Weekly Peakly Volume 15
Or: The Broken Middle
When I started this venture, the initial intent of the Weekly Peakly was to hike every weekend for one year and chronicle the journey. It was a lofty goal, but I’m fond of those. My ambition is often bigger than my metaphorical accomplishment muscles, and I overreach often, though I don’t consider that a flaw. I like that I’m always reaching for the stars, and I appreciate whatever part of my spirit keeps doing it no matter how many times I’m knocked down. It lends itself to a lot of achievements I might not have hit otherwise.
Those of you who have been patiently paying attention to these updates as they come out will know that the “weekly” aspect hasn’t been as truthful as I had intended. You may have also noticed the very long gap there in the middle of the year. I’ve come to think of this period as “The Broken Middle”, because it feels an accurate description of what I went through.
There is a line in the song Youth by Daughter that goes “Destroy the middle, it’s a waste of time.” I’ve thought about that line a lot as I pondered what to do with this hiking project, and I think it was what spurred me to make this post. I’m dedicated to trying to explain my processes to people. I don’t want to be some mysterious creature that people look at and don’t understand how I do what I do. I want to be accessible, relatable, and I want to be able to leave breadcrumbs along the path so that anyone who wants to trace those steps for themselves can understand how to follow. In that spirit, I didn’t want to “destroy the middle”. The middle, while being sad and difficult to get through, is still part of the journey. It’s still part of the path. There is more to a hike than the foot of the climb and the lofty peak. There’s a whole mountain in the middle, and throwing that out is missing the point of the adventure.
Last week, in Volume 14, I went over how I broke my wrist. It was, thankfully, a small fracture and only required about three weeks of downtime to recover. I opted not to hike at all during this time, a difficult decision for me because I don’t like to slow down once I get going. I’m the type of person that likes to rush to the finish line, dedicating vast amounts of energy to doing so and then crashing in relief when it’s done. It’s not the healthiest pattern, and I’m trying to adjust that internal urge and remind myself that a healthier pace still gets me to the goal, and no one is less impressed for the pace of the accomplishment. Least of all myself, who is the most important person I should be trying to impress.
Again, you might have noticed that the gap in updates was a touch longer than three weeks. That’s because three days before I was going to be allowed to remove my brace and resume normal activity, I had another accident. I’m accident prone, so it happens often enough. And the more I push myself out of the safety of a room lit with the blue softness of a computer screen, the more I live, the more I encounter different ways to injure myself. It’s something I’ve come to accept, and something I try not to let bother me. To me, the reward of living and doing the things I love is worth the cost of the occasional wound, though this particular accident is perhaps the step too far that I would prefer to avoid more often than not.
I was, at the time, in the middle of prepping for a move. I have since moved and am now safely ensconced in a new apartment that I love and find very serene and peaceful, which is something I desperately needed. But back in the Before Times, I was spending a lot of my free time packing. On the fateful night in question, somewhere around 9pm (well after I should have been trying to do things like pack, because that’s late for me considering I get up at 4am most days), I was taking posters off my wall. There was one that I couldn’t reach the tack for, so I hopped on a storage bin that was below it, trying to take the pin out quickly and grab the poster. I did, successfully removing the poster, but unfortunately, I ended up going down with it. The bin tilted, shooting out from under me and sending me backwards. I flopped flat onto my back, knocking my head against the carpet and the wind from my lungs.
I got up, dusted my ass off, and went to bed, deciding that was enough productivity for the night. Unfortunately, 24-hours later I noticed the tell-tale signs of a concussion. Turns out that bonk was strong enough to scramble my brains, marking the start of my second ever brain bruise.
I had a lot of feelings about this. I mean, if you’ve sifted through any of my other essays penned over the year, you’ll know that my last concussion really messed me up. It launched me into a depression so deep that I danced along the edge of suicide a lot closer than I ever had before. It takes away my biggest coping mechanisms – writing, reading, playing text-heavy games. It addles my thoughts, making me question the validity of my memories, making me worry if my reading comprehension is accurate.
I started weightlifting as a drastic lifestyle change to get over my last concussion, and it changed so much about my world that it’s hard to summarize. I discovered activities that made me feel amazing, realizing that exercise wasn’t the hated pastime that I remembered it to be if I could just find the right things. After lifting for eight months I took up hiking, discovering another thing that I loved so much it became integral to who I am. Hiking and honing my muscles are now a part of me, such an important part of my life that I get really anxious and antsy when I have to take a step back.
So, as I was sitting in the emergency room, waiting to get my brain scanned so they could confirm it was a concussion, I was pondering how miserable I was about to be. I was going to be forbidden from all my favorite things. Not only would I lose writing and reading this time, but also hiking and lifting. I’d be stranded on an island of inactivity, with nothing to do but wallow in the sad longing of wishing I could be doing things I wasn’t allowed to be doing.
I prepped for what I knew would be a horrific dive into depression.
The happy news was that the concussion was pretty mild. It probably wouldn’t have been a concussion at all if I hadn’t had one before. It’s super great of the brain to be more sensitive to those after you’ve had one. Cool move, brain. Cool move.
As an aside, I find it odd the things that your body can go through and the reactions it has to them. If you break a bone, it heals up stronger. If you strain a muscle, you can train it back better than it was before. If you catch pneumonia, you’re more likely to catch it again. If you get a concussion, it’s easier to get another one. If you get a sunburn that’s really bad, your immune system punishes your ass with an itchy rash on top of it (sun poisoning is bullshit, and if I ever meet the asshole who designed that particular bodily function I will cunt-punt them into another dimension).
In any case, the mildness of my concussion was good news. It meant less down time. Of course, that didn’t stop me from falling into the pit of depression. I coped, though. Or rather, I grit my teeth and tried to bear through it, snarling at my brain’s attempts to drag us under. I started dealing with rather loud suicidal thoughts, which created this odd dichotomy in my head. You see, I was prepared for the depression, and stubbornly determined not to let it get to me as badly this time. What resulted was my brain sitting around in my head, telling me to do violent or damaging things, and another part of me sitting there wearily telling it to fuck off. It’s like having an excited, murderous toddler running around me all day, while I become an exhausted and jaded parent slumped in a chair, praying for naptime.
My concussion subsided just in time for me to move, which took up another three weeks of my life. I didn’t have the energy or gumption to hit the trail after dealing with packing, handling finances, hauling all my shit (most of which was on my own), and then unpacking everything. Despite having very few belongings, it’s still time-consuming to move your whole life from one location to the next.
The hike in which I broke my wrist was on 07/12. My next hike, the one I will talk about next week (in which I injured myself yet again, because it never fucking ends) didn’t happen until 10/14. That means, my dear Peakers, that the middle of my year was consumed by three months of being broken.
A literal broken middle.
It would be nice to sum up this story with the announcement that I’m doing better. I like telling these kinds of tales when I’ve got a victorious or hopeful message to tack on the end, but the truth of the matter is that I’m just not there yet. I did go hiking again, and there was a lot of triumph to be had on that trail, but it didn’t magically heal the wounds gouged by depression.
I’m still struggling. It’s difficult to keep to routines, it takes more effort than I would like to get up in the mornings and go to work. I’ve felt scattered and unable to write much of anything for a while now. I stopped watching or reading much of anything new, instead just listening to old podcasts and trying not to connect with my subconscious because it was in a constant state of assholery.
I’m sure most of you have heard of the spoon theory. That we all have a certain number of spoons to deal with things, and that when we’re out of spoons that’s it, that’s when burnout happens and panic attacks and all the other mental breakdowns associated with being out of fucks to give. I’ll often mention in passing, sarcastically, how I just don’t have the spoons for whatever bullshit is gracing my life at the moment. Lately, though, it doesn’t really feel like I have spoons at all. Or rather, not multiples. It feels like I have just one big spoon, and I shovel everything into it. I carry around this massive spoon, and when something comes along and flips that spoon out of my hand, everything goes flying at once. I’m always one event away from an avalanche of spoon-free misery. I’m that character from the Don Hertzfeldt cartoon, yelling about how my spoon is too big because I know damn well it’s holding too much at once and I just need some regular-sized spoons but this motherfucker next to me here is so distracted by his anus bleeding that no one will help me with my big-ass fucking spoon!
It's not the most stable way to conduct things.
While I am still struggling, I can report a few hopeful things at the end of this tale. My brain’s lockdown on wordflow seems to be easing, so I’m writing more and more. I’m reading and consuming new media again, as well, which is a good sign. I’m also a bit more mindful of all the pitfalls surrounding me. My anxiety has been ramping up, trying to demand levels of productivity that I know to be unhealthy because it’s trying to distract me from the psychic pain lurking in the back of my brain. I’ve been pretty good so far at only allowing that urge to take hold during certain hours of the day. No staying up past bedtime to compose new stories or write new chapters. It hasn’t stopped me from having insomnia, but I’m at least not feeding my alertness with new activities. I’ve kept it to reading in dim lights or listening to podcasts in the dark. I think it’s helped a bit.
The real summation here, though, is that I think any project that takes up a span of time is going to have a broken middle. I think that’s common, and I think too often it’s something we beat ourselves up for or try to hide it. Or we quit. Because when the middle gets broken, it’s easy to assume the whole thing is a wash.
But I don’t want to discredit the fourteen hikes I went on earlier in the year. Nor do I want to give up on all the hikes I can take in the future. I like the Weekly Peakly, I like how much it motivates me to get out there. I like that it gives me a way to share the adventures that I take in my head, as well as share some of the wonder that is out there in the world not far from where our cities stand. I think there’s a lot of good in this project, and I’d like to keep that good in my life.
So, instead of killing the project, I’ve rescoped it. Rather than hiking every weekend for a year, I’m going to change the structure and have a different goal. My new aim is to hike every trail in Washington State.
A lofty goal.
I’ve got some criteria, of course. I’m using the Washington Trail Association website to find everything, so if it isn’t a trail on there then it’s not included. I’m only considering trails that are between 3 and 20 miles (anything longer is not within a range I’d want to aim for, and anything shorter is logistically not worth the time to plan). There also has to be a clear way to get there, with a place to park. That weeds out some of the more bananas listings that were just for like, a mountain peak or something and didn’t have any information on how one would get there.
This rescoping is going to give me a few things. One, it gives me a long-term reason to keep puttering away on this project. It keeps me motivated with a lofty goal to aim for. But it also allows for some more flexibility. The goal is to do a write-up on a hike each week, not necessarily to get a hike done per week. There will be weeks where I might go hiking more than once, there may be times where I don’t get a chance to go at all. There may even be weeks that I can’t write anything up, but it’s okay because it’s not cutting anything short, I’ll be back next time. None of that is “failing” at my goals, because my goal isn’t so time-structured anymore. With this new aim, I have built-in ways to be gentle with myself, to forgive myself for mishaps or injuries that keep me from chugging away at max speed. It also has some room for more creative Weekly Peakly entries, which maybe don’t always directly involve a mountain but still embody the spirit of what it is I want this to be.
Because this isn’t just about hiking. There are nine thousand other blogs out there about hiking, and they have trail information and logistics covered. What I want this to be is a story. It’s a journey of emotions and adventure as much as it is a journey upwards on a trail. I want it to be something that shows the method of achieving something so grand as arriving at a summit. I want it to be a blueprint for others to follow, to show them the gritty in-between places that happen not at the foot of the mountain, and not at the top, but the middle.
The bottom is where we always start. And the top, that’s what makes it worth it. That’s the payoff. But the story, the narrative, the secret sauce that keeps everything moving, that happens in the middle. Even when it’s broken.
So, here’s to the broken middle. Here’s to writing about it. Here’s to starting again and finding another. Here’s to all the broken middles in my life, and all the ways I turned them into stories worth telling.
Mostly, though, here’s to the middles yet to come, and the stories I’ve yet to tell about them.
Mistakes and R E G R E T S:
1. Deadlines. I think setting any kind of schedule around your goals seems like an obvious start. After all, it seems like the best motivator. However, I think setting schedules around a goal is like blowing up your party balloons in a room full of nails. You’re setting yourself up for disappointment, stress, and failure – probably loudly and all at once. You’re setting yourself up to focus on how far behind you’re falling, rather than what you’ve achieved and how you can achieve the rest. I could have saved myself a touch of stress if I hadn’t decided this whole project was time-based. If I had just said “I want to hike and write about hiking things every week” rather than “I want to hike every week this year”, my approach would have been a lot more kind to my abilities. So, I regret not reframing the project earlier, to something with fewer deadlines. I regret not realizing how damaging deadlines can be, overall. But hey, at least I know now!
Hot Takes for Hikers:
Savor the Middles
I know the point about this post was to make you realize the benefit of the middle of every story, but I just want to highlight that in a way that’s more specific to hiking. I think in a lot of my posts, I write about the bottom and top of the hike the most. Part of this is because those are the most memorable to me. I remember the beginning, I remember the goal, and I usually remember the point on the return journey where my legs start screaming at me about how much of an idiot I was to have hiked so far. But I often brush the middle parts right out of my head. So, I think I’m going to start trying to be mindful of more things on the way up. I may take notes to recall specific thoughts, or specific feelings. Because that middle, that’s where all the juice is. That’s where the learning happens, and I want to be able to recall it just as clearly as the peak.
Song of the Hike: Control by Halsey, for PTSD reasons. It feels appropriate for the overall mood of dealing with your own personal demons.
Animals Seen: Since this technically wasn’t a hike, I can just claim my cats, right? Please enjoy these pictures of my idiot cats.
Mood: Depression, anxiety, and PTSD (hooray for the shitty triforce of mental illness!)
Trail Rank: Listen, I can’t say I’d recommend concussions, injuries, or mental illnesses. But I can recommend this level of introspection if you have them. I can also recommend this level of introspection if you don’t. If we consider the broken middle as an introspection period, then I’d recommend that to anyone. It’s always good to examine what’s happening in your head and why. Even if you can’t fix it right away, knowing why it’s happening can sure as fuck ease the pain while it’s going on. So, 10/10, would evaluate my own emotions and mental standing again.