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THE UPHILL CLIMB


THE UPHILL CLIMB

Guiltily opening up my laptop at breakfast, I was waiting for the disapproving stares of my fellow breakfast buffet goers. Breakfast included in my hotel stay is usually a cringeworthy addition to any vacation, but for this trip it was somewhat forced upon me by the odd travel agent from Fall River, Mass who “specializes” in Azore vacations. I used his agency, another something I usually don’t do when I go on vacation, but because my friend I was surprising used them, I thought it would be easier. It kind of was, but now that I am here, I would have planned my life for this first run completely different. Ahh the wisdom of retrospect. Anyway, in the case of the breakfast buffet though, it is a convenient morning yesterday as I woke up at six am bright and bushy tailed after already four glorious nights in this beauty of a place called Sao Miguel I have placed myself in. I have learned how to order a good cup of coffee and the meats, cheeses, breads, Azorean butters and fruits are a perfect early morning rise for this eager hiker ready to move and shake at nine am.

We had big plans for the day ahead to do a 4.5 km hike in Faial da Terra village. We started on Sanguinho to see the waterfall called Salto Do Prego which I looked up in my new handy Portuguese translator app and could only find salto= jump, prego= nail, hobnail. I emailed my fearless tour guide this morning and she translated it to iron stick jump. No idea what this even means, but the hike was like standing at the bottom of the hill called President Avenue in Fall River, Massachusetts and looking up at the top knowing you are going to have to walk up, straight up. Not to sound purposefully like a world traveler, I am not, but I have done a walking tour in Tuscany. The hill we needed to climb to get to the village of Montepulciano was the hill that made me realize how out of shape I was when I was newly forty as I watched my friend Kathy, blast by me and I was thinking I may have to call an Italian ambulance to save me. I didn’t and I made it which was one of the best hills I have ever walked. Thirteen years later and endless fitness routines and workouts, turns out I love walking hills. The feeling in my heart, my legs especially, my quads, wakes up every single muscle and organ contained in this one hundred and sixtyish pound female (because the Sao Jorge cheese and the waterfall flow of bolos and breads has surely tipped the scale and not in the downward motion I am always hoping for). There is a strength that happens in my soul that creates a nothing can stop me, I am a bad ass and do not fuck with me ever attitude that only a hill can bring out. Especially knowing that the top, the one with the view and the peace and quiet, the one that has no noise from traffic sounds and no internet (hopefully), the one that makes you want to take photo after photo but no photo is ever going to replace the moment between you and the earth and the world you get the privilege to be standing in because you said, No, I will not be a twenty minute tourist, I will use my phone only to research where to hike or how to speak Portuguese to a group of people who are only too happy to speak English.

Hiking sounds like I have a backpack (I kind of do, but it is more of a two strapped navy blue and white checked cotton purse worn from endless travels that I have slung on my back). Hiking sounds like I have on a pair of hiking shoes (I usually do, but since I did zero research on this trip, I neglected to bring them so instead am wearing my workout sneakers). Hiking sounds like a scary notion to people who do not hike. I am not a “hiker” like the kind that your brain is likely conjuring up. I have no plans to climb Mt. Everest or Kilimanjaro, but when I travel, hiking has been a linker for me and the outside. There are just so many towns and shops and museums one can go to. The outside is my museum and frankly there is nothing more that makes me feel like I have had a full vacation then being outdoors in the sunlight or the rain with the clouds, the random surprising and surprised chickens along the route, the birds singing to me and a waterfall as the main attraction.

As I traipsed up the hill, my heart pounding, the pace of my breath quickening, my muscles telling me that yes, alayne, you are alive in more ways than a heartbeat, we marched forth. Knowing that two or three hours from that moment would be a rush of physical and mental satisfaction yes, but more so the spiritual experience would be the shining best part at the end. When our tour guide Christina was coaxed into singing a Portuguese Folk song at the top of her lungs in the open air of the forest and tears welled up in my eyes for no apparent reason other than the moving of my heart, I knew I was lost and then I was found. Right there in the middle of the trees and the earth. No tour in a van could ever match that. My life is good.

Sim a vida é boa. Indeed.








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NO SERVICE

NO SERVICE

Words that could send some into a tailspin, surely these days with our cell phones now a new extension of our fingers, an added digit to our very busy brains, when I saw these words on our drive to one of the many trails along beautiful Route 302, I breathed a deep sigh of relief. NO SERVICE meant that my busy and now new and big breasted life had no excuse but to shut down. Absurdly, I have two phones- one is for mostly business and daily texting with many as well as an app for this an app for that. That phone, the phone I consciously left behind and turned off for eight days, the one that consumes an inordinate amount of time creating a sense of importance and busy-ness in my life sat comfortably on my night stand patiently waiting for my calm and serene return. I needed a vacation and my phone and I needed one too. I am not going to mislead, though, I struggled with the decision, but in the end, my rational self won, the example of my grandfather’s world he lives in easily techno free won. The other phone I own is my emergency phone. This is the one I chose to bring with me on my annual trip with the man I love to spend hours every day in nature hiking and biking in total silence amongst the intense foliage. This is the one that I brought with me in the car because photos are a must, but service isn’t and when the two glorious words of NO SERVICE popped up as we climbed past Mount Washington, I felt free.

Let me first clarify the word hiking. I am a casual hiker. First off, I have an intense fear of getting lost, some people have a fear of heights, or spiders or snakes, I have this weird fear of getting lost. As I write this, I am struck with an epiphany of sorts that I will explore later as this essay today will surely lead somehow back to an inner realization, but later on that. This fear coupled with my love of hiking does not make for good bedfellows, but there is such an opposing intense love of nature and silence that I am a willing participant in challenging my fears. The old cliché of feeling the fear and doing it anyway applies here. I love the challenge of feeling a little scared, then seeing the trusty old yellow or blue or red dot that signifies a well marked trail. I am the type of person who really wants to climb Mt. Washington because physically I know I can handle the eight hour climb, but the fear of not knowing if the trail is well marked for my fearful self keeps me from the otherwise magnificent climb. (another epiphany in the reread-BAM)

I would be just as happy doing the climb up the road that the cars climb knowing that the way up is as well marked as Disney World. I am embarrassed to even write this as I know this misses the entire point of the climb. As I reread this, I know that I wouldn’t do that, but I am just trying to demonstrate how deep this fear goes for me. The peace and calm of the hike is the main point and clearly the tarred road with the never ending family dreams of placing “This Car Climbed Mt. Washington” bumper stickers looming as one 40k SUV after another passed by surely would miss the point.

I have learned over the past four years on this annual fall trip how to read maps, how to navigate enough so that we find the trails that are both challenging, but also are marked enough so that I am comfortable enough to continue the climb. There is always a stunning reward at the end. This is the bonus of a good hike on a great trail, the climb up to the surprise at the top-usually a breathtaking view and one that takes my breath away. This is worth all of the fear and this is why I climb. We all climb in our own ways. Some more literally than others. In my case, leaving my busy world and leaving my business phone behind to be off the grid as best as I can is challenging enough. I realize many nuggets as I am traveling quietly alone with my thoughts toggling ahead or behind my partner.

I love a good walking stick and I have found two on my travels this week. There is something balancing and meditative about using one both up and down. There is a rhythm to the walk with a walking stick and in addition, my eyesight perception is off so it helps me find my way up and down rocky and leaf covered terrain. I have big badass bold thoughts about my life and what I want to do with it when I am hiking and biking.One thought was how much i would love to have my son with me as I have taken him up in these Great Woods many times. As he gets older, I love him more. I didn’t realize how much more I could love my child every day. This is an incredible gift of nature, these gems of poignant realizations. I also realized this week that owning my own business has so many gifts and one is that I get to direct it, it doesn’t direct me. Sometimes in the mire of day to day operations, I forget this. I have always been an opposite thinker when it comes to “what I am supposed to do” because I own a business i.e. be attached to a cell phone 24/7, social media 24/7, email weekly blasts with this promotion or that promotion, the ‘shoulds’ of day to day entrepreneurship. What gives me pleasure is not that part, what gives me pleasure is the day to day personal and real physical connection with people, mostly women. Hiking in the mountains grounds me. It serves my soul a big plate of centering and creativity. It releases my brain from work and it allows expansion. Without this, I am lost, how ironic but not really that my fear of getting lost is exactly what serves me the most.

The climb we were on was pretty steep and as I traipsed up the third trail of the week after a twenty-five mile bike ride the day before having to pause an unusual amount of time, I said to Michael, “Maybe I am having to stop so much because we didn’t eat breakfast before leaving.” He and I are on this twelve-hour between dinner and breakfast intermittent fasting plan in our perpetual quest for the perfect nutrition balance. (I know- a big yawn for those of you who know us).

He starts laughing and turns to look at me and says, “Maybe it is because you just had surgery three weeks ago, Alayne.” I seriously forgot that this could possibly be a reason for my slowness. I laugh at myself and I cry at myself because I consider in that moment of clarity how infrequently I give myself a break. Merge this with my occasional teary eyes as I walked and stopped as a twenty five year old couple climbed by us and stopped to chat for a moment. As they moved on I said to Michael, “I am a little teary eyed.” He, with his intuitive beautiful soul, said back, “I am guessing their age reminded you of your brother, honey, let the tears flow.” And they did because yesterday, October 20th would have been my brother’s 47th birthday and I realized that before he died he answered my question of “What is your advice to me as I go forward on without you?” Meaning of course how will I climb without you, how will I not get lost without you in my physical world. His not quite twenty five year young cancer ridden skinny soul said, “Live life to the fullest, Alayne.” And so I do. And so I will.



finding a beaver damn and my walking stick, never mind those braless tatas just sayin… and me and my man at 2 of some really nice trails this week. highly recommend before the snow starts to fall. Love this hat too… thank you Grasmere of Bristol, RI.