When I hike I think about my sister

“I’m so lucky to be here.”

This is a thought I have had to myself many times whilst hiking, running and backpacking. Moments when I’m so thrilled and feel so lucky to be able to carry myself on my two little legs across beautiful countryside both far away and close to home. Little legs that I often derided as stumpy or fat when I was younger. Little legs that – if I’m completely honest, and against my better nature – I sometimes still wish were just a little bit thinner. But in these moments I love my imperfect body and everything that it enables me to do. I see how fortunate I am to be able-bodied, fit and healthy. I feel so happy to be alive.

I love you, body, I practice saying out loud in the mirror. I love you, body, out loud in the mountains. Thank you.

Katie Arnold, Running Home

But more than anything, in those moments, I think about my sister. She died just before I turned 10, and my thoughts often turn to her when I’m out somewhere beautiful and feeling grateful about my ability to be there.

She would have been 30 in 2017. And whilst I’ve never been very ‘good’ at marking these anniversaries – mainly as I find it too difficult – I felt that there was some poetry in me quitting my job and having some adventures that same year. As my mum said of the unhappy situation I had found myself in at work, “Alice wouldn’t have put up with that”.

It can feel like a burden, sometimes, to be quite so aware of how much you have to lose. How precious life is. And it’s scary just how much of it I’m still able to waste worrying over nothing. Sometimes I’d like to feel a bit more normal, a little more blasé about it all. To not be “living for two” as my dad once said.

I reflected on this recently whilst reading an incredible book by a British writer who became paralysed when she fell off her horse. 

On the whole, thank you very much, I’d prefer to have  gone though life shallow and healthy, untouched both by both suffering and deeper insights, looking after my loved ones, playing with my horses, doing step exercises to The Killers. Lots of people do get through unscathed, the lucky complacent buggers. But I didn’t. I was forced onto another path.

Melanie Read, The World I Fell Out Of

I expect my  sister’s death has forced me onto another path, but I’ll never know how my life may have transpired if she hadn’t. Maybe things would have been quite different. Maybe I wouldn’t feel so lost at at times. Maybe I wouldn’t have had these deeper insights. Perhaps I’d be a ‘complacent bugger’, too.

The John Muir Trail was one of many adventures that I had in the year she would have turned 30. At the end of that path – one that I may not have found myself on otherwise – I stood at the top of Mount Whitney and watched the gold and pink sunrise soar above my head. In that moment, I  felt an overwhelming gratitude to be alive and sadness that she was not. I truly understood how fortunate I was to be there. And in that moment, she was with me.

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