As circumstances allow, we need to do something for ourselves. For me, it was returning to the Sierra mountains for a daylong hike.
Despite smoke in the air from the fires and help with rinsing and then wiping off the ash upon my car, I had confirmed my check-in that afternoon with the Frontier Best Western in Lone Pine, California. If I didn’t show up, I’d be out the cost of accommodations for both nights.
By midafternoon, I had stopped then departed Indian Wells Brewery in the Mojave Desert. A girl needs to satiate her thirst while driving through the 1130F (450C) desert.
Life had already changed dramatically for me in 2019. After serving others (my upbringing and then as a caregiver), I am learning how to care for myself. It’s hard, actually! COVID-human-contact limitations have helped. I am focusing more on my own needs. It feels strange, but it’s an area where I can grow more. I’m also changing how many deep breaths I take given the respiratory risks of potentially virus-laced smoke-and-ash-filled breezes.
That is why, for my birth month, after four years of sub-10,000 feet elevation life, I decided to spend a day in higher altitude where the air would be cleaner. My goal – a solo 16.5-mile hike from Horseshoe Meadows at 10,038 feet (3,060 meters). My hike would take me past five or six beautiful Alpine lakes loosely called Cottonwood Lakes. At about mile six or seven, I would scramble up 1,100 feet from 11,200 feet and gaze upon the beautiful lakes from 12,310 feet (3,752 meters).
That was the plan.
The night before, I enjoyed an early dinner. A high-protein chicken breast with cheese sandwich, steamed broccoli, and French fries as I looked up at the jagged peaks leading to the top of Mt. Whitney.
I returned to my hotel room and went to bed early. I woke up in the middle of the night (I’m older) and then again in the morning to the smell of smoke.
It was hazy outside. Should I go? Should I change my plans?
As I drove up carefully navigating the knife-like turns of the five or six switchbacks of the 22-mile mountain road from Lone Pine to the Cottonwood Lakes Trailhead, the smell of the heavy smoke from the Northern California fires dissipated.
Altitude sickness is unpredictable.
At around 11,000-feet, my judgment felt a little off. I struggled with simple math. How many liters or ounces of water do I have left? Should I filter some water from the lakes, now?
Despite a subscription to the AllTrails app, which includes GPS, I couldn’t figure out how to navigate and panicked. I felt relieved (and embarrassed) after I realized how close I was to the trail when I spotted other hikers.
Curious, I checked my oxygen (O2) level and heart rate with a borrowed portable oximeter. At home or at the doctor’s office, my O2 is usually 98% or 96% at the lowest. My heart rate is 72 beats per minute (BPM). Even after a couple minutes to catch my breath, my BPM was 122 and my O2 was 86.
Fortunately, I had enough presence of mind cut short my planned hike. No scrambling up the rocks this time. Besides, the back of my head was feeling tingly. The winds getting stronger as thick dark clouds rolled in. I felt vulnerable under unpredictable skies.
While heading back down to the Cottonwood Lakes trailhead, I wondered, will I do a 14er? At this time in my life, will I climb a mountain that’s over 14,000 feet in one day? I don’t want to invest in what I know would be rarely-used overnight camping gear. I then asked myself, why is this my goal? (It’s easy to have a concentrated conversation while mountain hiking alone.) In the relatively clean air, I couldn’t come up with a worthwhile answer for a 22-mile Mt. Whitney or Mt. Langley day hike. Although, I do know I have one more 26.2 marathon to run that will be closer to sea level.
I concluded that I would enjoy 10- to 12-mile hikes at or above 10,000 feet for now.
The solo hike with its adventures, allowed me to feel alive, yet return safely, feeling centered, at peace, and restored.
For more details and pictures, click on AllTrails-Brenda Avadian’s Cottonwood Lake Hike and scroll down the page.
Hiking may not be for you. But something is. What is that thing? Are you willing to carve out time to do that thing for you?
For something different, here are some Mental Health Day Ideas in San Francisco that can be adapted wherever you are.