yodi/Ogi (whose real name, it turned out, is Gyorgyi) scuttled away from me.
At our last break, Heather suggested we take the next 15 minutes of our hike to be quiet (the Ogden gals had been planning an awesome beer blast, and Stephanie the Healer had been explaining to the hairdresser something about creative visualization) and to “think of something we want to let go of.”
I decided to let go of my reflexive contempt for things I don’t understand. Also, my inclination to isolate. I made a mental note to refrain from watching Rocky IV and Rocky V back-to-back upon my first night in New York (though it’s amazing the increased emotional depth and narrative tension one can derive from such a coupled viewing experience) and instead to call an old friend who had been having a hard time, to take him out and inquire about his life.
At the trailhead, we flung our bags off and unpacked, returning collective gear (bear canisters, tents) to the Balanced Rock pile. Heather suggested that I might have lost some tent stakes, but I think that was her way of expressing sadness at my impending departure. The group stood together, murmuring, hugging. Wheatgrass recipes and chakra aligner phone numbers were exchanged.
I needed to honor and care for myself and my cravings, so I pulled out my three-legged camping stool and, in the middle of the parking lot, as the universe flitted and whirred about me, as the past receded and the future stretched ahead, both unreal, I embraced the moment, and my proud, plucky three-legged backpacking stool, the unfair target of so much mockery. I honored my cravings some more and gnawed on a chocolate bar I had stolen from the group stash.
A couple of the trekkers cut me dirty looks, but I didn’t judge them. “Namaste,” I mumbled, and kept eating.
I don’t think Authentic Steve approved, but I’m not sure. I need to get to know that guy better.

Steve Friedman is the author or co-author of seven books, including Eat & Run (with Scott Jurek) and Driving Lessons: A Father, A Son, and The Healing Power of Golf.

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Star Star Star Star Star
Jan 09, 2014

Haven't read a multi-page article all the way through in a while. Thanks for taking us along the journey with you; great writing.

Star Star Star Star Star
Jul 13, 2013

Fantastic story! This makes me want to take a similar journey; perhaps with a little less cynicism =P


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