We need people to get us up and down the mountain, literally and figuratively.
In November 2019, I went to Arizona with my son’s baseball team. We were new members. The coach said that before the game, we’d do some sightseeing. We were going on a little hike to Camelback Mountain. This is an important lesson in semantics. I pictured strolling leisurely through a cactus field and so I packed a heavy backpack with my water bottle, my journal, a book and other non essentials. Turns out a hike can be different things to different people. At the foot of the trail, an enormous mountain loomed ahead. Behind that mountain appeared to be several peaks. I noticed we were about to embark on the most difficult trail. I felt trepidatious but I figured I could do this, especially since Coach Mike said his mother did it at age forty and had no problems. Since I was just meeting the team, I wanted to put my best foot forward, to appear fearless and to make light conversation along the way. That didn’t happen. What did happen was I kept asking like a kid on a long road trip, “How much longer to the top?” Coach Mike said, “twenty minutes tops.” Two hours later as I struggled on, it was still twenty minutes tops. Later, he said that most people can, if they dig deep, always go another twenty minutes.”
Putting my best foot forward went straight out the window as it often does when we find ourselves in situations that are highly demanding or stressful. I was determined to keep going physically, no matter what, although I did wonder if this is where I’d take my final breath. My thudding heart felt like it was going to explode in my chest. That was not my greatest concern. I was terrified of falling and breaking a limb. My mouth became dry with fear and exhaustion. Worse than the physical battle was the mental battle. My mind kept throwing scenarios at me. What if I slipped off the edge into the abyss and returned to Canada in a body bag?
One of the dads took my backpack to ease my load. I moved like a newborn deer, tentatively, as if the earth beneath my feet would suddenly shift. I clutched the mountain like a blanket. I sighed and complained and over-analyzed every step I took. Every time I got over a chunk of mountain, another mountain appeared in front. I watched a man in his seventies, lean and sinewy, jog past me. Many times, I thought it was time to retreat, to give in and make my way back down. From what I remember, coach Mike would say things like: “We’re almost at the top. The hardest part is behind you. You got this. My mother wasn’t in the greatest shape and she made it up the mountain. It’s ok. You’re going to make it. You’re not going to believe the view from the top. It’s worth it.”
And so I made it to the top. We took a group picture and I was elated. The view was magnificent but then, the panic set in. I still had to get back down. Coach Mike and the rest of the men took off and were down the mountain in no time. He said his job was to get us to the top. We had no choice but to come back down. Going down was almost as frightening. Thankfully, one of the other mothers got me down. She stayed with me the entire time while I talked endlessly about how scared I was. It was halfway down the mountain when I turned to her and said, “Oh my. I complain a lot instead of just doing what I need to do.” She was patient while I dithered on what path I should take instead of just moving along. Sometimes I wanted to stay close and hug the mountain but that path was actually more perilous than venturing on the path closer to the ledge. I watched people run past me and who made the climb look easy and I watched people lag further behind, struggling as I was.
Once I made it down, my son looked at me in embarrassment. “What happened to you, Mom?” he whispered. “You took so long.”
“Nothing, except you’re thirteen and I’m fifty,” I said.
But on introspection, my son had a point. Something happened, something I was determined to fix. I felt mentally weak. My negative thoughts were as high as the mountain. My own self-doubt and fear almost kept me from getting to the top and it sure hindered my progress and enjoyment of the climb.
I called Coach Mike the other day. We’ve nicknamed him ‘Tony Robbins’. “How did you get us up there?” I asked.
“Sometimes you have to lead from behind. It’s not all about leading from the front. For those who wanted to climb, I was going to get them to the top and I knew I could only go as fast as the slowest person. The mountain is just the mountain. It doesn’t care about you. If you keep looking up at what’s ahead, at the unknown, the mountain will win. It’s relentless. For some, it’s physically tough. For others, it’s psychologically tough, or even both. It’s a mental game. But God is able to pull stuff out of us that we can’t do on our own,” he said.
As for me, I’m grateful for the people who got me up and down the mountain, the coach who carried my backpack, the Mom who stayed with me and Coach Mike. I couldn’t have done it without them. We need each other.
The mountain just is and no amount of overthinking and complaining will make it go away. Climb one step at a time, even in the face of fear. Some will make it look easy and some won’t make it up at all. Keep going even though at times, the climb feels relentless. And if you’re one of the “make it look easy” ones, encourage those that are struggling.