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The mountains of my mind

7 min read

I look up from my notebook, stretch and look outside. The sun is shining, the sky is blue and tempting. I walk over to the balcony, undecided, and open the windowed door. My thoughts are still on the research paper I've been skimming, my eyes still seeing the screen. I don't notice the birds chirping, or the wind rustling the leaves. Nature is knocking at the edges of my awareness, but my eyes are busy seeing things imagined. Finally, a small crack in the swirling of my thoughts, like sun shining through a gap in the clouds during a rainy day. A sound enters my ears, and slips through the barrier I call focus. It's the mountain breeze, voiceless on its own. Only mixing with my subconscious does it produce a message of soft disapproval. It's already past noon, I haven't been outside today, let alone done any exercise. A voice, perhaps the same wind, tells me to seize the day. With some effort, I manage to pry my thoughts away from all the information, work, and daily plans that clutch my brain, and focus on gathering the things necessary for a short trip. A few minutes later, I plug in my earbuds, press play on a podcast from my backlog, saddle my bike, and begin the journey.

My body lightly rocks from side to side as I pedal, slowly, along the road that winds itself up the side of a mountain. Sweat runs down my face. It's been a couple of hours already, my legs repeatedly recovering from seemingly dooming exhaustion every time the road steepens up. Every so often I pause in the shadow of a tree, protected from the imposing sun, to take slow and heaving breaths and let the breeze cool me down. The monotonous circling of the pedals propels me through the waking dream that is my journey. Every so often, a farmhouse comes into view, and fades into the background again as the incessant motion moves me past them. Soon there are no houses, and the roads get narrower, unpaved, but I don't notice. With the speed of a snail, and perhaps similar grace, I keep pushing forward. The flow of time seems to twist and bend as scenery changes and altitude rises. My consciousness runs in circles, at times picking up the stream of words flowing from my earbuds, at times focusing on the suddenly overwhelming beating of my heart, and sometimes resting on other, longer thoughts, hard to recall, like a dream after waking. The road seems to stretch. Initially, my body shouted encouragement, then it voiced concern, then it threatened to fail me, then it begged me to slow my pace, then, seeing I would not stop and knowing the road to be finite, it fell into silence. It's not a feat of willpower, rather, I have yielded hours ago, after putting up a brief fight, before falling asleep. My journey is defined by circular motion. Both of body and of thought. Time passes in those circles, never ending. Water leaves my body and is replenished. Suddenly, abruptly, the circle breaks. The goal comes into sight, expectation fills my mind and my speed picks up, wings of hope propel me up the final mound. More kicking than pedaling now, arms tensed, the final stretch comes to an end. I stand. Lungs still working like bellows, I can feel the tension leaving my body, my muscles still shoveling lactic acid. I try to savor the fruits of my valiance: a panorama of the surrounding peaks, valleys, and the winding road that took me here. But I can't. My field of vision feels tiny. My mouth aches for water. My thoughts are slow and foggy. My mind works, but there isn't any energy left to spare for the present moment. Minutes pass, my breathing slows, my heartbeat follows.

The wind of the peak is brushing against my ears. I remove my earbuds to let it in. Time seems to stand still for a moment, then I am ravaged by silence, and the vastness of the open space hits me, disorients me. Awareness of the elevation strikes me, and my breath stops. I feel sun warming my skin, and the wind cooling it. I breath again. Slow. Methodically. For the first time in hours, I feel. Joy. Elation. Exultation. Nothing but the moment remains, and it seems longer than the hours on the road put together. A gust of wind hits my wet shirt, the cold runs down my back. The sun, lowering on the horizon, reminds me of the remaining daylight. Time to go.

The way down is steep. Incredibly steep. I gain in speed, but effortless this time. The wind gains in force and starts to buffet by body. The trees are a blur. I look at the speed meter on my bike. 40km/h, then 50, then 60. I rise on my bike and shout in excitement, words leaving my throat for the first time that day. I feel alive, aware, my body forgotten, my thoughts forgotten, mentally I'm still on the peak. I hope the moment never fades. The world speeding past me. The wind in my face, the crunch of the forest ground under my bike. Hours of ascent undone in minutes. Civilization returns, and with it caution. I slow down, satisfied with the rush, glad for it to be over, glad for it to have happened. The world slows down with me. The scenery stops going past me, and starts going through me instead. I pass a green meadow next to edge of a forest, and slow to a halt.

I drag my bike onto the grass, and lie down next to it. I take a deep breath. I look. Fallen leaves, caught in between blades of grass, jitter in the breeze. The sun is bright on the cloudless sky, and reflects off the small clusters of snow still lining the escarpments during late March. The sun dried the ground that is now underneath me, but it also melted the snow on the forest ground, setting in motion a season of renewal. A dichotomy of nature. Of spring and winter. I listen. The chirping of birds is complemented by the humming of bees that periodically draw closer before fading into thin air again. In the background, the forest rumbles with the soft, continuous, ripple of a hundred creeks, snaking their way through the forest ground and gathering into a small torrent. Layered on top, the dripping sounds of water traveling, downwards, from one pine branch to another, to finally hit the ground. A gust of wind passes me. I smell. Wet earth, pine needles, sun-dried grass take turns in revealing themselves to the world. For a while, I lie there and enjoy the sensations, and indulge in peaceful thought.

The sound of a car In the distance wakes me from my daydream. I look around, taking in the scenery anew. Houses dot the landscape. Their roofs and decorations of wood nicely contrasting this world of mountains and clouds. Solar panels dot some of their roofs. I avert my eyes and swat away thoughts about technological advancement in this region. I've been here a while, daytime is fading. I make my way home.

After getting back and settling in again, I walk to my desk. My mind focuses. I weave together the strands of thought that, earlier today, I was so desperate to untangle. In the blink of an eye, I travel from my hut in the Alps to a void of my own creation. I'm back in my inner world. I open my notebook, and briefly browse the web for information about solar panel subsidies, before getting back to work.