Total Miles: 526.3
Below Halti – July 19, 2016
Light spills out through the clouds and I stand staring in two directions, pretending I don’t know the answer when I knew it from the first moment the question occurred. It’s the same answer I always give when my mind seizes on an idea.
“I have to go and see it,” I say. “I have to try.”
Halti is far off my route–seven miles, one way–but it’s the top of Finland and it’s been calling me since I first realized it existed in the scribble of a note in a Cabin’s register.
I’d just reached Finland a few hours before, crossing the imaginary line we humans love to draw across the earth. With one step, I wasn’t moving in random directions anymore. I was moving south, moving forward, moving towards Tarifa.
I felt momentum.
But that note, that note wanted me to go backwards right as the pull forward caught me and I knew I had to listen. I had to go to see the mountain that stood at the top of Finland. Not to look out at the world, not to say I’d been there, but to be true to my heart, to this entire endeavour.
This is not a race to Tarifa. There are too many easy ways to Tarifa. I will always lose that kind of battle. It is too big for me. I can only win one day at a time.
This is a journey, a string of moments, a stack of horizons, one after another, none more important than the rest, each essential to the whole. Tarifa is nothing more than the last page of a book, one I hope to read one day, but pointless without the pages before it.
And today’s page demands Halti.
I leave the trail and turn toward the mountain, cutting across the open slopes to the red giant of piled rock that stands before it. The color looks odd against all the grey, black, and green, like a guardian set to protect the mountain, to collect a toll from all visitors. I rise on its flanks, picking through the jumble of red boulders, my feet sliding, catching, and pushing me higher and higher, paying the toll with bruised and tender steps.
But my heart feels free, my lungs full air, my muscles happy in the pursuit of the day.
“This is where I should be,” I think.
The sun arcs low in the north. Light spills through the broken clouds. The red rock gives way to grey and black. The last cent of the toll is paid. The horizon opens in every direction.
I stand on top, soaking in the beauty, watching sunlight and shadow play in the distance until a cold, north wind pushes me behind a wall of boulders to hide, to search through my backpack for every scrap of clothing so that I can stand and stare at the sun until my heart is full.
I sit for a moment, behind the rock, shaking blood back into my fingers, hiding from the wind, looking away from the sun, away from the shattered clouds and light spilling in, back to the south, back towards Tarifa.
The southern sky is almost empty. The low sun paints it with purple light. A few wisps of clouds drift in the distance. I trace the path I could have traveled, pick out where I might have ended up. Then I shake my head and let the thoughts drift off with the wind.
“I am glad I came,” I whisper to the mountain. “I am glad you called and I answered.”
Then I saw it, as the words slipped from my mind, low and giant on the horizon, the white disc of the full moon glowing against the purple sky.
I stare, lost in the beauty, unable to look away. I haven’t seen the moon in weeks. It feels conjured from my imagination, like I pulled it from old stories of night skies that I never thought were true. I stare and stare and stare, afraid even to blink, like if I look away it might disappear.
The moon laughs at me, drifting a low arc over mountains that would have hidden it if I had walked on.
“Did you think I called for nothing?” the mountain whispers.
I don’t answer. I only keep staring at the moon.