Recently, I completed my first 4000 footer in New Hampshire. It had been a plan for a long time coming, stemming back a few years ago when on the way to our friends house up in northern New Hampshire, my husband and I were admiring the mountains from the car. Admiring soon turned into an argument, a confession really, which basically stated: since I moved us to Rhode Island I was responsible for shattering his dreams of camping, hiking, and completing all the 4000 footers in New Hampshire.
Well, didn't that just put a damper on the ride?
At the time, we were grossly out of shape and I was struck because, I literally had no idea that the man I had been with for almost a decade had this yearning to hike. And then I was almost dumbfounded by how ludicrous it was to think we could just go do one of those. I really didn't appreciate the idea of being told I couldn't do something because of how far away, out of shape, or inexperienced I was. I am stubborn like that. In our relationship, we rarely argue about anything, so this particular disagreement stuck with me.
So began part of the journey in becoming more healthy and having a goal to hike. Flash forward three years, hundreds of hours and miles in nature, 140 pounds lighter between the two of us, and add a healthier mind, body, and spirit and we were ready. As ready as we could be to start this journey.
With the support and encouragement from our best friend, and blessings from our families, we put a date on the calendar. I am sure most people would think maybe we were making a big deal out of this. But there was history to this hike, and it was a big deal to me.
We would hike Mt. Moosilauke as our first 4000 footer. This one was specifically suggested because it was an "easier one" to begin with. I would personally not describe it as easy, more like moderate, but we did it, and every step was worth it.
It was a beautiful day. We arrived at the base by 8:45 a.m. The mountain is 4,802 feet high, and I have been doing mostly flat walks in Rhode Island to prepare. The summit was about 2.5 hours to the top. As good of a time as any to begin our journey as official hikers.
As we readied to begin the trail, I can see Mike's best friend ready to run up the mountain. Mind you, the two friends we are hiking with are in extraordinary health. One is running a half marathon the following weekend and his girlfriend teaches bar class and pilates at a gym. I already knew I was in trouble. Mike felt he had something to prove and was gearing up to keep up with the crazy couple. I wasn't in any hurry to prove anything to anyone. I was just happy to be experiencing this long awaited challenge.
It came as no surprise that they did get ahead of me rather quickly. I started to have an inner battle with myself about pushing harder, staying with the group, being good enough to push forward, calling myself all sorts of names. I began taking deep breaths to calm myself down. I began to feel something happening when I looked ahead at the trail. A self assuredness and self acceptance as I told myself, "Go at your own pace. There is no rush, there is no race. Just go at your own pace."
So that is what I did. I stopped when I needed to stop. I rested when I needed to rest. I took photos of the views and the things close by me like ferns, streams, and flowers. I drank water when I was thirsty.
There were definitely times when my heart felt like it was going to explode out of my chest. When my legs were straining to lift high enough to grip onto the next tree root or rock formation. When I felt insecure as people in their late fifties and sixties were passing me with ease and familiarity. But I thought to myself, "Go at your own pace. You are fine where you are. You are doing incredible things. Just go at your own pace."
My lovely hubby ended up pulling something in his leg in an effort to keep up with our friends who seemed to be flying up the mountain, and ended up peacefully walking with me. Well, mostly peaceful-he was in a lot of pain and I forgot to pack medicine.
Just as promised, the views were stunning. Just stunning. Words cannot capture the awesomeness of the foreverness you feel when looking out at the mountains. I heard birds I never heard before. The smells of the forrest filled my lungs with pine, and earth, and wind. At times, I heard nothing at all. The silence was peaceful. Stillness.
As we got closer to the top, the trees started to become sparse and break. Rocks became more familiar, bushes surrounded us. The wind began to pick up and the air became crisp.
And then there it was. The summit. Just...wow.
We stayed up at the top for over an hour eating our PB&J's, fruit, and trail mix. It was the best. We did it. We made it to the top. Even at my own pace, I made it!
As did countless other people of all ages, shapes, sizes, and backgrounds. There were mothers carrying their three year olds in one of those special backpacks (talk about being in shape!), there were father and sons, people with their dogs, couples who were not aware of the temperature change on the top who looked cold, and older folks who looked so peaceful and experienced, that it made my heart smile. A dad carried his infant in the pack against his chest, the baby must have been only months old. One guy with a thick Boston accent and a Red Sox hat was even in flip flops. I cannot imagine what he was thinking when he decided on that foot-ware choice.
But we all had this shared experience of climbing this mountain and looking at the beauty around us. They all went at their own pace too. We all made it up, each one of us with such unique journeys that brought us in this space together, and it was so special. I can now understand why the climb is so worth the effort.
The climb down was another journey in itself. Mike and I climbed down together, slow and steady to accommodate the pull in his muscles. I was my usual forrest self, enjoying the nature in my quiet way, giving thanks to all surrounding me as my legs started shaking of their own accord at times and my tired feet began to slip. We invited our friends to meet us towards the bottom as they bounded with effortless energy ahead of us, still so encouraging and supportive.
When we reached the bottom, it was around 4:00 and I was so proud I teared up. We had done it. It was more than I could have expected or dreamed of. And we went together, at our own pace, where the sun met my face to give me kisses at the bottom as I stretched my body. What a climb.
I don't know if Mike remembers the argument in the car that day so many years ago. I don't know if he understood how much I appreciated his candor at his yearning for the mountains. I know that it changed my goals, my approach to nature, and eventually helped me to see that I needed to make dramatic changes in my life to be able to be one with the mountains. I am a self admitted dreamer. My head is literally always in the clouds with things I want to do, places I wish to visit, and experiences I yet to have. But this helped my head meet the clouds. To become one with them and share that moment with my dear love and best friend. It was so bonding, and grounding for us as a couple and as individuals.
I am so grateful that I was able to keep the mantra of "Go at your own pace" throughout the walk. It was a blessing I truly needed to gain self acceptance and find the capacity to keep on going throughout the challenging walk. I will keep that mantra with me as I move forward in all the directions my path is leading me to. It makes me feel empowered and safe.
And now...I am ready. Onto the next.
With love and honest,
Brittany- your forever dreamer.
Brittany Courchesne is an early childhood educator, teacher mentor to teachers in training, public speaker, and blogger.