Ok..I didn’t fall off a mountain. I almost did though.
One of the first things I did when I went back to visit the U.S was to visit my long time friend, let’s call her Rose, in Albuquerque. I’ve known Rose since middle school and even attended one year of university together. We both transferred out after the first year, but Rose has always been one of my favorite people. She is quite unique, spunky, and marches to her own beat. I’ve always admired that about her, but I have to admit people weren’t always so friendly towards her. The beautiful thing about Rose is she marches on regardless. Since she had been living in New Mexico for nine years, I figured it was time for me to get my ass out there.
Being an East Coast girl, born and raised, it is difficult for me to travel West. Being a Muslim and hijabi, it pains me further to venture into the middle of the country. My self-consciousness is turned up a notch whenever I’m venturing into unknown territory. I know that a lot of that is completely imaginary and I’m not supposed to care about what people think of me. The problem is…I do. I care. I want people to be able to look past my clothing and see the real me. It’s extremely difficult to walk around and be underestimated because of your appearance. Things are even more complicated right now because Trump is president-elect–but we’ll leave that for another post.
I made it out to New Mexico with little incident and indulged in some surprisingly tasty Tofu Pad Thai for lunch on my arrival. After walking up an appetite in the downtown shopping district, we followed up the Thai food with green chile smothered burritos for good measure. Life was good.
We retired to her lovely little house to watch reruns of American Horror story and catch up. During our conversation, Rose mentioned her climb of Sandia Peak. I had been detailing my loss of control–the self-destructive habits that lead me to gain seventy pounds and the anxiety and depression that had swallowed me up.
“I wish I could do something like that.” I moaned while staring up at Rose’s bare white ceiling.
“Why don’t you just try?”
I rolled over and raised myself up onto my elbows and looked up at my crazy friend. Couldn’t she see the disgusting marshmallow I had become?
“We’ll do a practice hike tomorrow. You really should see the hot springs before you go. On Sunday morning before you leave, we’ll attempt to climb to Sandia Peak. Even seasoned hikers don’t finish. No one will think less of you.”
After a fitful sleep, I met Rose downstairs for breakfast. I swallowed my green chile bagels with a bit of self-loathing. Why had I let my life get so out of hand that I was afraid to hike? I used to be so athletic and youthful. Now I creaked and groaned like an old woman. My trepidation must have been obvious, because the entire ride to the State Park, Rose assured me with platitudes about first steps.
I was furious with myself. I used to be able to run a 5K with no preparation and now I was someone who looked like they needed cheerleading to walk uphill.
We set out easily enough. I’m not going to lie and say that it was like riding a bike, but after about thirty minutes I started to relax and enjoy myself. Unfortunately, nature decided that fat people can’t enjoy hikes.
The rain showed up out of nowhere and came down in buckets. The narrow bare trail instantly became muck. Our running shoes couldn’t grip the trail which forced us to stop climbing. After a few minutes of “waiting it out” we decided to descend. We were halfway up the trail and on the edge of a mountain. To one side was a dirt wall, to the other a perfect vista of the jagged and sharp rocks to break your fall as you plunged to your death.
I grabbed a root embedded in the cliffside to steady myself and took one step into the muck. My brand new Asics slid out from under me and sent me into a dive straight off the path. My body and mind worked completely as separate entities. My mind whirred thinking about how the paramedics wouldn’t be able to lift my heavy body and how embarrassing it would be to be so fat a hike killed me. My body decided it would be a great idea to try and stop me from flying off into the abyss. I ended up landing halfway off the trail, my upper body slamming into the ground. My elbow did a pile drive right into a rock that was embedded into the floor of the trail. My friend screamed and tried to pull me up but the mud made it nearly impossible for us to exert any force. I couldn’t feel or use the arm that had slammed into the rock, but I was so weak it took every bit of energy I had to pull myself back up onto the trail. We sat there holding each other in the dirt for a few minutes. After the obliterating pain subsided, I realized that it stopped raining. This was our window.
“We have to get down.” I groaned. We had no way to call for help and no way of knowing when the rain would return. However, it was too dangerous to keep walking. I decided instead of trying to fight my un-fitness, I would utilize it.
“Hey, Rose. I have an idea.”
I dragged myself into an upright seating position, cupped my right hand over my injured elbow, and leaned forward. Slowly, I began to move. My plump ass had become a saving grace and rescue tool. I’ve never been more thankful for my round backside. Rose and I slid down the entire mountain on our asses. Forty five minutes of ass sliding later, we arrived on flat ground.
Rose turned to me and asked where I wanted to go to the hospital.
I threw my head back and laughed. “I’ll go after I reach the top of Sandia Peak”.
Rose shook her head, but didn’t protest. We continued on up another trail to the hot springs. It started to mist again, but the trail was open, wide, and flat with stair like rocks. We were greeted by families, couples, and singles alike at the hot springs.
Muddy and exhausted, we bathed in our clothes. Later, we piled into a cave with a bunch of university students just to see how many of us could fit. I was in awe of their confident ease, their relaxed demeanors, and they friendliness. Of course, I’m pretty sure they had help with some inhaleable herbal supplements, if you know what I mean. The warm mineral water felt wonderful on my elbow. After several hours of soaking and playing, we headed back down the mountain. We finished the day with a tram ride to preview the immense undertaking of tomorrow’s climb.
The next day, I woke up unable to move my elbow or my middle or index finger. An enormous dark blue bruise had settled in over top my elbow. I was pretty sure it was broken.
“We don’t have to do this. You can go to the hospital.”
“I can go to the hospital in Maryland. My elbow will still be broken when I get back. Let’s go.”
I wish I could say that I hiked the mountain with ease, or that I didn’t want to give up at times, or that it wasn’t the most painful and difficult thing I had done in years, but that wouldn’t be honest. It took us almost five hours, which is an extremely slow time and the last hour I had to stop every five minutes to catch my breath. I trudged along so slowly I thought I would never make it. Eventually, this came into view.
We stayed there for about fifteen minutes, basking in the gift shop’s glory. I bought a magnet that with the Stellar Jay on it and the height of the crest. Although I was exhausted and quite literally broken, I felt joyful. Some people might think I’m crazy for not seeking immediate medical attention, but I knew if I left New Mexico with a battle wound and nothing to show for it, I would have never forgiven myself. I had to climb that damn mountain. It was there. And so was I.
Sometimes you make decisions that cause you to fall and hurt yourself, or almost tumble headfirst off a mountain. It hurts and it isn’t easy to get up and keep going. Life can quite easily break more than an elbow. You might even need to come down a mountain or two on your ass. However, with some perseverance in the right direction and a supportive friend or two, you just might get to a beautiful view.