Recently, I hiked up Bear Mountain (Bear Mountain State Park). A day of escape from NYC on a clear, breezy and beautiful autumn day. It was on a Sunday actually, and I was expecting a comfortable stroll-like hike – somewhat challenging on the uphill, but not overly so – and amazing end-of-autumn colors from above. Check on the amazing colors, ixnay on the somewhat challenging!
This was my first time hiking this mountain, my first time hiking with the guides and my first time hiking with the group that met up on the way to the mountain. I have hiked some wonderful and challenging trails and ascended to some amazing heights while enjoying the journey. Not so on this hike. The guides inexplicably took a group of people they knew nothing about (and who knew nothing about one another) straight up a series of sheer climbs. No winding trails for us. Only relentless scrambling up the side of rock formations, grabbing trees for balance, and constantly looking up with trepidation to see how much further before a plateau and rest.
I fell behind. At first I felt self-conscious for holding up the group. Then I realized I wasn’t holding them up. They were moving speedily forward like young goats.
Halfway through the climb, I needed help getting up a particularly large and slippery rock. The two guides, standing a few feet away on top of the rock I was struggling to get on top of, looked at me and laughed. One made a comment about what a great picture I would make in that moment. I laughed too – self-consciously. I felt ridiculous and knew I looked ridiculous. There was one other lady lagging behind with me. She was trying to push me up from behind. It wasn’t working so I gave up my perch and insisted we get her up onto the rock first. As she tried to climb this same rock, I pushed her up from behind and both guides walked over to her. One reached down to offer her his hand and helped pull her up. Then both guides looked down at me as if to say, “You’re on your own.” The other guide saw a chain wrapped around a tree a few feet away and nonchalantly tossed the chain to me. I was able to walk myself up the rock with the help of the chain within seconds.
I think the last bit of naiveté I’ve been holding onto in life withered in me in that moment. It was a stark reminder to me that like every other area of my life, I was on my own. What I can’t do for myself won’t get done for me. If I got reckless while trying to keep up with folks and got injured, those folks were not likely to do much, if anything to get me back to level ground (safety). After that, I slowed down more and took deeper breaths. I rested for as long as I needed and moved only when I was comfortable doing so. I stepped aside to let people pass me. I took in the view and shared conversation with the woman lagging behind with me.
At the end of the day, after having endured a near-sheer mile and half climb up the side of a mountain and a more tiered winding walk down, the most pressing thought in my head was, “I wonder how many calories I burned climbing that mountain.”
I was completely expended, much like life, but that thought illustrated a great deal to me. At the end of the day, all the challenges you overcome aren’t really the highlight of your life. Neither is the treatment you receive from people along the way. The highlight is what you take away from the experience. This hiking experience reminded me that I have all I need to get by. And receiving little-to-no help from anyone has never been anything that has ever stopped me from moving forward before. It’s not going to stop me now.