My first true Adirondack hike, October 1998. I believed it was like walking in the woods, only with hiking boots. Halfway up Blue Mountain I was paralyzed in fear. Exposed granite, smooth rock, wet with recent rain and icy in spots. I could feel my boots slip as kids ran by me wearing sneakers. I wanted to turn back, but not as badly as I wanted to reach the fire tower and see the view from the top.
I told my then-boyfriend and soon-to-be hiking mentor/coach to go up ahead without me. I was embarrassed that I couldn’t keep up and I could sense his frustration. I kept climbing. I kept stopping to rest. I can still picture him sitting on a rock as I came around a bend, waiting for me, a moment of empathy and kindness. *
I made it to the top and back down again. It was hard. One of the hardest physical challenges of my life up to that point. In sheer exhaustion, I fell flat on my face in the mud just before reaching the parking lot. I determined to throw away my crappy boots and never hike again. I figured it was nearly the end of hiking season, the heck with it. By spring, if I was still with then-boyfriend, I’d break the news. No hiking for this woman.
Something happened that winter. I kept going over the hike in my mind. I had a vision of what hiking “could” be: Seeing the beauty of the woods and views. Feeling the path and the granite under my feet. Remembering the exhilaration of reaching the top with my heart pounding as I climbed the fire tower steps. I didn’t know it yet, but I would soon be an avid hiker. My face down moment of utter failure and embarrassment led me to achieve my own personal “greatness”.
New hiking boots. A workout plan for aerobic and muscular strength. Spring brought black fly season and more hikes, snowshoeing in winter. In the next two years my then-boyfriend, mentor/coach led me on harder and harder hikes until my 50th birth year, when I hiked my very first Adirondack high peaks. Still paralyzed by fear at times, I kept at it. I remember reaching the summit of Algonquin and having an out-of-body experience. I felt if I died in that moment, it would be OK. This was enough. In that moment I didn’t need anything other than to sit quietly with my back against a boulder. Plus, I wasn’t quite sure of HOW I was going to make the descent!
The following year, I lost 35 pounds and continued to get stronger. Then-boyfriend and I parted ways. I began to hike with the man who would become my husband. I took Pilates **, and continued to increase my strength and stamina. We used common sense and took on “do-able” peaks, though rarely did I find one “easy”. I recall turning to my husband on a hike and musing, “I wonder when I’ll peak, not get any stronger and maybe even start to decline?” It may have been that day…
I find that I can’t “do” the extreme hikes any longer. In 2011, a nasty treatment for hepatitis C left me flat out on the couch for the better part of a year. (Gladly cured of hepatitis C from a second treatment, 2015.) I never regained my “peak” strength. I had to “rumble” with feelings of loss, grief and frustration. It’s been a process that continues today, even as I feel extremely grateful for my health and physical ability. I can still hike!
Now we take on smaller mountains, less traveled trails to waterfalls and views of the higher mountains we once traversed. I depend on my trekking poles — my third and fourth legs to help me balance and save my knees! I do the very best I can. In so many ways I am stronger than I was on that very first hike. I know in my heart it is precisely because I challenged myself to turn my vision of hiking into a goal and that I continue to work through my face down moments and acknowledge my successes.
All I’ve been and “accomplished”, all I am and still “do”, and all that I will become and decide to “do” is simply good enough! I always was good enough, even on that very first hike on Blue Mountain.
*special thanks to J.N. for introducing me to hiking in my beloved Adirondack Mountains
** and thanks to Melissa my dear friend and best Pilates instructor for helping me find my core strength!
Such powerful permission to love and accept ourselves exactly where we are … even as we encourage ourselves to explore new methods to become stronger and better. This is great advice for physical challenges and even more applicable to emotional ones. Thank you Coach Cate for an inspiring, uplifting post. (And, no, I won’t be hiking with you up the side of a mountain … EVER! But maybe a woodland trail or two would be nice.)
Yes, we’ll do the woodland trails! A knapsack with lunch on our backs! Looking forward to it, Barbie. Thank you.
Lovely Cate and you are certainly “good enough.” What a precious place to be – to love oneself just as we are.
Thank you Linda. Ain’t it the truth! Smiling all the way. xo