It was following me, of course. It’s always there, swinging fists, lashing out tongues, trying to squash me. And it always succeeds. It didn’t matter where I went, how far I traveled. It was always there, sitting in wait—even in the woods.
Located thirty-six miles northeast of Boise, Idaho, in the rise and fall of the Boise National Forest, sits the old mining town, Idaho City.
Once the largest city in the west, Idaho City is now home to five-hundred residents. A couple of city blocks around a slumping Main Street and a school with students ranging from Kindergarten to twelfth grade make up the town’s center. Idaho City is also where my sister, Jen, owns a cabin and where the five of us sisters went last weekend for vacation.
A cabin in the woods with spotty cell services, a single unpaved road winding in and out of town, and an average of ninety-two inches of snowfall a year, spell disaster for a woman from the Salt Lake City suburbs. It conjures Stephen-King-sian horrors, images of car engine trouble, and Big Foot wielding a meat cleaver.
For someone who does nothing in the snow besides curse it while dragging an ice scraper over her car windows in the Mall parking lot—someone who spends the months of November through February hibernating in her bathtub—a trip to the frozen mountains didn’t sound like much of a vacation. Worst of all, I had nothing to wear!
However, seeing how much Jen loved the place, and since I’m on this quest of testing insecurities to better myself, I had to go. Besides, I think I’ve gained all the self-insight I can from the inside of my bathtub.
After we arrived, we decided to try snowshoeing. Thirty years ago, I skied, but only occasionally. So, tying a couple of tennis racquets to my boots while traversing snowdrifts seemed otherworldly. Still, I put my iWatch on the “snow sports” mode.
Every day from the watch screen, I see three rings that indicate calorie consumption through movement. Every day I fail to close at least one of those rings. This day, I vowed to hit my exercise goal.
Once I figured out that walking in snowshoes was nothing like walking, nor like gliding on skies, that one must toddle from foot to foot, heel first, then toe, I started enjoying myself.
Untouched sparkling white earth, long pine trees pointing upwards to a milky sky, and a rolling hill horizon below took my breath away. The low hum imprint of my regular world, the traffic in the distance, the vibration of electricity reverberating through the house vanished. Only the hollow crunch of snowshoes in the snow remained.
Following snowmobile tracks, my sisters and I moved single file down a gentle slope curved around mountain bluffs. The air smelled like nothing. I could not see it or taste its familiar bitter metallic tang. The weather was overcast, but still, the snow surrounding us was bright.
Because we walked in a line and could not hear one another over the crunch of our footsteps, my sisters and I said very little. And because I had to concentrate on walking in snowshoes, I could not disappear into my thoughts. I was present.
I felt each muscle in my thigh spring into action. I felt the bend of each knee and my foot give with every step in the snow. I felt the cold kiss my face and saw the wind kick up snow around our trail.
My breath in my chest rose and fell. My heartbeat pounded. For the first time in a long time, I was present—not just existing for the next moment, and the one after that—I was alive.
After we had walked forty-five minutes, we decided to head back to Jen’s truck. The brilliant glow of the snow was starting to darken, and the realization that wolves and mountain lions lived in these parts sealed our decision. We turned around.
“Hey, Lindsay,” my sister Em said, “Let’s see how fast you can run in snowshoes!”
Lindsay is the most athletic of us sisters and the youngest, by seven, eight, ten, and fourteen years. “Okay!” she said and maneuvered out of the rut and slogged her way to a section of unspoiled snow.
“On your mark,” Em said, pulling out her cell phone and recording.
“Get set,” my sister Nat chimed in.
Lindsay bent her knees and straightened her back.
Lindsay charged forward several steps until the tip of her snowshoe hit a lip of hard crust, pitching her face-first into the snow. We laughed.
“My turn!” I heard myself say. I shuffled onto the unscarred snow and waited for the signal.
A voice in my head began. Don’t do this! You can’t do this! You’re old! You’ll look ridiculous! You can’t run in the snow! You’ll fall and break something!
I ignored the voice and got ready. I bent my legs.
I inhaled the clean air.
I ran, knees up, going a little further than Lindsay until I hit a chunk of ice and went down. We all laughed.
When I tried to get up, I was stuck. Whenever I planted a knee into the snow, the ground gave way, and my leg would sink. When I stuck my hand down to steady myself, the snow ate my arm up to my shoulder. So, I laid flat across the surface and rolled towards the frozen snowmobile tracks.
“That was so smart!” Jen said as I became vertical again.
“You figured out how to stand up by rolling to firm ground.”
I couldn’t think of anything else to say. Was that smart? I hadn’t thought about it, I simply reacted, and it worked. I checked my iWatch. I hadn’t yet closed my movement rings.
“I want to try it!” Em called out. She got into position on the unspoiled snow and waited in her runner’s pose for the count down. Nat recorded as Em flew across the snow further than any one of us had.
After Em fell face-first, my sisters and I were once again shuffling single file, heading to the truck.
I spotted soft green moss growing on a tree branch at a seam between the flattened ground and where a snow-covered null rose.
“Hey, Lindsay,” I called over my shoulder, “Go stand by that tree. I want to take your picture. The moss will make your eyes pop!”
Lindsay moved to the tree while the rest of our sisters continued toward the truck. I lifted my arm and checked my wrist for the time. We had been snowshoeing for almost an hour, and I had finally closed my exercise ring. However, I noted the small red battery icon with a slash across it flashing in the watch screen corner. My iPhone and iWatch were no longer synced.
“My phone!” I patted down my jeans and jammed my hands into the empty pockets of my coat. “I’ve lost my phone!”
Flashes of me tripping headfirst into the snow a few minutes before sobered me to the possibility that my cell had slipped out of my pocket without me realizing it. I spun around and started stomping back.
I figured we had been walking about ten to fifteen minutes from the time we stopped racing, so I set the exercise mode on my watch. I would walk ten to fifteen minutes back while watching for two things, either my cell phone waiting for me along the snowmobile track or for the red battery icon on my watch to disappear.
If I could get close enough to my phone, I could press the “find my iPhone” app, locate my cell, and set off an alarm that resembled a submarine sonar. I pushed it to check but heard nothing.
Lindsay had told the sisters where I was going and trailed after me to help search. Meanwhile, Em had the idea to check my racing video to see if she could spot when and where I might have lost my phone.
As I stalked back to the racing spot, the voices in my head started again.
You idiot! Why didn’t you check to make sure your pocket zipper was closed before you tried racing? You’ve lost your phone, your super-expensive phone, the one you never deserved in the first place! What are you doing out here in the wilderness? You’re not capable of being in nature!
The closer I got to where I supposed the phone was, the worse the voices inside me grew.
Who do you think you are running around the snow? You are too old, too stupid, too fat, to run around like that! Just how stupid are you?
The voices were strong and imposing. They had waited until I was at my most vulnerable to attack. Upset, worried, alone, they were assassins waiting for the perfect time to jump me, to shame me until I had pulverized any earlier sense of joy, freedom, or peace. I wanted to cry.
I rechecked my iWatch and saw the red battery icon had disappeared. I pressed the alert and heard a ping somewhere beneath my feet. I dropped to the ground and started digging with my bare hands.
When Lindsay reached me, I was kneeling in the snow, clawing into the burning white abyss, searching for redeemability at the touch of a frozen metal cell phone.
“Em found where your phone slipped out of your pocket,” Lindsay said, joining me. “She has it on video.”
I hit the alert again. We followed the sound grabbing up pieces of powder and ice and chucking it over our shoulders.
Em appeared, breathless. “I found where it fell!” She held out her phone, and we watched the footage.
You’re so pathetic! the voice in my head screamed as I saw the sliver of orange (my phone case) slide outside my black coat pocket and disappear into the snow. Look at yourself! Look at what an irresponsible freak you are!
I dug harder in the snow, trying to hold back my tears, trying to rectify my mistake, to erase my accident, to correct who I felt I was—a loser. A freak. A failure.
The three of us continued to dig. We tilted our heads, listening before we explored some more. Each ping seemed to echo and bounce beneath the snow, making it hard to pin down.
Lindsay took off her snowshoe and began shoveling. She would plunge the shoe into the snow, lifting clumps of ice and powder and tossing it behind her.
And then I saw it, the sleek orange case contrasting against the sea of white. My cell phone! It was still working then. It is still working now!
When I first started writing this story, I went into it thinking that the point was to recognize that I have mad survival skills that kicked in when I needed them most. I figured that now that I knew those skills existed, I had to figure out how to use them in my regular life. However, I was wrong.
I noticed how badly I talk to myself in the face of anxiety or stress. In just a few moments, I went from feeling inner peace to feeling turmoil. The beauty of the snow, the solitude of the moment had awakened a part of me that I usually keep dormant—that part of me used to living vicariously through other people because I’m too busy numbing myself to be present.
In the face of stress, I woke up, but only to belittle and abuse myself for something that was not intentional. I took a wrecking ball to my self-esteem, my self-expression, any self-care and made sure I killed it.
I don’t want to live like that! I would hate for anyone to live under such scrutiny, oppression, and severity!
Although I don’t know where that terrible voice comes from (nobody treated me this way when I was a kid), maybe my focus shouldn’t be the voice’s origin, but rather, what can I do to shut it down and shut it off?
Perhaps, I need to figure out how to get myself back inside those woods, strap those snowshoes back on my feet, hear, smell, taste nothing in the air, and simply exist, all the while talking kindly to myself.
*Stay tuned for more stories about overcoming challenges. Write me! I always respond!