Monday, July 12, 2010

Confronting the Valley of Reality

How do you return to the valley of reality after being on the mountaintop? How do you retain the lightheartedness and anticipation of adventure when it is over?

Over the past 2 weeks I traveled 7575 kilometres (4700 miles) by motorcycle through 6 American states (Washington, Oregon, Montana, Idaho, South Dakota and Wyoming). Most days were unplanned until planning became necessary, with only 2 motel reservations having been made in advance (July 4 weekend), one of which we did not use. I averaged 475 kilometers per day (300 miles), experiencing a lot of country and excitement every day. It was nothing short of exhilarating and yet, with the exception of some troublesome work problems creeping in, the days of riding left plenty of room for uninterrupted "helmet time". The necessity of focusing on the road, and whatever peripheral vision permitted, has a way of brushing from my mind all thoughts of "significance". Thinking is reduced to itinerant translations of relatively insignificant current events: "I wonder what kind of bird that is?"; "How fast should I take this 40 mile an hour corner?"; or "Is not life great!". These were times of mountaintop experiences. Peak to peak, summit to summit, picture-perfect panorama views from snowy places 5000 feet closer to heaven.

But the reality I returned to is a valley. It is where people live. And it is back to the valley that I must bring the perspective gained from being on the mountaintop. And yet there are strange feelings of confusion, frustration and discouragement. Returning to my home in the valley means I must leave the high adventure behind. I am glad to be home, but confused about my longing for just a little while longer on the road. At first I try and retell the tales from each peak we climbed. But I can never adequately explain the events and experiences to those who remained in the valley. How can I explain the formation of the dark and threatening clouds that left me feeling vulnerable, or the sunset that left me longing for it to continue indefinitely. How can I describe the wrinkled, leathery skin of the woman who served lunch at a tiny cafĂ© in the Oregon outback? What do I say about the dozen shades of green evident in a single glance as I speed by a stand of trees bordering the creek in a shadowy valley?  How do I accurately explain the warm and comfortable camaraderie of my fellow adventurers?

The truth is that adventures can never fully be explained. Like riding a roller coaster, the best description may simply be "Wow!”, or no words at all. The stories I can tell are subjective dramatizations of the best my recollection can conjure. If I exaggerate what occurred, it is for effect and out of frustration that I cannot recreate the feelings. If I understate, it may simply be a lack of adequate words that force lame narrative. In the end, the more extraordinary the adventure the more both the storyteller and the listeners will remain frustrated. The storyteller because his words have failed to capture the vibrancy of the scenes, and the listeners because they were not there and cannot fully enter in.

Confronting the valley of reality often leaves little satisfaction. There is a longing to return to thin, cold air of the mountain meadow where a doe and her faun nuzzle the long grass yet remain ever vigilant. There is a sadness because I cannot bring the mountaintop into the valley.  But I must return to the valley a different person, which can change the valley.

I have learned lessons from my adventure in the mountains. I have found my way along trails, through time-worn towns and across sagebrush plains.  And I can point the way for others to go and thrill at knowing the mystery themselves.  I can bring the magnetic power of the mountain to change those in the valley as it has changed me.  Perhaps my Parkinson's disease can be the adventure of the mountaintop that I can bring back to the valley so that others may venture to the peak with less fear.

Fear not the valley, for it exists to make the mountain what it is.


  1. Bob, thank you for your valuable thoughts and words."Thinking is reduced to itinerant translations of relatively insignificant current events..." Yes. I experience that when on early morning long walks. You have given me vocabulary for something I have known but did not know what to call it.

  2. Reminds me of the words to America the Beautiful. Oh beautifuly for spacious skies for amber waves of grain, for purple mountains majesty above the fruited plains.
    I think you saw it all!! Thanks for the word pictures and photographs. I may try and paint some of them.

  3. Your words remind me of the song America, the Beautiful. Oh beautiful, for spacious skies, and amber waves of grain,