Today’s blogging prompt was to write about a challenge that I faced recently. But I didn’t know what to say. I’m not going anywhere. I’m not climbing mountains or paddling kayaks. I am just at home. I would have faced some interesting challenges if the Walk for a Nuclear Free Future had not been canceled. It would have been my third Walk for a Nuclear Free Future. The other two happened in 2010 and 2015. They walks coincide with the meetings held every five years in the United Nations on the nuclear nonproliferation treaty. This walk would have been an adventure and an opportunity, and all adventures and opportunities present challenges.
Since the Walk for a Nuclear Free Future didn’t happen, I am choosing to describe an earlier challenge, one that occurred during the first long-distance walk that I ever took, the Witness against War walk. The setting for this walk was Perrot State Park in eastern Wisconsin.
The Witness against War Walk, which was all about ending the Iraq war, had started on July 12th in Chicago. And now, after walking out of Illinois, into Wisconsin, and through cities, small towns, countryside, and forest, we had arrived at the shores of the Mississippi River. We saw the river and it was beautiful. We would cross it soon. We had taken a few rest days in a variety of settings, from cities to places that seemed to me to be very remote.
And now, it was mid-August, and we were at Perrot State Park, for a day of rest and relaxation. So, on the morning of August 16th, the sun shone brightly, and we had the whole day to explore and to discover the wonders of Perrot State Park. It was indeed a wonder to find ourselves in Western Wisconsin, close to the Mississippi River that separates Wisconsin from Minnesota.
Paul and Mary, two other walkers, and I decided to climb the bluff. We had asked a few others if they wanted to climb, but they were doing other things, such as practicing drums or going into town to get on the internet in the coffee shop and library. So it was going to be the three of us. We were excited about a great view of the river from the top of the bluff.
The three of us started walking from the campsite where the whole group had spent the night. As we arrived at the bluff, we saw a group of people emerging, all looking tired, They said that the trail was very difficult and that there were many stairs. They commented that we were younger than they were so we should be okay.
I wasn’t too sure about that. I realized that this climbing experience was going to be a real challenge for me and that it would be much less difficult for Paul, a young Army veteran, than it would be for me. I thought that Mary looked pretty strong, too.
We started climbing. Up and up and up. Past trees and more trees. I was huffing and puffing and sweating. I was getting older and older by the second. Not as in the usual type of aging, but as in speeded up aging, like some sort of bizarre science fiction aging scenario.
Well, at least, I am going to lose weight by sweating it off, I thought gleefully but then realized that I would gain the weight back as soon as I rehydrated. And then, we reached a slippery section, where I was no longer sure of my footing. I stopped for a moment, not knowing what to do. I was afraid to continue and afraid to go back.
Remember the Little Engine that Could, Alice.
I think I can… I think I can… and I did. I dug in with my feet and walked stubbornly in the slippy slidey surface that might have been worn down from all of the past climbers or maybe by rain or who knows what else causes surfaces to become slippy slidey. I got past the slippery section, and I was still with my companions, as opposed to hopelessly behind. That was a victory over a challenge. I was excited. I looked at Paul. He looked relaxed and happy. Mary looked like she was hiking but not like she was ready to keel over, unlike me.
We stopped for about two minutes, and then we plowed ahead. Ahead to the next challenge. Before long, we reached a flight of stairs. It was the longest flight of stairs that I’d ever seen. It went on and on forever. There were so many stairs that I thought that they were going to take me to the clouds. I took a few pictures along the way, and wondered what I did before digital cameras were invented.
We reached a section of steep steps that was without a bannister. All of a sudden, I felt frightened. Don’t look down, Alice. Do. Not. Look. I looked down. It was a long drop from where I was to the base of the bluff. Terror gripped me with a tight squeeze. I’m scared, I whined, unable to move. What do I do now? Do I go up? Do I go back down? Do I cling to the side of the bluff like a frightened insect, unable to move up, down, or even side to side?
How long could I cling to the side of the bluff, unable to move? Eventually, I would need food and water. Eventually… I would… I think I can. I think I can. If I think I can… then… I… can… I looked up and saw that the end of the climb was not far away. I separated myself from the side of the bluff, and, slowly, I climbed to the top of the bluff.
|This is one of the pictures
that I took during the
walk. I do not know
where the originals
are. I saved them on a CD,
which seems to be
lost. I will get prints
of the entire set fairly
soon, to have a visual
record of the adventure.
I looked around me at the view. There was the Mississippi River in front of me. I could see the water and the lush green islands in the middle of the river. Abruptly, I forgot about the struggle and terror of climbing the bluff.
Huge birds flew overhead. They flew gracefully, their wings outstretched as they sailed through the air. They hardly needed to flap their wings at all. The fact that flying was completely effortless for them amazed me. I rejoined Mary and Paul and we headed to a small shelter, where we sat on benches. I was still sweaty, but I was no longer huffing and puffing. In the shelter, we met a family on vacation from Minneapolis. They were staying in a pop-up trailer. They were Jill and Ben, their daughter Olivia, and Bob, the black labrador retriever. We sat and chatted for a while. They were fascinated to hear about our walk from Chicago to Saint Paul, Minnesota. We talked about why we were walking so far and about how some of the people, including Paul, had been in Iraq during the 2003 Shock and Awe bombing campaign and the invasion that followed. Jill and Ben were very supportive and friendly. Little Olivia informed me that she loved butterflies, but she did not like spiders
“Can I share my breakfast sausage with the butterflies?” she asked her mother.
“Butterflies don’t eat sausage, honey,” Jill said.
After our visit with the family from Minneapolis, we left, walking down by a much less steep path than the one that took us to the top of the bluff. I felt very happy about the mountain climbing. Or the bluff climbing. It was later in the afternoon, not yet time for dinner. Feeling good about overcoming a challenge, I took a nap until it was almost time for dinner. When I went to eat, I took another look at the top of the bluff, which now seemed very imposing and impressive, and it made me feel that I had indeed conquered a mighty challenge.