Challenging inclines, gorgeous views. I’m proud of us.

When I teach workshops my students find themselves challenged as I push them out of their comfort zones. I direct them to move the paint around this way, then that way, and then, just as they’re creating an image they recognize, I direct them to turn their paper upside down, cover the surface with a wash of dark paint, and start again. It drives them crazy, but I find that by the end of every workshop, they are pleased and proud. Pleased with themselves for pushing past their frustrations. Proud of themselves for trusting me, and their own ability, in the process of bringing their work to a stronger place. .

Last week I was going to be in a bit of limbo time out here in southern Oregon. I’d dropped my son off after our holiday weekend, and am going to pick him up a few days from now for our several summer weeks together. I’ve got folks I stay with and plenty of work to do, but before I left for this trip I started playing with the idea of taking myself into the mountains for a few days. I mentioned this to my dear friend Bob and he decided he could use a break from the grind and would join me. Wednesday evening, after an expensive trip to REI to replace some necessities the airlines had chosen not to send with him, we drove to a lodge close to the California border, and less than two miles walk to a trailhead for the Pacific Crest Trail. Thursday after breakfast we donned heavy loads on our backs and walked along the state highway to the PCT trailhead. Then for the next ten miles we followed the path we’d signed up for, up and up and up, until we were over 5000 feet and seeing amazing views including tall distant snow-covered peaks. By the time we found the perfect place to set up our tent, our feet hurt and our heads were fuzzy from the adjustment of swamp-dwellers to alpine air. We filtered water, cooked our dinner, stretched our achy muscles, and crawled into our sleeping bags. In the morning we packed it all up and did it again. 12 more miles of amazing views and amazing challenges, including a scarcity of water sources leading to our needing to carry many more pounds of water most of the day. We followed our map, heeded the guideposts, and put one foot in front of the other, pushing ourselves more and more past our comfort zone. It was glorious.

The third morning we awoke refreshed. We’d hiked further than we’d planned and had only a few more miles of trail to eat up before our meeting spot for our shuttle driver. We found a diner and ate richly while we waited, already planning more trips with more days. We had learned about ourselves and each other, and about our friendship. We’d gotten to know the landscape, and become accustomed to the rhythm of the trail. We were stronger and wanted more.

Certainly we had nothing on the thru-hikers we saw along the way, but that’s ok; we’re not thru-hikers. We’re an artist and a physician who love learning about and moving through the world in new and beautiful ways. We’re our own kind of hiker.

By the end of a class my students have grown and pushed and seen what they’re capable of. My workshoppers are their own kind of artist, and I’m always proud of them.