This week I climbed a mountain. I hadn’t planned on doing it. I had no warning ahead of time that I was going to have to do it. It was a task thrust upon me.
See, what had happened was we took our students on a week long field trip to a wilderness “school.” On my chaperone schedule it said my morning class was “mountain ecology.” So I thought we’d be learning about what lives in a mountain environment and play some games. I wasn’t wrong.
We started with an interesting discussion about how various mountains are formed and other fascinating stuff. While this captivating activity was going on at no point was it explained to me that I was going to be required to hike a mountain. I was just told to walk the path behind the instructor.
The first part of the path was a long gentle incline. At the speed we were going it was hard to even notice that we were walking up until we reached the first plateau. While I listened to the instructor talk about the difference between deciduous and evergreen trees I looked down the path behind me and saw how far up we had walked. Hmmm. Okay. That’s pretty steep, I thought. We must be close to the top.
On we walked. It felt like were hundreds of miles away from everyone and everything. Then we rounded a corner and my first reality check kicked in. In front of me was a very steep incline. To make matters worse it had a deep gully running through it from the heavy rains that came a few days before so you had to keep switching sides or straddle it as you walked.
This was it. Now we were climbing. So I followed the group up the incline. I took it slow and steady. I tried to pace myself and breathe deeply as I walked. Little by little I made my way certain it wouldn’t get any harder than that. For a while I was right as the climb led to another plateau. We stopped. We played a game. And then we walked on.
We rounded another bend in the trail and it took us down into a clearing. Oh, good, I thought. We are going back down. Nope. Still we walked on.
As we left the clearing we began our proper ascent. While there were short plateaus along the way it was basically a series of steep inclines. Sometimes the path would be riddled with exposed roots. Sometime the ground was hard packed and sometimes it was loose and sandy. There were even fallen trees to traverse and thorny branches to avoid.
Within minutes I ceased all attempts at conversation with my companions as I fell further behind the group. I needed all my concentration to regulate my breathing and watch my step. At one point, in an attempt to raise my morale I tried to jump up on a fallen log instead of step over it. Big mistake. I immediately lurched forward as the dead wood pulp crumbled beneath my feet. I had to brace myself with my hand to keep from taking a header into the dirt. So now not only was I hot, tired and out of breath, my wrist was throbbing and my pride was stinging.
But I climbed on. What choice did I have? Even if I wasn’t responsible for the group of children I was chaperoning there was no one coming to get me. The only way back down to my cabin was up this mountain. So I climbed.
Everyone was already seated in a circle taking a water break when I arrived at what was truly the top. As I struggled as quietly as I could to catch my breath I looked out through the break in the trees. There before me was the beauty and majesty of the Blue Ridge Mountains.
I’d made it. I didn’t die. I didn’t quit. I didn’t have to be rescued. While the children were engaged in their activity I sat on the cool granite of a nearby flat rock and just stared at the mountains stretched across the horizon.
I was still hot (maybe more so). I was still tired (definitely more so). My wrist hurt. My thighs burned. My chest was still heaving with the effort to calm my breathing. But I’d made it. And it was worth it.
Coming back down was its own special torture because my muscles were so over it and my knees were giving me the screwface. As I schlepped the last few feet to our cabin the metaphor of my day was not lost on me.
I climbed a literal mountain that day. I, and all of you dear readers, climb our own figurative mountains everyday. Sometimes the path is smooth and sometimes it is riddled with obstacles. When facing our mountains all we can do is climb on. We will get tired. We will get sore. We will want to give up. We will stumble and fall. We will reach false summits only to have to keep climbing.
But if we keep climbing, don’t quit and don’t wait to be saved, we can make it and it will be worth it. Every time.