This week my husband decided to take me on one of his annual hiking trips to the White Mountains of New Hampshire. I will preface this entire story by saying that I am not really a very physical or outdoorsy person. The office is my natural habitat, and while Jonathan did not drag me there kicking and screaming, I was definitely apprehensive about the whole thing.
Within the first hour of the 5,367 feet climb to the top of Mount Madison, I was silently cursing myself, my husband and everything holy as the terrain became increasingly difficult to negotiate. My feet hurt, then my neck, then my thighs, rounding up with my hips feeling like they may simply disconnect from my body. Annoyance turned to exhaustion, then to pure frustration, then to anger. It’s amazing how many phases and emotions are experienced on a journey like this, resulting in my absolute determination to reach the treeline in as short a time as possible.
Two and a half hours later, we crawled out of the mountain forest, into the cool blue sky of the mountain top. The views were spectacular, I made friends with a moose and enjoyed some creature comforts at the hut (including warm meals and a legitimate bed). We proceeded to climb two mounts, including Mount Adams which I have officially renamed the Mountain of Death and Rocks, namely because I thought I was going to die a few times and after coming off of it, I never wanted to see another rock ever again. That was followed by what I was told would be an “easy” descent off the mountain on a different trail which was actually just rocks, more rocks and a means to excruciating knee pain.
After everything was said and done, I can say that the entire experience was extremely challenging. I wasn’t pushed to my physical limits, I was pushed past them, leaving me asking my husband and myself, WHY on earth do we continue to challenge ourselves so dramatically. To the point of delusion, screaming pain and total emotional chaos? Was the view worth it? It’s hard to say because I can’t even ascend the stairs of my house at the moment, but I left the mountain feeling thankful for the experience with my husband, the great photos that I was able to capture, and of course knowing that I conquered two mountains without crying.
So, what did I learn?
I learned that I probably could have covered twice as much ground as I did. I probably wouldn’t have my toenails or a tear-free hiking record, but I would have found the physical and emotional fortitude to keep going. People definitely underestimate themselves. If you challenge yourself to a goal just beyond what you feel is possible, it’s likely that you are very capable of achieving it despite personal fears and doubts.
I learned that climbing mountains is very much like living an ambitious life, where your end goals seem this close but take forever to fully achieve. For the record, the very top of the mountain is never where you think it is. It’s always 10 minutes further away. I spent the majority of the trip feeling 10 minutes away from everything, counting down the miles to the end.
I learned that reaching the top is satisfying, but fleeting. It is important to enjoy the journey, because the high of achievement soon wanes, and you will soon be off on the next journey.