This fall, on a trip to Arizona, I set out on an adventure: one of those, “Hell ya… why not? We’re here, right?!!!” type of adventures. My goal was to summit Humphrey’s Peak, the highest hill in Arizona, one that has been on my mind and in the forefront of the landscape on my countless trips to Flagstaff. My friend and I probably drank too much wine the night before, didn’t get near enough water or sleep and I was vastly out of shape for such a challenge. But none the less, we proceeded. It was hard. It was hard to breathe, my legs felt like jello, I was dizzy just walking through the parking lot and I was close to tossing my breakfast on the side of the trail. My appreciation for the beautiful trail with its sweeping views, glowing meadows and colorful aspens, was frequently overshadowed by the never ending switchbacks, boulder-ridden ridge climbs, whipping ice-cold winds, and three false peaks. The thing about those false peaks is, even though you know they are coming, they still piss you off when you turn a corner around what you think is the summit, only to find another long… long… long… trail directly uphill to the next one.
Sit. Rest. Regroup.
“Is it even worth it to keep going?” We certainly threw this back and forth a few times… “I can’t imagine the views will be any different up there,” I said as I motioned to the never ending trail, and I sat down on a boulder to catch my breath. “A brewery for burgers and beer would be pretty ideal right about now.” We laughed…
Sit. Rest. Contemplate.
“No, you know what, we came this far, we are here, lets just suck it up and push on.”
Stand up. Power stance. Deep breath.
“Yah girl, we can do this, we’ve got it!!” And got it, we did. Somehow we did. We pushed on and made it to the top of that damn mountain, and it was glorious. It wasn’t the tallest peak I’d ever been on, nor the hardest trail I’ve ever hiked. It wasn’t the most insane view I’ve ever seen, but it was single handedly, the most sastisfying summit to date. The feeling of making it, despite being so out of breathe, out of energy, out of shape, and out of sorts with myself; was a feeling that has stuck with me since that day on Humphrey’s. I’m reminded of a quote, “The summit is what drives us, but it’s the climb that matters.” And in this case, it couldn’t have been more true.
Twenty nineteen has felt a lot like that mountain that day. There have been a lot of times this year when I have felt unprepared, and uncertain. A lot more times when I felt too tired or too overwhelmed to want to continue a challenge. Sometimes I wanted to quit, and sometimes I did. There have been peaks and valleys. There have also been a lot of “false summits” so to speak. There have been times when I have leaned on people for support, and they have provided what I needed to grow, to continue, and to conquer. There have also been lot of times this year where my time outdoors provided exactly what I needed to help me refocus and find balance, even if I didn’t know it in that moment.
My increasingly busy schedule this year translated to a loss of time connecting with the outdoors, which felt like a loss in connecting with myself. But without fail, anytime I stepped away from all of that and hit the trail, I was sure to find a route leading back to feeling like myself again. This year was filled with trips that seemed to come at the most critical times, when my personal tank was on empty and in need of a refuel. Though few and far between, my adventures this year each held a very special place for me in my life. Chasing sunsets with my parents through the southwest, putting my paddle in the water and getting back to basics in my motherland, a carefree girls weekend in the mountains, finding new trails in the Red River Gorge with great friends, re-living childhood memories at our family cottage, throwing myself into some epic hikes in Arizona, or finding peace and restoring balance in my most sacred place, Sedona. I never knew WHAT exactly I was looking for when I set out on each adventure, yet somehow, without expectations, it seemed that I was able to find exactly what I needed.
While hiking in Sedona with my parents, we attempted a sunset hike, only to get turned around by blowing rain and wind, and bad trail conditions. By the time we got off the trail in search of something else, we were presented with the most incredible gift, a complete rainbow spanning across the most picturesque landscape at the peak of the golden hour. It was one of those moments that could bring you to tears. Taking in a sight like that gives you reason to pause, to be grateful. For months, I spent so much energy rushing from one thing to the next. I rarely take time to just be. Standing in front of that rainbow in silence, in gratitude, in wonder; I could just be. What a wonderful feeling to make time stand still. That is a powerful gift.
My summer paddling trip in Algonquin park came shortly after a difficult decision to step back from a position at work, and I couldn’t have picked a better person to adventure with to help me keep things in perspective. We spent days off the grid, deep in the woods, laughing at ourselves and our missteps and tribulations on the trail, all while keeping a smile on our faces. The ability to laugh and still be present whilst portaging a canoe and a hundred pounds of gear through a bug infested swamp, is no small feat. Perspective. That is what that trip taught me.
In the rush of daily life, it’s so easy to feel overburdened, tired, stressed about little things, worried about big things, to not feel like enough, to give up. But out in nature, all of that BS is stripped away, and there is just you, left with your capable self to figure it out. When I needed it most this year, I proved to myself that I am strong, capable, and determined. When I needed it most, I was able to find a quiet place to watch the sunset and just breathe. When I needed it most, friends were there with me, laughing under the stars and helping me not take myself too seriously. When I stepped onto the trail, it had a way of reconnecting me to the things that REALLY matter; health, happiness, friends, family, laugher. If what it takes is kicking my own ass up the side of the mountain when I need that reminder, then I’m going to keep fighting up every mountain I find.
That day on Humphrey’s I took away some powerful lessons for the trail, and for my life:
1) I am stronger than I think.
2) I get by with a little help from my friends.
3) Breaks: its okay to take them, they ultimately keep me going.
4) When I think I can’t: Power stance, deep breath. Have faith, I got this!
As I prepare myself for the upcoming year, I look forward the many mountains I may climb in 2020, both on the trail, and in my daily grind; being sure to bring with me, all the lessons I learned on Mt Humphrey’s.
Happy Hiking All. May you find yourself outdoors this year.