Solana Travel Writing, Spring 2021
The story of Glorieta, New Mexico is one I feel I could spend my whole life telling. On the third trip I made to the little mountain town, I was barely seventeen and a month away from starting college. It was July, and I had spent the better part of the past few months feeling anxious about things I had no control over. For as long as I could remember, I hated change, so naturally, graduating high school felt like the end of the world. It felt like I was letting go of my entire life, everything that I had ever know, and the fear I felt because of that was exhausting. My friends and I were all crossing this threshold, leaving behind the town most of us had lived in our whole lives, and scattering all over the country with no idea what to truly expect. For better or for worse, things would never be the same again. What better way to combat anxiety than to buckle down for a nine-hour bus ride to summer camp with more high schoolers than you can count?
On our last full day of camp when our tans had started to take the place of our sunburns, my good friend Cooper caught me before dinner.
“Some of the other seniors and I are taking a hike to Lookout Point in the morning. Will you come with us?”
It was a non-negotiable; I was in. I had hiked Lookout Point years before, the summer between middle school and high school. That hike was one of the things that brought me back the next summer. It felt only right to bring things full circle and go once more before embarking on the next chapter of my life. I went to sleep on my bunk that night, window cracked, breathing in the mountain air, dreaming only of the morning to come.
I woke before sunrise to meet Cooper and some of our other friends at the trailhead on the other side of camp. I knew where it was; I could navigate there with my eyes closed. Walking from my cabin to the trailhead was like walking through time. I was every version of myself that had been there before. Thirteen, having just completed the eighth grade, spending most of my time there with my brother because I was homesick and I knew he would let me sit with him at meals. The next year, fourteen, the summer before my parents divorced, still holding onto the last shreds of my happy childhood. Now, seventeen, growing up, feeling more lost than I ever had before and too afraid to admit it to myself.
It was so dark at the trailhead that I could barely see the faces around me. There was lots of stumbling and shivering and exchanges of who is this again but we were quickly gathered into a circle to pray, both for the morning, and for the rest of our lives. I wasn’t the only one standing at a crossroads in life, not quite sure what to do or where to turn. Right now, though, the direction we were going was clear: up.
The hike to Lookout Point is only about an hour from the trailhead, but very steep, and certainly much steeper than I remembered it. I fell behind. I had spent most of the trip reading in a hammock while everyone else had been out in the mountains. I didn’t mind though. While I normally would have pushed myself to keep up, this time, I soaked in the moment. Listened to the crickets chirp. Listened to the lake lapping down below. Listened to my own breathing. I was becoming part of the mountains around me. If I didn’t keep hiking, I was sure that I would have been swallowed up by the dirt, or that my arms would have turned into branches and sprouted leaves.
After a time, I caught up to my friends and their smiling faces greeted me just as the sky turned from deep blue to lavender. The stars were beginning to fade away. I found my place, sitting on a boulder between Cooper and someone whose name I didn’t know. I watched as down below, the Edison bulbs at the camp coffeeshop and the porch lights of each cabin glowed like pinpricks. I imagined the moths that were knocking around down there, infinitesimal from my current vantage point. The moon was reflected on the still face of the lake. We were far enough that I couldn’t hear the waves anymore. It was silent except for the birds who were beginning to sing to one another, songs of morning coming soon. I think we joined them, singing the hymns we had grown up hearing. Maybe I only sang them to myself. The air turned from lavender to brilliant shades of orange and pink.
While everyone else sat in contemplation, I was journaling, trying to capture every detail although I was sure even then that this moment would be etched into my mind clearer than any other moment from that summer. The sun came gently over the mountains. Everything felt clearer, not just clearer than it had been that morning, but perhaps clearer than it had felt my whole life. We were laughing and swapping stories from our week in the mountains. Little by little, people smaller than ants began migrating from their cabins down below to the mess hall for one last breakfast. It was nearly time for us to join them.
I felt that I could have stayed on that boulder forever, staring at the line between the mountaintop and the sky. I could have watched the sunset and the moonrise, the stars pass overhead. I could have watched seasons change, the autumn leaves turn and fall away, the winter snow descend from the heavens, and the spring blooms come back again. But deep down, I knew it was time to go. In a month, I was going to college, and for once, I was happy about it. When I came down from the mountain, I left behind the versions of myself who had been there before, girls who were unsure and afraid. I was filled with excitement for whatever happened next. I came down the mountain and I didn’t look back.
Riley-Grace Huggins lives in Denton, Texas, and studies at Texas Woman's University. She has been writing since she could hold a pencil and especially enjoys writing works of fiction. She likes coffee, hiking, and bookstores of all kinds.
Thank you for sharing this lovely story, Riley-Grace! I felt as if I was there with you because your words are so eloquent.
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