One Foot in Front of the Other
I recently did something that I have never done before.
I summited our local mountain (12,966') twice in one month.
I'm not a crazy athlete. In fact, at one point in my life I never thought that
I would ever climb a mountain. But through the ups and downs of life,
I have found a passion in the challenge of hiking them.
This latest one got me thinking, which got me writing...and here we are.
If you read this through, thank you.
I hope that it ignites something inside of you.
I hope you go out and cross something off of
your list so that you can feel the pride in yourself
and seek out the next impossible goal.
All photos in this piece were shot on 35mm film.
When I was ten years old, I took a yellow legal pad and ripped off all the half scribbled pages and started fresh with the title Things To Do Before I Die. The first thing I wrote, without hesitation, was CLIMB A MOUNTAIN. I believe I followed it with scuba diving and skydiving or something along those lines. But my number one, climb a mountain, was the most important. At the time, I don’t think I actually thought that I would ever climb a mountain, although I wanted to! In my eyes and from what I had seen in movies, climbing a mountain would require me to carry a lot of things that would keep me alive on my back, while trudging uphill, through a lot of snow, for a long time, probably encountering some life-threatening experiences (think Mt. Everest). I can’t say that thought was too alluring to me at ten years old, but I figured hey, it’s a list of things to do before I kick the can. I should dream big and get creative, right?
A little background. I grew up in northern Indiana in a small farming town with an abundance of cornfields and Amish. (My family was not Amish, for the record) Although my dad was great at taking us camping and getting outdoors, it wasn’t like we had any National Forest or wild landscape to explore; there wasn’t a mountain within 500 miles. I remember always knowing that one day I would leave and I would live in the mountains or on the beach, both things I considered luxuries and that were just so far away. This is where we can find my ten-year-old self, in my bedroom with the big polka dots on the walls that I painted to match the dresser, that’s in my closet for some reason. It is here that I am writing on my legal pad and day dreaming all the crazy things that humans can do in their lifetimes. I think I only came up with six or seven, but I am so OCD about little things that I had written out a list of ten numbers and was filling in the numbered slots with ideas in descending order of importance. In caps at the top was CLIMB A MOUNTAIN. For years I had absolutely no idea how powerful this little pow wow with my imagination was and how much influence that written list of must-do experiences would be, consciously and subconsciously.
Fast forward to me at twenty, a decade later, and about the time that I began to comprehend what a decade was. I had just moved to the Roaring Fork Valley in western Colorado for the first time, and every day I would feast my eyes on this beautiful, alluring mountain they called Mount Sopris.
By this time I had done some traveling outside of the country and had been exposed to mass difference, which I fell passionately in love with. The differences between people, lifestyles, climate, landscapes, government, language, education, style of toilet, mode of transportation..all of it, all of the aspects of planet Earth and the people on it that were different than what I considered “normal” where I grew up. I was addicted to experiencing it and learning everything new.
After living in Spain and Norway and returning to Indiana, I lasted about four months until an opportunity to continue traveling presented itself in the form of a friend moving out to Colorado. I started out in Colorado Springs before making my way to the Roaring Fork Valley in search of the “mountain town” my heart was looking for. So there I was in the mountains, drooling over Mount Sopris, and finding out that quite a few of my friends had been to the top.
My thoughts were probably something incredulous like, “You mean your feet took you up there?! Jesus, how long did that take?” And like many who live in this area know, the answer to that is, “Oh, half a day..or you can camp at the lakes and summit in the morning.” And that was that; the seed was planted. I vowed and promised myself and others that I would climb Mount Sopris as my first mountain, and I would finally be able to cross something off of my list of Things To Do Before I Die, which by then didn’t actually exist..only in my mind. The legal pad had been lost long ago. But that changed quickly, because as soon as I realized that I would be climbing a mountain at some point, I decided to rewrite my list on my laptop and start adding more things to it. Once again, I had absolutely no idea how significant writing down these goals would turn out to be.
It didn’t happen right away. In fact, I moved away from the Roaring Fork Valley and traveled for a few more years and had to let life beat me up a little bit so I could re-find myself in the rubble. Part of my healing process was returning to the valley to find balance again, and a major part of that process was overcoming the odds in my over-thinking mind and deciding to summit that mountain. As I worked to free myself of an unhealthy drinking problem and quit smoking cigarettes at the same time (the hardest thing I have ever done), I continued to look at the top of Sopris and imagine myself sitting up there, maybe smoking a doobie, maybe just eating an apple, maybe taking a nap. Then one day (23 y.o.) the opportunity arrived, and a good friend of mine invited me to hike Sopris with her, just the two of us. She planned to camp at the lakes and summit in the morning; I was in. I had very little gear, but between her and other friends I was able to gather what I needed to make it happen. Admittedly I woke up extremely hungover the day of the hike and was upset with myself for doing so. But for the first time in a long time, I felt like I had this experience ahead of me that was going to change my life. I knew it, I could feel it in my heart. CLIMB A MOUNTAIN..it was everything I had ever dreamed of accomplishing as a farfetched personal goal was concerned..and if I did it, what else was I capable of?!
Needless to say, I did it. I summited that fucking beautiful mountain that day. It blew my mind how easy it was compared to what wild nonsense I had allowed my mind to imagine it would be. That is not to say that the hike was easy, but remember for the last decade I had without a doubt thought that climbing a mountain would require a ton of stuff on my back, trudging uphill, through a lot of snow, for a long time, probably with many life-threatening encounters. That just is not that case. Of course you are going uphill for quite awhile (I wouldn’t say trudging), but in the summer there is no more snow, and what I realized is that it all boils down to just continuously putting one foot in front of the other. You are literally just walking (uphill) but if you keep walking you will get to the top. You can stop as often as you want and go at a comfortable pace and if you just keep at it, you will get there. When I got to the top, I lit up that doobie I was talking about, and I absolutely did take a little nap.
I felt like I had just conquered so many unnamed fears within myself. I felt that if my feet could take me up to the top of a 12,966 foot mountain, shit, what else was I capable of that I had no idea, or that I was currently considering impossible?
Fast forward to today. I am now 26 years old. I have summited Mount Sopris five times and my feet have taken me to the top of five 14er’s, in addition to many other hikes and adventures. (Colorado has 54 mountains over 14,000 feet, many of which are hikeable). I plan to double that count this summer and make it 10. I have kicked the drinking problem, quit smoking cigarettes, found a man and a job that I love, and continued to pursue my passion for travel and for discovering the differences that make the world so colorful and diverse. I have discovered the conscious and subconscious power in writing down my goals and my dreams and the indescribable feeling that comes with accomplishing them, and realizing that as I cross things off of my list of Things To Do Before I Die, I have to come up with more!
You can do way more than you think you can, I promise. Oftentimes we overthink scenarios and create unrealistic circumstances in our minds that turn out to be much easier or shorter or less scary than we thought. If there’s something that you want to do before you die, at least give it a shot. You never know what will come of it. It doesn’t have to be a mountain; just by focusing on a goal that you consider impossible might remind you that the word impossible is actually i’m possible..