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!