Monday, October 15, 2012

Dragging Up Old Rag

Last Sunday my husband and I dragged each other up Old Rag. Sadly, this isn't a metaphor! We hiked 9.63 miles up and down a rocky Shenandoah mountain on a cold, wet October day. The trek, marking our eighth anniversary, was a fitting analogy for our marriage.

We started early, leaving the house pre-dawn and our families of origin by age twenty-two. In both beginnings we set out quickly and easily, holding hands, smiling, excited with starting a momentous journey together. Soon, it was uphill. Our pace slowed, but the views got better and the feeling of achievement grew. We relaxed and enjoyed each other’s pleasant company, celebrating small successes along the way. Then, amidst all this peaceful progress, came...THE SCRAMBLE.

We knew part of the "fun" of this hike was the rock scramble, we just didn't know how very much "fun" it would be. We'd read a blog or two in preparation. We'd known people of lesser physical ability who summited. Like newlyweds, we were over-confident, ignoring the warnings of experienced park rangers.

On a dry day, it might have been easy, but our day was not dry. There are all sorts of comparisons between this and our marriage. Life is rich with complications. Our hearts break from the ordinary and the extraordinary, and this year saw lots of heartbreak for the Rambling Roches. Many of them, like the rocks on the trail, we should have seen coming. But, that isn’t ever enough. Twenty-twenty hindsight doesn’t alleviate pain, nor does the promise to do better next time absolve fault.

After I thought we’d nearly completed the dreaded scramble with ease, my heart sank. It hadn’t even begun. When I saw a blue-blazed arrow pointing eight feet straight down a narrow crevasse, I dropped my jaw and stared back blankly at Jeff. While I had kept our pace steady and swift to this point, Jeff now took the lead to steer us through this difficult challenge. I think this is how our marriage works, too. I am driven and determined to succeed and achieve, raised with the mantra “it’s not a race, but I won.” But, on the foggiest of nights, I couldn’t get anywhere without Jeff as my beacon.

As we continued, the rocks were slick making it difficult to secure footing. Jeff was sometimes in front reaching for my hand, and sometimes behind reaching for MY behind. There were times when I used all of my muscles (kegels included!) to reach the next rock. Jeff remained a patient force, guiding us both up the scramble. Without his strength, I could not have made it through.

After several miles at a twenty - thirty minute per mile pace, the mile containing the scramble took us one hour and forty-one minutes. Even more than the summit, this was the most memorable, most remarkable, and most enjoyable mile of our journey. Through the adversity of slick rocks, we showed our care and concern for one another. We stayed together. We loved each other through it and despite it. I wouldn’t have it any other way.

The end of the hike was a picturesque, slowly-descending trail through the woods. It was beautiful, though the scenery was unvaried. Eventually, the serenity of the tree-lined path seemed only a taunting reminder of how far away the car remained. By now, we were fatigued and the view that we were both longing for was that of our Subaru containing dry clothing and the means to deliver us to a massive cheeseburger.

While we enjoyed the descent together, it wasn't what spoke to our souls. In our marriage, we're not there yet. When we are, I hope it is like our hike: holding hands, smiling, and peacefully reflecting on the wonder of our journey together. For now, we’re still managing the scramble: alternating leads, encouraging one another, guiding one another, and using all our skills, abilities, and muscles (even kegels!) to make it…together.

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