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A plug for breaks

There was nothing but jagged peaks in every direction. Endless layers of Cascades stretched across the ashen horizon, with the especially prominent crown of Mount Jefferson towering over the rest.

Another of Oregon’s largest mountains unraveled beneath my feet. We were climbing up Mount Hood’s spine on our skis. Fibrous skins sticking to each plank’s belly gripped the snow and allowed us to ascend the slippery slope.

“Skin from what?” I’d asked the ski shop in horror when I procured the backcountry staple, worried ‘baby seal’ or ‘pygmy goat’ would be the answer.

My legs were now relying on these skins, which I’d been assured were not stripped off the corpse of any marine mammals, to climb thousands of feet toward the jagged summit rising above us. My glutes burned with every step into its chilled cocktail of snow and ice. My body served me a not-so-gentle reminder that I’d fallen woefully out of shape during a very generous off season from mountain running. And my mind was as occupied as my legs with the steep terrain.


“100 steps and you get a break,” I promised my fatigued limbs, coaxing them to keep trudging against their will.

“One, two, three…28, 29, 30.”

“Actually, 30 STEPS! 30 STEPS AND YOU GET A BREAK.” I frantically erased my earlier pledge, as my calves protested the upward movement with the fire of ten thousand women in pussyhats.

Stopping was magic. The break gave my muscles sweet, glorious relief from their fatigue and it gave me a chance to soak up my surroundings. Those peaks. Jagged. Snowy. Seductive.

I whipped out my phone in a pathetic attempt to capture their stunning features. Always a futile effort in the mind-blowing arena of the Pacific Northwest.

My thumb tapped the camera’s shutter anyway.

For the first time since January 20th, I was using that phone for good, and not scrolling through evil.

The news and the dire state of our nation have been all-consuming since Trump took over. I single-handedly provide twitter with more traffic than a Los Angeles highway at quitting time and diligently patrol media outlets to ensure they’re covering all 24 hours of the news cycle. It feels impossible to keep up with the rapid fire atrocities, but it hasn’t stopped me from trying.

That day on Mount Hood was the first morning that I’d tuned into the sunrise instead of NPR. The first day I traded the conversation on social media for the silent wilderness. The first moment I didn’t feel drained and depressed, but energized and so alive, even as the mountain sucked the life right out of my muscles.

It was magic.


When we reached our stopping point on the climb, we ripped off our sticky skins. My muscles and lungs rejoiced as we clipped back into our bindings and started gliding down the hill. We reveled in the descent. Stopping every few turns to collapse in the soft snow and gaze longingly at those jagged peaks. They smothered us us with their unwavering allure.

Magic. Magic. Magic.

When we reached the end of the hill, we lingered in the parking lot. Planning more climbs, more descents. We talked about skiing, dogs, the most delicious of snacks, those peaks, not Trump, not the eruption of injustice, not hopeless political strife.

As we pulled back onto the highway and Mount Hood slowly disappeared from the rearview mirror, I reluctantly flicked my phone on to check the news I’d avoided for a few blissful hours. It was a Saturday afternoon, I assumed I couldn’t have missed that much.

Thousands of protestors stacked outside of JFK informed me otherwise. The news of the executive order on immigration and the turmoil infecting airports across America flooded my screen.

I turned to my boyfriend, my wonderful green card-carrying boyfriend, and relayed the news, my words chopped by shock and horror.

That day on a mountainside had been so rejuvenating. A much-needed breath of fresh air, albeit a little lighter on oxygen than my lungs prefer at 8,000 feet above sea level.

But as the bad news kept spreading across every corner of my phone, I questioned whether it was the right move to unplug for a day.

Immense guilt drenched me. For enjoying myself while others suffered such terrible injustice. For traveling to a mountain instead of a march. For ignoring something that demanded attention.

Was I a terrible human being for excusing myself from the turmoil? Just having the ability to do so riddled me with more guilt.

My gut reaction punished me, but a little perspective and a few days have revealed my gut as a bit harsh.

During Trump’s first week in office, I ended every day on my couch, depressed and drained by the nationwide havoc and calculating how to react. I drank more than I should, trying to curb anxiety and quiet the anguish from frantically following the onslaught of terrible, horrible, no good, very bad news. If this is what the Trump administration does to my relatively “privileged” existence, I shudder at the thought of other’s struggles.

There’s no question that this is not the way to live for the next three years and 49 weeks, not for me, not for any human.

It’s not sustainable, it’s not productive, it’s a recipe for serious burnout. And while my experience with fighting against attacks on our democracy/humanity/planet is fairly limited, I have to believe that moderately drunken, deeply exhausted, emotionally shattered people make really shitty activists.

We have to stay informed, that is paramount to our ability to reject the new administration and its policies. Ignorance is not bliss, it’s dangerous.

But we also have to stay as healthy, happy and energized as possible, or the fight is going to fizzle right out of us. Which means that we can’t pay attention and/or head to the barricades every hour of the day. And that’s more than okay, that’s absolutely vital.

I’m still not sure what the right balance is between staying plugged in and unplugging in this strange new world. But I am learning how necessary it is that we do both.

We can stay up to date without refreshing twitter 127,891 times a day. We can sit down to read a book or go climb a freakin’ mountain, knowing that the next time we take a stand, we will stand taller and stronger. We can give ourselves a permission slip to not feel solely responsible to respond to every single atrocity, this is gonna take some tag teaming. If we want to stay fired up, we can’t burn ourselves out.

As runners, we know this drill. We push hard and then rest. Train and recover. We take thirty steps up a steep mountainside and then take a picture. When we do too much and don’t respect our limits, we break ourselves.

There’s an extraordinary amount of important work ahead of us. Many battles that will need our fury, signs, and voices on the frontlines. Countless conversations that will beg us to crank up the volume. As a nation, we’re off to a good start. The outpouring of eager activists and outraged women, children, and men is so powerful. It gives me hope for our country, for the human race, for this earth we share.

Now, we need to sustain this momentum for the long haul. We won’t be useful in four years if we don’t take care of ourselves now. Unplugging is as important as plugging in. And the strength of our actions and words will be enormously more powerful if we let ourselves recharge.

Keep fighting, keep speaking up, keep resisting. But keep climbing mountains too. It won’t make you a bad person, it will help you be a good one.


9 Responses to A plug for breaks

  1. Such an excellent reminder that self care is even more important in a post Obama Presidency world. The West Coast Mountains are good for the soul.

  2. Beautiful. Thank you for sharing this.

  3. Great post and what a great break! And it’s just so essential to unplug every now and again – I stopped listening to the news in the morning years ago when I realised it would consistently put me in a foul mood – not a great way to start the day. Now, I’ll look at BBC and NPR, read what I read and walk away from my computer – the only way I’ll keep my sanity!

  4. Just like those airline messages about putting on your oxygen mask first so you can help assist others – we need to take care of ourselves so we can be at our best and help drive the change that is needed…..glad you have such a beautiful place to go get that much needed break!

  5. Thank you for posting this, I read the following article the other day and reminded me that we have to help ourselves before we can help others.


    Keep writing Emily

  6. Totally agree! Read this the other day, no author attached but thought it was perfect.

    “This morning I have been pondering a nearly forgotten lesson I learned in high school music. Sometimes in band or choir, music requires players or singers to hold a note longer than they actually can hold a note. In those cases, we were taught to mindfully stagger when we took a breath so the sound appeared uninterrupted. Everyone got to breathe, and the music stayed strong and vibrant. Yesterday, I read an article that suggested the administration’s litany of bad executive orders is a way of giving us “protest fatigue” – we will literally lose our will to continue the fight in the face of the onslaught of negative action. Let’s remember MUSIC. Take a breath. The rest of the chorus will sing. The rest of the band will play. Rejoin so others can breathe. Together, we can sustain a very long, beautiful song for a very, very long time. You don’t have to do it all, but you must add your voice to the song. With special love to all the musicians and music teachers in my life…..#Resist”

  7. Loved this post Em.

  8. Em…pls no guilt over taking to the mountains on that Saturday. You hafta do what is best for you at that point in time. We all do.

  9. Interesting Blog! Good to find you people having fun. Thanks for sharing your memorable moments with us.