Why We Keep Going
My husband and I set off into the woods at a brisker than usual clip. Sooner than I hoped, the trail made good on its short-but-steep reputation. After a brief lag, my steps slowed because there was no way I could keep that pace at that grade all the way to the top.
We’d tried this trail before, when we were inexperienced and unprepared for May’s unmelted snow. We hadn’t gone far before we gave up—shoes sodden and pants soaked to the knees. Twenty years later we were back, on a quest to complete what we’d started all those years before. This time it was September. The trail was clear of everything but shadows that fell from the filtering pines.
Two obstacles stood between us and success: the clock and me. The clock problem was simple math: we were alternates for a tour that began in less time than we had available to complete the trail and get where we needed to go. The me problem was more complex. First, I don’t have a high gear. I don’t really do fast. Second, I have commitment issues. It’s just a little too easy for me to turn back on steep trails—especially if there’s something else I want to do.
Between our need for speed and my penchant for not persevering, setting off was something of a risk.
Our destination was Monument Geyser Basin. While I was familiar with Yellowstone’s well-known thermal areas, I’d never seen a backcountry geyser basin and I wanted to. So, pushed as much by the quest as by the clock, I kept on—moving faster than my natural pace and ignoring the calls of my burning quads. Even though I was uncharacteristically committed to finishing this hike, as we rounded switchback after switchback, my mindset devolved. Rather than anticipating our arrival, my focus switched to Just get there already! so we could see the thing, hike back to the vehicle, and get on the road.
Still, when the trail flattened, we adopted a more leisurely pace and I paused at a break in the wall of pines—the woodland portal to the basin. We had, after all, been waiting for this moment for a long time. Stepping through, I took in Monument’s mostly treeless terrain with a sweeping glance. I had expected an active basin, teeming with colorful springs, bubbling pools, and hovering steam. What I found was inactive—geyserite grey “monuments” that called to mind a preschooler’s attempt at a Play-Doh industrial cityscape.
It was less impressive than I had imagined and I was less appreciative than it deserved.
Since we were on the clock we didn’t linger long. I walked away knowing I was disappointed in more than just Monument; I was disappointed in myself. Who was I to judge creation?
As we rounded a switchback, my husband left the trail and disappeared into a gap between the pines. Torn between irritation at the delay and gratitude for his curiosity, I followed. Within a few steps, we were side by side, standing on an exposed strip of earth on the mountainside. Our place above and below the surrounding trees gave us an expansive view of the Gibbon Valley—the meandering Gibbon River winding through the fraying fall grass, sporadic stands of trees dotting the meadow, and wispy clouds strewn across the sky.
For the first time since we set foot on the trail, I stood down.
God has a way of showing up—on the trail and in life—in unexpected places. Perhaps our quest hadn’t been what I’d thought. Monument had been our goal but this was our destination. Monument may have called us up the mountain but this view spoke to my soul. Whether in the challenges we choose or the trials we face, God arrives, giving us what we need.
Here we lingered. From our place above the valley, I realized the clock had done more than drive us. Time had given us a gift. This scene, opened by the Fires of 1988, wouldn’t be accessible much longer. The young forest was growing. Before long, the trees would obstruct the view and this window would close. If my tendency to not persevere on the trail had gotten its way, I would have added another half-finished hike to my short but nagging list. Worse, I would have missed this soul-strengthening view, a view that won’t be there the next time I take that hike.
I hope there is a next time. I want to see Monument for what it is rather than what I expect it to be. The steep stretch will still be a challenge. And, because I’m still on the clock, daily getting older, success isn’t guaranteed. But that’s what makes our quests—whether everyday, epic, or somewhere in between—wild and worthy things.
Great essay, Natalie. I appreciate your candor about the lack of perseverance, yet pushing yourself. We both know that the end result is always what we expect! Sometimes, God has a better view for us!
Thanks for cheering on my candor. That part is a challenge, too. Thanks for reading and reflecting.