Writing is a Hike. Not a Walk in the Park.

Some writers compare the craft of writing to gardening. You plant a seed that will grow into a beautiful flower, a succulent vegetable, or a fragrant herb if you care about weeding and watering.

For me writing is a hike. Not a walk in the park.

Yesterday I spent all day in the High Sierra Country, at the edge of Eastern Yosemite National Park and at the doors of the Inyo National Forest.

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The day was a remake of my writing week.

My hiking buddies had suggested two short hikes.

Short hikes like a writing day can be deceiving.

Elizabeth Lake is set at 9, 500 feet in elevation with a total gain elevation of 900 feet. The lake is regularly selected as the prettiest in Yosemite. The description of the 4,5 miles round trip trail implies that it is a moderate hike, to the exception of the first mile, which is a nonstop uphill climb.

At 9:00 a.m. the sun was still low on the horizon line, temperatures were in the high 30s, the ground was frozen in the shade, and the wind was brisk.

Very tempted to stay in the car with my coffee mug and wait until the weather warmed up. The fear to fail in my writing regularly keeps me away from trying. Especially on Mondays.

But in the end I slipped my gloves on and sucked it up. Last Tuesday I forced myself to sit for two hours to finish the chapter I had started the night before.

The first mile to reach Elizabeth Lake is a steep climb, and my heart protested behind my ribs, but I ignored the whiner and kept going. On Wednesday, after my writing group met, I was initially discouraged to rewrite my chapter but focused on the positive comments that my new plot triggered.

Past the moderate challenge of the first mile, I quickly found my pace and the rest of the hike turned into a pleasant walk through a forest-like scenery. On Thursday night I easily rewrote two more chapters in order to include the change of plot.

At the end of the trail we reached Elizabeth Lake. But the prettiest lake of all didn’t blow my mind away. The water appeared murkier than the typical crystal blue water of the lakes in this part of Yosemite. Due to the flattering descriptions and the excitement built around Elizabeth Lake I had high expectations. On Friday when I re-read my five chapters, I faced similar impressions. Some whole paragraphs matched my original goal. Some disappointed me. Some went to the trash.

The scenery around Elizabeth Lake, however, took my breath away.

Last Saturday an unseasonal storm brought snow in the High Sierra and the mountains already wore their white coats. The contrast between the serenity of the water and the tall evergreens and steep granite peaks standing like sentinels around the lake was outstanding.

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After my initial setback, I analyzed with a cold head my chapters. And I was less severe with myself. I am still writing a first draft and can’t have everything right. Many descriptive details and dialogues are satisfying.

My hiking friends shared my slight disappointment at the view of Elizabeth Lake and we decided to move on and have lunch at Gaylor Lakes instead.

The trailhead for Gaylor Lakes is at the very end of the park and perhaps for this only reason the hike is unknown to most.

Gaylor Lakes is in fact a basin with five lakes spread in a deserted valley.

The first lake is set at 9, 950 feet high and the round trip is 2.5 miles. I was expecting my walk in the park. But the elevation gains 600 feet almost immediately so the trail starts with a sharp climb. The rocks used as makeshift stairs are real killers. But mostly it is the high elevation that forces anyone to a slower pace.

I stopped several times over the course of a short mile but didn’t mull over and kept going.

After my honest evaluation of the first quarter of my novel, I also decided that it wasn’t the time to chew over the bad writing.

Past the suffering of the uphill climb, the top of the ridge was a true awesome moment.  The views back to Dana Meadows and to the mountains beyond is unbeatable. And then started the downhill part of the hike, which in my opinion can be as hard as hiking uphill.

When I accepted the state of my chapters and began to write a quieter part of the story, I enjoyed the relief, but writing inner feelings presents its own challenges.

When I reached the lake, I stopped in my tracks, in total awe.

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Less popular doesn’t mean less spectacular. In the mountain it is especially true, and I could have predicted the outcome.

Middle Gaylor Lake hasn’t been voted the prettiest, and I hadn’t expected the first half- mile to be so abrupt.

Not unlike my own discoveries when my writing friend read my chapter aloud. I had trudged along with a lot of doubt, but hearing my words I knew there was some stuff to keep.

Middle Gaylor Lake was a perfect lunch spot. So I picked a tiny cove where water lapped at our feet and where flat rocks made perfect seats and even a table.

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Elizabeth Lake described as a gem had disappointed me. But the Gaylor Lakes basin was like a quiet person who never brags, a discreet friend who is the opposite of a show-off.

My hiking friends and I ate in absolute silence, feeding on the unsurpassed view of the Cathedral Range behind Tuolumne Meadows.

Soon we would retrieve our path downhill, drove down through Yosemite, and then back to the foothills where a new chapter waited for me.

But Monday wasn’t as dreading now that I had plodded my way though rocks and dust, sun and wind, and finally reached the end of the trails.

My struggles on a challenging trail are equal to my challenges when I write.

On a trail that switchbacks up the mountain my physical strength and my determination to keep up are tested.

Writing a story is to follow a zigzag course as trying.

On a steep incline at 10 000 feet in elevation my heart needs to adjust.

When I need to take a sharp turn in a draft, alternate direction in a plot, my mind has to carry on.

And of course my first and foremost handicap, which is writing in a nonnative language, stands in my way like a too visible tatoo.

But the reward of a stunning view at the end of a trail and the unmatchable joy at the end of a (partial) draft are also very much alike.

This is why writing for me is a hike. Not a walk in the park.

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