Sunday, June 5, 2011

Thoughts Along The Way

The other day I was asked, "My gosh, look at you, why do you do this to yourself!?"

This was a question that was asked of me by a friend who was looking at the collection of cuts, scrapes, and bruises that I had acquired after a weeks vacation that involved three trips to the high peaks and six more notches on my aspiring 46er belt.

A bruise on my left upper arm, on the bicep specifically, resembles a sucker punch. Actually, it kind of was a sucker punch, from the stump of a dead branch on a dead tree. The dead tree actually caught my fall and potential face plant going down Redfield, so I guess I can't be angry with it. This was rebruised a week later in the Santanonis by a very much alive branch that snapped back and whacked me. That was just one bruise, aside from the dozens bruises serving as temporary tattoos on what I call my "summer legs." I haven't gotten my bike out yet, but my summer legs tend to include hiking bruises, as well as bike chain grease that never seems to wash off completely. Other battle wounds include foot blisters and now two swollen Achilles, not to mention my body's struggle with dystonia.

My answer then was that I do it for the views, the goal, and the adventures along the way. Though up to that point of the spring season, I had hiked peaks without the best views, except Haystack, and views obstructed by thunder clouds. After having three more peaks to reflect on the question, I guess my response would be to answer the question with a question. It's not "Why do I do this to myself," but "Why don't you do this for yourself?" And maybe, "Because I can."

You always encounter adventures when hiking, whether they are wildflowers and wildlife, views, narrow herd paths, large cliffs to scale, or abusive trees. It is all one photographic, muddy, bug infested, and spiritual journey. You learn a lot about life, nature, and yourself along the way. You grow stronger, both physically and mentally. If you told me two years ago that I would be scaling cliffs, walking across rivers, rock climbing without the technical gear, sidestepping across an icy ledge with nothing to catch you accept a snow-covered void, and completing an entire range in a thunderstorm I might have decided to take up a different hobby, but I certainly wouldn't have believed you.

While hiking Gray, Skylight, and Marcy, I got in a discussion with a fellow hiker in the group about the journey of being a 46er. It starts off as just climbing a couple high peaks. Then you decide to go for all of them, but you'll take your time, you have your whole life ahead of you. Then it becomes an obsession, perhaps addiction. As you get closer to the end, you don't want to do anything else. You don't want to hike anywhere else. There are so many other mountains that you want to climb and enjoy, but you don't. You want to save your body and strength for finishing. What if you get hurt hiking somewhere else and can't finish because of it? What if you take your time and something tragic happens when you are so close? We agreed that we all told ourselves that we'd take our time, finish when we finish. Perhaps we all started off that way. But something strange happens to many people when they have more high peaks completed than they have left. They develop goal date, season, or age, as well as a goal finishing mountain. And it's not a long term goal. Many of the people that I have hiked with that still have about 10 left want to finish by a certain point this summer, for various reasons. So they can have said they did them before the age 50, or because they started in a certain month and want to finish in that month. So someone special to them can be at the top. I still have 15 left, including the dreaded Sewards and Allen, all of which are difficult and tailless, and I need someone more experienced to lead me in. Working weekends and having a wedding to participate in, I'm sure that I can't finish this summer. Look at me, I'm already worried about it and it isn't even summer yet!

My goal is to finish next summer, on Whiteface, so that my husband can drive my mom up. I'd like to make a weekend out of it, stay in Lake Placid, go to our favorite brew pub. Lake Placid is great in the summer, and the road up it isn't open year round. The thought of not being done until a year from now drives me nuts. I have 8 or 9 trips left assuming it takes two trips to complete the Sewards, and only 7 weekends that I can go between now and the end of September. Three of those trips I definitely need to be led in with someone experience. We talked about how silly it is to be stressed out by this, but many of us seem to have this in common! At what point does it change from being a fun passion to being a stressful chore? I guess I need to keep telling myself to step back and enjoy the journey, the high peaks will still be there next year...


Splendid Little Stars said...

Wow, Jackie! I do understand, but not from doing this myself, only vicariously. I've read books such as Into Thin Air. This winter while on vacation, my husband and I met an 80 year old woman who's written a book--Getting High: Confessions of a Peak Bagging Junkie. I believe she said she's climbed the highest places in all US states. Now she belongs to the 100 club, having visited over 200 countries. She was on a 3 week trip, traveling alone, adding a few more country notches to her belt. When we met her, she had just climbed the island of Saba, almost to the top. here it is.

A Keeper's Jackpot said...

Into Thin Air was an excellent book!

Getting High: Confessions of a Peak Bagging Junkie sounds awesome, you are so lucky to meet such a cool woman :) And 80 years old?! That is remarkable!

Memories for Life said...

I an hear your love of hiking in your words :) Good luck with your 46!

Anonymous said...

Your description of how the initial pastime of hiking the 46 high peaks morphs into an obsession/addiction is hilarious, and so true! My wife and I are both 46ers, and it happened to each of us. My wife's last 15 hikes were done in a 6-week period in 2007 as soon as the snow melted.