This blog post came to me precisely around the time the snow pack shifted under my hiking boot and I felt my ankle “crack”.
It wasn’t a break–I knew that right away. But it was uncomfortable enough that the 8 or so miles to go didn’t sound too exciting at that moment.
It was around that time when my cute partner turned around with his hiking poles in hand, his eyes covered by dark glasses to keep away the glare from the white–and he said genuinely, “Babe, do we need to turn back?”
No, was my response of course–as I winced, adjusted my hiking boot, and continued onward. I’m stubborn like that–and he knows it.
It was the very last hike of our weekend and I wasn’t about to let it slow me down. He had planned the perfect anniversary weekend. We stayed in a train car that was refurbished into a hotel room (it even had a jacuzzi. I kid you not!) And we spent the day time both days playing on Mount Rainier, discovering lots of trails and racking up way over 15 miles in one weekend. From blazing heat and rainforest terrain to snow pack and frigid temps, we saw everything Mount Rainier offered and ended the days with good food at base camp, drinks with the locals, and walks at sunset on the marbled turquoise river.
From trains to hiking to time with my very best friend–he made sure that all my favorite things were packed into one weekend to celebrate US. He knows me better than anyone.
But it was during that last hike that we were challenged in a big way and the fun and joy of the trip became more of a compilation of discomfort, frustration as to the inaccuracy of mileage that our GPS promised, and a test of endurance. The dirt road that led to a major trail head had been blocked by a gate for the season so we decided to trust the GPS that said we only had to trek three miles to get to the trailhead and then start our actual 8-mile hike. We didn’t think it would be that big of a deal, and under normal circumstances it wouldn’t be.
But it wasn’t just three miles, we discovered after walking for four. And the uphill trek to the trailhead wasn’t smooth. It was packed with snow, and we had left our microspikes back at the car. So for miles and miles we were stomping in soft snow, falling into snowpacks that were deeper than they seemed, cutting across switchbacks to avoid the snow trek for as long as possible and winding up in camouflaged creek beds instead that soaked our feet. It was a test of patience and of endurance and physical stamina in a way we hadn’t been tested before.
But looking ahead, I saw Jeff–who made sure to stay at least a few paces ahead so I could follow his tracks–and I couldn’t help but walk forward knowing he was going in the same direction. And as the silence stole our walk and gave way to less conversation and more intakes of heavy breaths and concentrated and measured footfalls, my mind started meandering. I began to realize how ironic it was that this hike was falling on the one-year anniversary of us starting our journey–and the one year anniversary of the beginning of some pretty turbulent times for the both of us.
This isn’t one of those blogs that’s going to have the grand, overused conclusion of, “It’s not about the destination. It’s the journey”. Those messages are cliche and tiring and often don’t even encompass the true nature of life or what you’re going through. So fear not, my readers 🙂
This blog is actually quite different. Hence the title of my blog, These Mountains We Climb, I’m here to tell you that sometimes the journey is like our last hike at Rainier. And I couldn’t help but think of it as we trekked, poles in hand, snow on all sides and under our feet, the sun blazing hot on our shoulders, and my twisted ankle and Jeff’s sore knee constant pangs of grief that slowed us down. Sometimes, I realized, as I stopped dead in my tracks to catch my breath, realizing there was yet another switchback that hinted at us being nowhere near the trailhead–the journey is ugly. Sometimes it’s hard to walk, it’s hard to breathe, you can’t see clearly up ahead, and turning back is so tempting because it’s downhill and you could give your rock-hard calves a breather.
“Should we turn back babe?”
He was looking out for me. He always does. But little does he know, when he said that I was taken back to eight or nine months before that moment–in the midst of a painful custody battle and legal issues and heartache that still puppeteered us after divorces and the painful choreography of blending families–I realized I had been here before. Standing on an incline, tired, bleeding, squinting against a glaring white mountain–asking myself if I should just turn back. If it was worth it. But then I’d look up and see him looking back at me, just as tired and in just as much pain–but willing to keep walking with me. And no, I’d decide. I won’t turn back.
Sometimes it’s actually all about having faith in the destination despite how ugly the journey is. Sometimes it’s all about recognizing your trekking partners and gleaning strength from their meer presence on the climb. Sometimes the steps are so frustrating that your eyes aren’t scanning the scenery for beauty or for reasons to keep going–so you just have to remind yourself of where you’re headed.
Sometimes the only energy you can muster is the energy it takes to watch your step.
That’s okay, I realized through this past year. And the same thing occurred to me on that last trek on the snowy hip of Mount Rainier.
I think back to all the times in life that it would have been easier to turn around or stop.
I think back to that moment in high school when I hit a brick wall in applying to colleges, wondering if I should just stick to community college since I couldn’t find the means to pay for a university and all my artsy dreams seemed to evaporate into a fog. I think back to when I was at BYU and the man I was engaged to broke up with me over the phone and ended all my plans in a thirty second phone call. I think back to the hospital stays with my dad, watching him breathe and going days without sleep so I wouldn’t miss his last. I think back to the years of straightening my back and adjusting my smile in a miserable lifestyle, fantasizing about packing my bags, disappearing, and creating a new life for myself like someone would in the movies. I think back to driving away for real–and the conversations I had with myself about keeping my foot on the gas. I think back to all the little moments that seemed unbearable at the time and now they’re just chinks in the chain that led me to this mountain.
Some of those journeys weren’t beautiful and dotted with mercies. Some were ugly, painful, long, ankle-breaking treks that people said would be a few miles and they all turned out to be triple that. These were journeys that I continued on, eyes down, feet forward–all because there was a destination to be had.
Sometimes it’s the hope of that view at the end that keeps your feet moving.
And that’s okay.
I’ve had so many people over the course of blogging that have asked me for advice on loving the present moment in the course of such great misery. Some of these people are stuck in dead-end jobs or marriages that are crumbling. Some are wrapped up in unhealthy churches or ways of life that have them addicted or miserable. Some are simply stagnant and wishing there was more. And although there are ways to find joy–being grateful for the blessings, loving those around you, taking action to keep propelling forward–I often find myself telling people soemthing else entirely.
“It sucks,” I’ll say sometimes. “And it’s going to suck for a while. You’ll have days where it’s hard to find the “happy” and days where you’re not in the mood to be chipper. But if you keep going, if you do what’s right for YOU, and if you’re brave–it’ll be worth it soon.”
Sometimes people just have to be reminded that the destination is up ahead and it’s enough to keep going, even if it’s fifteen miles away.
During that last hike Jeff would look back at me ever so often, that magical smile I’ve come to rely on to get me through my days–and I’d be reminded again of why I’ve kept moving through so many journeys. Why I’ve had broken hearts and broken plans and switchbacks and snow-packed trails that have weathered me and have strengthened my legs and my back. It’s why I’ve kept going, even when the offer has been on the table to turn around. Destinations like this give the ugly journeys purpose and meaning.
Destinations like this is the reason we’re here.
And the destination–the destination has been quite beautiful.
So, you out there: There will be rest. And peace. And reminders that there is a purpose in each season of suffering and endurance. That there’s a view ahead unlike any other and open air and love and resolution and a perspective that is so vast and larger than life that all you can do is sit on the edge of it and marvel that the trek brought you here.
So don’t you quit. You can rest, you can cry it out, and you can take your time getting there. But don’t stop.
One of my favorite lines from the song my Dad left as a dedication before he died (“Compass”, by Lady Antebellum) simply says, “When it’s all said and done, you can walk instead of run. But no matter what, you’ll never be alone.”
And how true it is.
I know–because I’ve seen the view from the top many times. Especially now.
And I didn’t run to get there.