Tuesday, October 12, 2004

The seeker after truth should be humbler than dust.
- Ghandi

It was August of 2000 and I had just returned from a ten-day hike on the Continental Divide; the Weminuche Wilderness area of southern Colorado, to be precise. My two colleagues [Scott and Rick] and I inserted at just over 12,000 ft. elevation at Wolf Creek Pass and began our march northwesterly across the rugged trail of the Divide. For me, it was not simply a hiking expedition, but also a fact-finding mission. I had read, prior to the hike, that it is extremely desolate and quiet above 12,000 ft. on the Continental Divide; where a person is left alone with their thoughts. This appealed to me greatly and I left St. Paul, Minnesota and my bustling little family in search of this desolation and quiet.

When I returned 12 days later to St. Paul, I remember distinctly telling my wife Di, "There was definitely something there in the mountains... and whatever it was, I brought it back with me." For the next two to three years - unknown to my family - I wandered through my days in a haze. I wasn't coming off of a "hiker's high" or had become victim to what is sometimes referred to post-hiker's depression. It was a void that I couldn't readily grasp or understand, but one that would eat away at my back-to-normal busy daily schedule from that day on...

Fast forward four years and one month and I now found myself awaken at 2:00 am at 12,000 ft. elevation in the Inyo National Forest. To be precise, I was camping with my colleagues, Chuck and Keith, at Trail Camp and had just summited Mount Whitney during the prior afternoon. At 12,000 ft. elevation, the air is thinning and your nasal passages dry out. It is said that your nighttime sleep is more of a series of cat naps and your dreams are more than vivid. On this early morning, just a few weeks ago, I crawled out of my tent from a night of vivid dreams to a 32-degree morning, full moon and crystal clear sky.

At this point in my life, there has been NOTHING that has made me feel smaller than that very moment. There I was, nestled on a 12,ooo ft. perch with a mountain range jutting up around me and a valley emptying out below me... and stars from a billion reaches of space shining down on me. In that moment, I never felt more insignificant to this Life...

Truth be known, I never came on this trek to "conquer the mountain" or flex my testosterone. I simply came to silence the presence I brought back from the Continental Divide... but it didn't happen. And it was then that I remembered the quote from Ghandi that I wrote in my hiking journal at the start of this venture:

The seeker after truth should be humbler than dust.

It is my best guess in concluding that there is nothing more insignificant than dust. And that's just how I felt on that early morning in late September, above the Whitney Portal.

Coming down from the mountaintop camp, I remember vividly - as we exited the Whitney Portal - my colleague Keith commenting to me (as he looked back at Mount Whitney), "It all its grandeur, it remains unaffected by our very presence..." And again, the quote I wrote in my hiking journal came back to me:

The seeker after truth should be humbler than dust.

Over these years, perhaps I've spent too much time focusing - as we all do - on strategies and avenues to validate our personal lives. We write autobiographies and generate charities. We develop memorial scholarships, wills and philanthropies. We increase our authority within our company. We strive to extend our legacy one more step. But to what end?

Perhaps this is the presence and truth and reality I brought back with me from the Continental Divide in 2000; one that I would not understand and one that would haunt me until now. Looking up into that spacious sky from Trail Camp in September of 2004, I could only utter these words, "There is nothing greater than God..." And it was at that moment that I felt not only complete insignificance but also a deeper peace than I have felt in some time.

It is now that I have come to believe that the presence I brought back with me in 2000 was the very grandeur of God... a presence that will both ignite and haunt any human spirit. And in 2004, as a seeker of truth, it is this presence that I clearly acknowledge and honor. And in this acknowledgement, I have finally found my solace and peace.

hoedl's haven
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