Find Myself, Healing and Passion on Beautiful Mt. Lassen
The desert heat...the high elevation...a 10,500 foot volcano, facing my fears and my first time camping...All a recipe for an interesting trip. Also, being a car trip with three guys and I am the only female, that is also interesting...
I have to say that talking about Mt. Lassen and my experience is still highly emotional b/c I have never felt so much true, unconditional love coming from anyone before. It made me realize that I have hardly been challenging myself enough in my life (Of course if I had, I would not be allowing chronic pain to take over my life, or for other people to dictate to me who I am, or for people to be telling me that I am fat and useless, like some of my family members like to do about every week. (I have finally cut all these people out or have very limited contact with them.)
The trip to Mt. Lassen started like most long car trips...but with an extra twist, We had hardly any money to get there due to my being unexpectedly fired for reasons that were not given to me and due to vindictive co workers. That added an extra element of tension and stress, but we found a way to make it down.
When we got there, Greg could only get a discounted booking a few days ago at the La Quinta Hotel in Redding for the FIRST night rather than the LAST, (Meaning a refreshing swim after the hike would have been really great), but we made the most of us and we all went for a nice swim in the roasting desert heat.
Then, the next day we drove to the camp area, and being the summit guys that Josh, Mike and Greg are, they knocked off Brokeoff Mountain, which has its own interesting history.
While they were doing that, I decided to finally learn more about Mt. Lassen and finally had the time to do so. I was most particularly interested in the history and legends of the Native Americans there, being that I did walk across the country for Native American rights in 1992 and being extensively entrenched in Native culture and spirituality throughout my life, having been informally adopted and welcomed into the Lakota, Kickapoo and Tulalip Tribes, as well as others.
I watched a surprisingly well done, dramatic, and mostly true rendition and movie and story about Mt. Lassen, and the geographical formations there, including the volcano in which Lassen National Park gets its namesake. (Mt. Lassen!) However, few people know that Mt. Lassen gets its ORIGINAL NAME from the Native Americans of the area.
Mt. Lassen was originally called, “ Mill-u-la-ha” which is the Native American given name meaning “Fire Mountain”. What I love is that I found this from a site on Redding, an area blog by a woman by the name of Dottie Smith and her website is:.http://blogs.redding.com/dsmith/archives/2011/08/lassens-peak-ma.html”. She also states: “Also, Mount Lassen is named for Peter Lassen who
established an emigrant route in the area and its current elevation is 10,453 ft. It is the highest
point in Shasta County and possibly the largest single plug dome volcano in the world.”
This quote comes from the website, http://www.lassen.volcanic.national-park.com/hike.htm and says : “The Lassen area was a meeting place for four Native American groups: Atsugewi, Yana, Yahi, and Maidu. Because of its weather and snow conditions, generally high elevations, and its seasonally mobile deer populations, the Lassen area was not conductive to year-round living. These Native American groups camped here in warmer months for hunting and gathering. Basket-makers rather than potters, they left few artifacts other than stone points, knives, and metals. A Yahi Indian named Ishi turned up in Oroville, California in 1911. He had never mixed with whites before, and his tribe was thought to be non-existent. He lived out his days at the University of California Museum in Berkeley, where he was an invaluable ethnological source. Ishi was considered the last Stone Age survivor in the United States.” And, perhaps more descriptively, from this website, http://shannontech.com/ParkVision/Lassen/Lassen.html:
“'Before the arrival of the white man, the Lassen area was frequented by people from 4 Indian tribes--the Maidu (in the area south and east of the park), Atsugewi (who used park lands north and northeast of the peak as summer hunting, camping, and fishing ground), the Yana and the Yahi (in the foothills to the west). Indians ate acorns, fish, deer, edible insects, nuts, berries, roots, seeds, and leafy plants. Some caught 18 inch trout in Manzanita Lake. Lassen Peak was known by a number of names to native Americans, including Fire Mountain, Water Mountain, Little Shasta, and "The Long High Mountain That Was Broken.'”
Also, from the site http://www.shastahome.org/shasta-county/shasta-county-regions/cultural-history-of-lassen-park.html, is a more descriptive historical version of what some may have heard of (movies were made about “ISHI”, the last Native American of the area: “'The Yahi were thought to have been killed in a massacre in 1871, however in 1908, a group of four Yahi Indians were found in the hilly country around Deer Creek. Upon discovery, they disappeared into the thick surrounding brush. In 1911, a solitary Yahi man appeared in a corral near Oroville, Ca. He was placed in the care of the Department of Anthropology at the University of California and given the name "Ishi" which was thought to mean "man" in the Yahi language. Over the next five years, he shared his experience of the Yahi culture and became well respected and loved by his new companions. Ishi died of tuberculosis in 1916. '”
I find it sad that so often, when people are climbing or hiking, they fail to look into the rich Native history that lived in our mountains, and so often, those spirits of our ancestors live on in those mountains in very rich ways. It brought tears to my eyes that the organizers and people who run Lassen National Park cared enough to richly weave the history so clearly and respectfully into the history of the mountain.
In fact, I felt a dramatic presence of Native spirits there, and perhaps that could be the spirit of the mountain as well as other spirits present, but they were very positive spirits telling me I could do it, as well as Greg, Mike and Josh telling me I could do it.
The trip up was originally going to be started at 3, but due to my own fatigue and sleep needs, we realized it might still be okay to start it later, although Greg warned (and was darn right!) about the extreme desert heat that would start reaching us as we hit the higher elevation. I had never experience such an extreme climate as California where it can go from being so cold to so hot in such a short period of time, and it sort of (literally) took my breath away.
Also, as I was climbing and getting the ascent into my bones, I realized that the elevation was hitting me and making it hard to breathe. I also just though the fact that the sheer body weight I was carrying around also made it extremely hard for me, but knew that if I keep using that as any kind of excuse, I will not get any mountaineering done.
Then, I realized that I have such demons to conquer in my life regarding the stares of people when they see someone of my weight on the trail, the demons in my own life that tell me I am worth nothing b/c of my weight, (Some of those demons are real people that I need to get OUT of my life), the demons that tell a woman who is overweight that she is not attractive, generally not wanted, and generally useless...All of these emotions (and tons more!) were coming up for me so it was like a very intense overflow of them. I also found that the more I was doing the hiking, with each step, I felt that I was pouncing on people's views of me and on “fat” people in general. I realized too how painful it was that because of this disgusting conditioning in our culture, most “fat” people feel completely that hikes are not doable for them, that the venture is not worth them feeling once again like an outcast, that going up a mountain would garner and create too much attention and that getting one's ass on a mountain to begin with is hard enough when you have over fifty pounds to lose (120 in my case)...so...they give up.
Now, to some, this sounds dramatic and to the more experienced hikers and climbers, I know Mt. Lassen is a cakewalk. However, if you put into context the accomplishment of the elevation , the fact that I am conquering chronic pelvic pain and muscular pain (Fibromyalgia), heel problems and spurs and chronic pain in my heels that developed from working a job on my feet...it was quite a huge accomplishment for me.
Because heavy people do not just have to overcome a physical weight, quite literally, a 120 pound backpack, but a psychic, emotional and spiritual weight of knowing that no matter what, for all the 10 people that say wonderful, encouraging things, there is always that one person who will rain on their parade and allude to their size or their girth (I will talk more about that later) and that will of course reignite their sense of low self esteem and feelings of being a cattle on display.
Back when I was thin, people noticed things like my smile, my hair and my eyes. Now, people notice my stomach and that is about it! It hurts constantly, but I have to fight it and work through it, however grueling this life on earth is with this issue, b/c I know that I will be rewarded and one day soon, the weight will come flying off.
And it was not even that the mountain was particularly difficult. In fact, it was pretty nice to have all of these switchbacks, however, the trail is wearing off and one has to be VERY SURE of their footing on Mt. Lassen. Also, for those like me who only had an exposure to two other mountains that were similar in geographical landscape (Mt. Fremont and Mt. Antler), it was a bit of sensory overload because of the wide open expanse below. Add to this recipe a fear of heights, seeing nobody that looked like me (yet, since I am talking about the beginning part of the trail) and hiking with three extremely experienced hikers and climbers, it was more emotionally difficult than anything.
So...as I was going up, Josh and I were occupying our time singing from “Living on a Prayer”; “Whoa, we're halfway there...whoah living on a prayer!” and then “Whoah, we're more than halfway there...whoah, we're almost up the mountain.” Josh Lewis is a kind hearted, wonderful person who is a true gentleman and so is Michael. They both are wonderful blessings and friends to me and Greg. Greg was wonderful all the way up and showed dramatic respect and concern for my well being, as he always does on hikes. I have to say, I am blessed to have a husband who, despite our extremely horrific financial standing of being “poor” (hate that word, but it is the darn truth for us right now, sadly.) , despite us both having college degrees and not being able to get better jobs, despite Greg working two jobs (until I get a better one) and not being able to quit them, despite his extreme physical fatigue and exhaustion and all of his struggles and demons, he puts enough love and care into me to fight so that I could go on this trip, so we could go together, in our 1991 beater Oldsmobile, down to California to Mt. Lassen. And I will never forget the gift he gave me on this mountain.
The closer I got to the top, the slower I got, sort of like a mule who is overheated and dehydrated. It was my own damn fault that I did not drink enough and now I know why advanced hikers and climbers do drink such large amounts. It is not that I did not realize how important water was...of course, that is elementary...It is that I am stubborn and hate water. I now realize how I screwed myself on that one after getting so sick after I came off the mountain...more on that below. Needless to say, I feel bad about that point. It is not that I did not drink a lot, I did, but it was not enough. I think I needed more water due to my health standing and status.
As we got towards the top, Josh and I started singing “Whoah, we're almost there.” Then, I started meeting some really great people. One woman said that they way up to the top was “Scary”. Another guy said “Who cares, why should I worry about getting all the way up it?” and he was European. I liked him and I liked his great smile and positive attitude. However, Greg was there all the while, telling me I could do it and Mike and Josh were like my two enthusiastic little angels who of course told me I could do it. I guess I psyched myself out, which everyone told me on the way down, as a mountaineer, you just “don't do” so I guess I learned my lesson about that. But, I kept asking everyone what they thought about the way up and they said things like “Hairy” and “Difficult” and “Questionable”. I thought my ass was toast at this point. I thought my fat butt would be flying down into Bumpass Hell or something! (That guy, on a guided tour) had his legs burned off from hot molten lava pool that he did not see, so they called it Bumpass Hell. So, anyway, here I was, getting scared, wondering if I could do this. As I cross the snow pack (One of the first I had seen in the dead of summer like that), I realized that I was going to have to try it, but I had many fears as I saw Uber Fit Hikers (who look more to me like aliens from another world or land.) going up the rocks and struggling. Greg kept telling me that I was way ahead of everyone else because “I had a helmet” and because “I had poles”. So, I put my trust in my husband, who had already climbed to the top and was yelling down for me. At this point, I started to truly feel (because I basically was) as if my adventure up Lassen had now become a reality tv show, as I had many people at the bottom, already having made the ascent, standing below, lined up, hands over eyes, squinting eagerly, to see if this big woman was going to make it! I truly wish cameras had been there and that it had been a tv show, b/c I would have made a lot of money. I started having panic issues as I put my horribly pained feet and heels into the rock, one by one, with other rocks slipping and sliding, along with volcanic ash and dirt. Josh and Mike were pretty much guiding me all the way up about where to put my feet and where to get a good hold and truly are experts in this area and subject matter. So, I listened to them, used my poles and propelled by big butt up one of the biggest mountainous scrambles I had ever done.
Greg, meanwhile, along with about six uber fit, marathon training strapping lads, said to me., “Come On Rebekah Bear you CAN DO ITTT!” Greg had so much belief in me which kept me going.
I started just jumping over rocks as I got closer to the top and the scramble went from being extremely sketchy to being easier and easier as I got to the top.
Greg told me to get to the “True Summit” where many transfixed spectators were waiting, and when I got to the top I touched the rock, which Greg told me to do and I owed him that much, although I was not what you would call in a fun loving mood at that point...The heat, exhaustion, fatigue, pain and strain had definitely done me in, and my mind and brain were like jello, and I was not able to express my own pride in myself at that point. But I had done it. I had done it.
Then, people started to appear and started clapping and rooting me on. Like an onslaught of well wishers, I had never had more encouragement of who I am and what I had just done in my entire life. These are people I wish were my friends and family. These are the people who the Native Spirits brought to me...these were the people who I felt more of a connection to than anyone else in my ever day life...because they cared, they gave a rat's butt. Here are some things that happened:
A thin woman said she saw me climbing to the top and said “If she can do it, I can do it” and I cheered them on and they did it. She said I was inspiring to HER. That brought tears to my eyes, b/c never in my wildest dreams did I think I could be inspiring to someone else in that way, especially with me being overweight.
The six guys rooting me on said that I had the ability in me to keep going and to keep challenging myself and lose weight.
A couple came up to me and asked me if I was on a tv show or something, and I said no, but I mine as well be. And they said that I was amazing and that they wanted my e-mail and my summit post stuff (I had told them I was on Summit Post) b/c they wanted to keep encouraging me.
Two guys in their fifties came up to me and said “Good for you, you are amazing, you will reach your goals if you keep fighting” and they said that it was hard enough for them to do the trail, and that to see me doing it made them want to hike and climb more and challenge themselves more and that watching me was like a “show”, filled with drama and suspense and that to see me reach the top was amazing!
A bunch of people clapped for me and said that I was “incredible and inspiring” after walking across the snow field.
Then, my friend Bill...an old man of 85 who I had met up at the top, said in all the years he had done Mt. Lassen, he had never seen anyone as big as me, and that he wanted a picture to show his friend who had health problems and was overweight that it could be done...I told Bill that he inspired me and always would...and he said, hike and climb, eat right and take walks...!:)
AND THEN, A TRANSFORMATION...
That was about the time...that I started crying. The tears would not come out, b/c of the desert heart, but I was crying in a way that I have never cried before, tears of joy mixed with determination mixed with sweat and salt mixed with pain, old pain. I felt loved and embraced by all of these people, even if they were not doing it physically... I let a lot of it go at that moment...Mt. Lassen took it away from me and healed it. The rest, the Native Spirits of the mountain told me...I had to do...and it would not be easy...
Also, I thought about all of you...the wonderful people at Summit Post who, no matter how small the mountains or things I have done, have encouraged me to hit my goal, to fight for it and to lose the weight. I truly cannot thank you all enough.
I had more love in the 30 minutes to an hour that people were coming up to me and saying things than I have had in my entire life and my family...(B/c they are not loving and they are highly dysfunctional...), I realized that my journey to healing must occur and that is must occur quickly and steadfastly...That the lesson must not be taken for granted, and that I must find a way to conquer my demons. Mt. Lassen has asked me to do this and I must give that to the mountain, but most of all: Myself. My spirit. The little, unhealed Becky inside of me who was an abused, chubby little girl who felt that she did not matter, did not have a voice and that nobody loved her that turned into a very large, 120 pound overweight woman, who felt the same (With the exception of Greg and only about five or six people who I would say genuinely cared about me.)with a lot of demons. But I lucked out. I got a man who was willing to fight for me. Don't be fooled, however. Our journey marriage has been extremely difficult, painful, excruciatingly difficult and much of it a hard struggle...80% or more due to my lack of love for myself, and Greg's fighting for me when I would not fight hard for myself.
Fighting for one's self and getting self love is not all new agey and feel good type of fluff...It is hard core, gritty and dirty...meaning from a spiritual sense, and in a way that is how Mt. Lassen was. I am not saying any of this lightly, not am I talking outside of my ass. The mountain did not teach me b/c Greg wanted it to, or b/c it would be a nice thing to write up or a nice story for Mike or Josh (since they were on the trip.) No, it is that the spirits really DID speak to me on that mountain, it was learning from the time I stepped foot on the mountain.
Josh Lewis celebrating on Lassen
On the way back, I lamented in the car to Michael, Greg and Josh about how I would remember the empowering feeling I felt, shortly on my way back to the depression I feel in not connecting with Seattle, in being a writer who is not getting stints as a writer now, on being entrenched in horrific joblessness. I thought about those people cheering for me, and realized that in daily life, I am to most people, a fat out of shape person...Why should they care about the horrific pain I have to battle through every day for being heavy and the emotional pain that comes with it? Why should they even give a rat's ass? I finally realized that I give a rat's ass about me, and I guess mountains have a way of forcing us to do that. Call it Native Spirits, Call it Don Juan...Call It God...the mountains are riddled with the life spirits of those who have stepped before, the spirits that will continue to give life to the pavement...to the volcanoes that live in our spirits...Call it the fact that God lives in the marmots, the chipmunks, the fireflies, the mosquitoes and every living thing that we either admire or hate. Call it nature at its best and at its worst...That is what mountains are. They are teachers. Just by being still, stationary (Even if they are volcanoes), they teach us so much. What is that a metaphor for, for me?
That means me being still in my own heart, listening to the song of my soul, not listening to mass marketed messages of how because I am obese, I am going to drop dead any minutes, that I have no attractiveness, that nobody has use for me, that when I open my mouth, nobody will hear b/c they will be too busy focusing on my double chin than what my mouth has to say.
That means being a better wife, a better friend, a better daughter. Yes, the mountains have been teaching me that much, have been the human spiritual teacher I do not have...in raw earth form. Water moves, and has much to teach us...but mountains are solid, mountains share wisdom of the ages that enter through our Merrell hiking boots into our blood, our legs, and most importantly our hearts.
Mt. Lassen proved to me that I am capable of so much more than I give myself credit for. Mt. Lassen gave back to me, as a father, as a mother, as a friend.
That is what mountains do.
I am scared, scared to ascend other mountains that are harder, scared to physically ask of myself so much again, scared I could disappoint myself, all of you, or Greg. However I know I must keep going, even if that means for a while, I will only be able to do comparable or less difficult mountains until I can knock off about 50 pounds and start really getting up higher. Greg is a good guide and teacher and has much wisdom that he has shared with many. I am only beginning to see that side of my husband I have missed.
In the car, I felt Lassen had continued with me.
The reason, however, why it took me so long to write this trip report is because I hit reality hard upon coming back. Part of me did not want to come off the mountain. I thought of Leslie, of the old man I met, of the six guy cheering section on the way down, of the two fifty or so year old guys who told me that I put tears on their eyes b/c of what I did and how I inspired them. I know that mountains are symbolic...that reaching that high is amazing b/c IT IS only for a moment. I realized that because I was having such a hard time leaving Lassen and the park, I had so much more to do in my own life to bring worth to myself. I realized that I had to find a way, somehow, to recreate the love I felt on Mt. Lassen, but I am still clueless as to how to do that? It seems everything I have tried in Seattle, from singing groups to writing stints, to jobs that I put my heart and soul into have not worked out, and that people have read me wrong constantly. That three years of chronic pain did so much damage to people in my life and relationships that I could never make amends or repair it? That perhaps I will go back to my old, unhealthy patterns. I slipped upon coming back. After getting a standing ovation at Weight Watchers, I went to Dairy Queen and had a dipped cone. Bad for me and allergic to dairy. But it was the only food slip I did. I realized that b/c when I was little, if one accomplished something, the way we were rewarded was with ice cream cones. Then, my mom would call us fat afterwords. No wonder I am still struggling with my self worth? At least I recognized it.
And so, my friends, this journey is so much more than just a climb, so much more than about me being BearQueen, or my husband being the amazing EastKing. This is about more than being fat, about demons, about being an underdog. It is about so much more than writing this or sharing this...
It is about Jimmy Apostolopolous in the 7th grade telling me that because I was fat, I deserved to die and having boys and girls chasing me at recess to beat me up for being the “fat kid”. It is about the time I went to the junior high school dance and I was booed out for being fat and cried all the way home in my white dress. It is about the 600 pound guy I saw jogging around the block and it brought tears to my eyes, b/ c I read his pain in a way that nobody else could. It is about the thin Rebekah who existed all through college...Back then, an Award Winning poet who had time to focus on that b/c I had more energy and b/c people were seeing me for who I was...It is about the 300 pound woman on a treadmill at my job who gets horribly judgmental stares and yet I marvel at her (and my) bravery for being there. It is about the men who only see a woman as valuable if she is thin. It is about the family members who told me I was only worth of love if I was “svelte” or looked thin. It is about being put on grapefruit diets and hard boiled egg diets in nursery school and told that I had to run around the block while the other kids were playing. It is about being the last girl out, last one picked in any activity. It is about the 38 year old woman now, close to Diabetes, struggling with infection and chronic pain, struggling with learning to love me for every pound I am (and hopefully for every pound I won't be soon), It is about the time when someone told me “I would be pretty if I was not so fat and if fat was not burying my face.” It is for Leslie, who lost 110 pounds and walked with me down the trail and is now my friend. It is about the guy in Speedo Shorts in Lincoln Park who said “Wow, with someone like you, I bet you will not be doing this again!!!”... It is for the woman who I gave a high five to (b/c we know how hard it is) b/c after she talked to me, her husband and I encourage her to go to the top (and she did), it is about all the doctors who will not help me with my medical issues that are at hand but just keep telling me I need to lose weight, it is for all the discrimination towards fat people on airplanes, in the news, (don't you love those close in shots on our stomachs as if we are useless cows?) on tv shows, in movies, and by comedians, who somehow think we might not be watching them and we might not have feelings, for the time, when I asked for extra feta cheese, the guy told me I was too fat for him to do that, for every overweight or obese woman who gets mocked for trying to look nice and put on make up and who gets mocked worse when she doesn't...It is about the fat kid in school, the Becky Bakers, who, at camp and in fifth grade, got horrifically tormented for being a fat kid, tied up, stepped on, spit on, having books dumped on my head in English class, having a busted chin b/c someone tripped me....It is about the grandmother who told me I would ever only be loved in the world if I was not fat...It is for the times growing up I felt utterly invisible... Well I am not!! here I come...
And ultimately...It is about me loving myself.
I am blessed to have climbed Mt. Lassen. NO matter what I do from here, or don't do, what mountains I climb or don't climb, it will remain very symbolic to me and special in my heart. It will remain a voice and song in my heart that goes like this, “Whoa, I made it there. Whoa, I'm living on a prayer.” (*Lyrics courtesy of Bon Jovi!)