Yesterday I spent the greater part of the day with Latah Co Search and Rescue (SAR) folks up on Moscow Mountain. MAMBA, the local mountain bike club that Jim and 2 friends started a few decades ago, offered to show them “our” mountain using the trail maps to demonstrate where roads intersect with trails. Seems, especially at this time of year, with new students searching out recreation, daylight decreasing, folks get lost, and phone calls come in. Knowing the mountain and it’s trail system well, I volunteered to go along. Usually when I am up on the mountain, I have a set loop that I am planning to bike or run, and I pass by other trailheads, or avoid a part of the mountain entirely. When I looked at the agenda for the day, which involved slowly driving up the ridge road convoy style and discussing how to access each trail in case of emergency (by truck, by ATV, by horse, by foot), I thought it would be tedious. Then I realized that many of these SAR folks had not been on the mountain in years…for one it had been over 25 years. Anticipating a mountain over-run with recreators, they were surprised to see how clean it was, how nicely maintained. They needed to hear the history of MAMBA, the stories. Telling stories is never tedious. I love stories.
So many stories. Early exploratory riding and hiking, just to find out what already existed. The heartbreak of building a trail only to have it logged the next season, and then having the same thing happen the next season…spurring the need to coordinate and cooperate better with the local lumber company. The agony of learning the hard way that you MUST ask permission prior to building, or you spend valuable volunteer time tearing out a trail that you just built. Finally building up enough of a volunteer base, Tom Sawyer picket fence style, that the international mountain bike community comes in for a weekend of teaching trail construction. Coordinating with the local environmental group to clean up dumped cars and refrigerators, and having private land owners slowly notice that bikers and hikers are policing and maintaining their land….and it hasn’t looked better in years. Permission for trail building exploding to a point that we are finally building more trail than we are losing to logging. Community service groups from both universities vying for days when they can come out to help. So many stories to share with the SAR group, and plenty of time to tell them in.
As we slowly bumped along the ridge road, stopping every 1/4 mile or so to point out a landmark, it was the other stories that rattled in my head, some of which were shared with my seat mate, others just held in my heart. Each trail has a history, a name, and so many stories. The border collie that always led Jim back to the car so as to not be late for dinner. The quick loop that could be squeezed into the time frame where both kids were at the gym and there was no need for a baby sitter. The old sand trail, and the bobcat that crossed my path one evening at dusk. Naming Blond Jeans, Rock and a Hard Place, and Gemini. My first ride on a mountain bike that had full-sized wheels and front suspension. All the napping spots where we would just stop, lay out an old lab apron, and watch the wind blow the ponderosa pines. Mother’s day bike rides, and father’s day hikes…some of which pushed our kids to the crying point. Turkey soup on the day after Thanksgiving, and dropping chocolate covered almonds in the snow just to watch the kid’s horror as we picked them up and ate them. Telling a group of children they would win “points” for every piece of orange flagging they found. Getting charged, but not gored, by a moose defending her young. Changing the Moscow Mountain Madness race route to include trails, changing it again, and again. Picnics brought to trail days, and our old deck showing up as a bridge. Hiking the “new” trail 2 weeks after Jim’s brain surgery, and then dedicating the one named after him. The vision for a trail that is yet unbuilt, and negotiating that route with the land owner on our last anniversary. Early morning runs with my running partners that felt more like a dance than exercise. Solo rides and runs where I couldn’t see for the tears. So many stories…as long as I remember them, and we tell them, Jim will not be forgotten, which laughably was his biggest fear.
At one point in my grief, I felt like I should stop sharing my stories of Jim. I was advised that I needed to “move on”, accept his passing, that I would not be ready for what was to come next if I could not let go of the past. I’ve been thinking about that idea a lot lately, and it has me contemplating stories. We are human beings with a long oral history tradition. Sharing stories is hard-wired into us and one of those things, along with opposing thumbs, that separate us from other mammals. Stories serve many purposes. In the immediate aftermath of Jim’s death and in my raw grief, I had to tell our story over and over again. For me, the only way to get out of the PTSD phase was to talk about it until I could say words like “brain tumor” without feeling sucker punched. I’m sure folks got tired of me talking about it, and I lost some friends during that time…but I would not have been able to function on a daily basis without talking about it. Stories allow a person to live on in memory, and they acknowledge the love that never really dies. They remind my children that their dad adored them. Stories teach us what is going on in life outside of our own heads. They allow a person that hasn’t been on the mountain in over 2 decades a glimpse of then til now. I learn something every time I stop and listen to someone else’s story. Stories fill the space around a campfire, between the coyote howls and the song of the canyon wren. They remind us that so much of life is universal, and that we are never alone.
I will continue to share my stories. I do not have to let go of my past. It is to be embraced, accepted, and adored. My past, with all of its grief, and bumps, and unconditional love is what has brought me here. What I do have to let go of is a future that I thought was mine. I have to trust that the universe is unfolding exactly as it should. I’m working on that. In the meantime, I think I’ll go ahead and join Latah Co Search and Rescue. I know that mountain pretty well.