I have always considered myself a relatively courageous person. I have hiked challenging trails before and swam with sharks in Tahiti. But last week I completed the hardest thing I have ever done… hiking a 14’er in Colorado.
Various moments of difficulty in my life have left me with feelings of exhilaration, disbelief and “badass-ness.” From passing my strength and conditioning certification to finishing my first triathlon, accomplishing something so far out of your comfort zone and overcoming fear are the greatest lessons of personal growth.
Saturday morning, my fiancé and I started a much more difficult hike than we imagined. We embarked on one of the top 10 most challenging mountains to climb in the country. The hike began at 2am, as prescribed by veteran hikers, and traversed upwards under a vast blanket of stars. Everything was just as difficult as expected until we reached “the keyhole”, a climbing point on the mountain in which you need to enter through the top of a ridge to climb the backside. It was at that point that I looked at my partner and said, “I don’t think I can do this”. I blamed it on altitude sickness but in reality, it was fear. Although there have been thousands of people who completed the climb, I didn’t think I could.
We started to climb down. I felt defeated, numb and guilty. I felt like a failure because after coming so far, not only was I not going to finish this hike but my partner wasn’t going to either. Halfway down the keyhole route, I said “F*** this, let’s turn around and do it”.
Something in my brain clicked and I realized that turning around would silence a deep part of me that thrives on fear and growth. The part that begs to be pushed but is sometimes shut out. The part that thinks this shouldn’t be so hard for me but because it is, I probably shouldn’t continue. And lastly, the part of me that avoids difficulty because it is painful. I wanted to prove something, not to Instagram through pictures or to my fit partner, but to myself.
The next 10 hours were the hardest of my life. We scaled the mountain in 50 mph winds and 18 miles later (two extra miles of hiking since we did a turn-around), I found myself back in the car where we started, listening to Bob Marley on our way home.
My body felt empty except for feelings of pride and confusion. Pride, because of this exceptional accomplishment, and confusion because I almost quit. Why did I struggle so much to keep going? Why was my first instinct to stop when it was scary? And most importantly, why did I feel like I wasn’t strong enough? This disabling thought has resurfaced over and over again in my life. And it got me thinking, what are things that I have stopped myself from doing because I was scared? Has fear been controlling my life thus far?
Hiking through my fear was like a therapy session for that part of me. The wounded part that was once told she couldn’t do it. Or maybe she told herself that.
I have no super powers or crazy genes. I am a normal person who was given a choice last week- to reach the summit or not. The choice was to go back to that comfortable place where my breathing was consistent and my heart rate was steady, where it was warmer and less windy. Instead, I learned that nothing is insurmountable, even when it seems so.
“Strength does not come from winning. Your struggles develop your strength. When you decide to go through hardship and chose not to surrender, that is strength.”