Where My Feet Have Carried Me
By Michelle Roberts
Our guide walked the path in search of the trailhead that would take the three of us to the top of the mountain, stopping long enough to share his advice about what to do if we encountered a bear. Then the very different advice if, instead, we faced a mountain lion. When he found the trail it was overgrown and, as promised, led almost straight up over loose rock and rough terrain. Convinced he couldn’t manage the hike himself, he said his goodbyes and we were on our own. Almost immediately, my Florida lungs protested. My legs had in their history a full marathon and logged 1,500 Moon Jogger miles for several consecutive years – they’d be fine. But my lungs, they were accustomed to the hills of Tallahassee not the altitude of Whitefish, Montana.
I stayed at the back and stopped several times to catch my breath, slowing down Mary and Kevin whose lungs were younger and had fewer complaints. The third time they stopped to find me several yards behind with hands on my knees and breathing heavy, I told them to go on without me. Not because I didn’t think I could finish but embarrassed by my slow progress.
“Nope. All three of us or none of us. All the way to the top.” Mary said with a much better memory of the advice we’d just been given. “Look. There’s the tree line! We’re so close.”
So I continued on with my patient new friends, stopping several times with a few more “almost there”‘s from them. Enough to know they couldn’t be trusted as I was urged on a hundred yards at a time until it was finally true. We were at the top, standing in a clearing with a view of the gorgeous Flathead Valley below. Totally worth it! Like we’ve all learned from those first 5k’s, Halfs and Full Marathons – finishing is it’s own reward. The journey doesn’t have to be pretty because seeing the Finish Line is always breathtaking.
Those were the only real miles I logged in Montana while I was there for those five days in October but it was because of Moon Joggers that I’d made the trip at all. I recently found the email I sent to Laura Munson, the New York Times Bestselling author of “This Is Not the Story You Think It Is…A Season Of Unlikely Happiness”, in April 2013 after she shared my submission on her winter blog series about Community (http://blog.lauramunson.com/
“This is the second year I’ve participated in your winter series and your Haven Writing Retreat in Montana is on my list of steps toward taking my writing more seriously. I’m moving forward and appreciate the generous writers like you that I’ve met along the way.”
I didn’t know then that it would be another three and a half years before I’d board the plane to Whitefish. Writing for the Moon Joggers blog and the encouragement and support of the friends I made here are what put me on that path. With over 5,000 miles logged since January 2013, so much of my writing has happened in my head in those hours spent alone in the quiet of the outdoors or on the drives to and from half marathons in New Orleans, Atlanta, Jacksonville and my hometown for Space Coast every year.
More than the writing itself, the realization that I have something to say and reasons for putting it all on paper came with time. Reading the posts from members around the world, all with their own unique voices and powerful stories to contribute to the group, gave me the courage to include mine. On the very first day of the retreat, I sat in the room with ten other writers and shared aloud what we’d just written from a 5 minute prompt. It would have been so intimidating just years before. But I knew that Laura brought together the same kind of safe, supportive community that Angie created with Moon Joggers in 2013. I recognized them right away. We were there to bear witness for each other, often with very personal stories that left us open and vulnerable. So similar to the painful, uplifting and often triumphant experiences Moon Joggers share with each other.
At Moon Joggers we’ve learned how powerful the emotionally healthy cousin of comparison can be – communion. The balm of thinking “Me, too.” and the satisfaction in reaching for someone who isn’t sure they can move forward with just a few kind words to set them in motion again. While at the same time walking in the beaten path of those who’ve traveled before us. In witnessing each other we can see so clearly the lie in “I can’t” and borrow the bravery we need from others who believe in us when we aren’t yet convinced.
I’ve learned from Moon Joggers to infuse my actions with meaning. So many miles are dedicated to loved ones lost, others who are ill or injured and the charities who support them. Each of your stories inspire us to create intention for good to come from lonely or painful places. I thought of all of you when I scheduled my trip to Montana and took the Empire Builder train from Chicago to Whitefish in honor of my Grandfather who worked as a porter on the Pullman trains in the 40’s and 50’s. I stayed with a friend in The White Hall hotel in downtown Chicago where he bartended in the 60’s and toasted to him inside its dark paneled walls. My Moon Jogger friends were with me through the loss of my father in January 2015 and registering for Haven Writing Retreat was my way of willing this gift to myself in his name instead of waiting – something my father would have wanted for me since he encouraged my writing from an early age.
When I had my hour alone with Laura at the end of the retreat she planned to spend it talking about my writing practice and focus on my current project. The trouble was I went Haven Writing Retreat without either one. But I’ve learned from Moon Joggers that progress beats perfection every time. That as long as I’m moving forward I can be sure I’ll get to where I’m going. I knew my ten new Haven friends would somehow play their part in my journey. On that last day I left for home confident that the road ahead doesn’t have to be clear as long as I trust my guides. And steer clear of bears and mountain lions.
ABOUT: Michelle Roberts lives in Tallahassee, Florida, with her husband, Paul, and two children, Ashleigh (14) and Philip (11). She ran her first 5k in October of 2012, her first half marathon in February of 2013 and her first full marathon in February 2015. She was diagnosed with Bipolar Disorder in 2001 and maintains a healthy balance without the use of medication thanks to a job she loves, a supportive family, regular exercise, her writing and therapy. A wonderful life of “Both Hills and Valleys”.