Why Do I Do This?

I was lucky enough to be invited to see the movie ‘Everest’ a week ago. It was very well done and made me exhilerated for winter hiking. There was a scene where the crew was asked why they seek summits. The answer the most people related to was regarding the mountains being the only place where they felt truly happy and alive. While I appreciate that so many people can relate to this because it represents that they have found a passion and love within nature it did not resonate with me. So, I began asking myself ‘why do I do this?’.

People often speculate that I’m an ‘adrenaline junkie’ who searches for a ‘rush’ to feel alive. I often am told that if I slowed down while hiking or trail running then I would see more. After several years as a psychotherapist and learning that we view the world through our individual perspective I can completely respect this point of view. However, after research on sports psychology the opposite has been proven and many ‘adrenaline junkies’ are not releasing any more adrenaline than the average athlete. What happens is that as we become better conditioned what we view as ‘crazy’ or ‘a rush’ is actually just another moment experiencing something we enjoy. Below is a picture from a recent trail run where I stopped with Cole to gaze at the setting sun. Yup, we took it all in and then returned to a running pace that I was able to sing at (I sing alone on trails and Cole hates my awful voice).

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So, if I don’t head to the mountains for adrenaline then it must be to ‘escape society’. Sure, damn the man and society’s set of norms. I’ll run off to peace, solitude, quiet, isolate, withdraw… slippery slope. Wait, I don’t actually want that! It turns out that I love my life as a whole. I have an incredible job that I look forward to (I truly love what I do and enjoy working with my clients), a supportive family, hilarious friends, and a home I share with Cole that I miss after a week or two. Crap, theory #2 didn’t pan out, either.

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Eureka! I’ve got it! The mountains add quality to my life. While they are not the sole place I find happiness, they’re one of the many aspects of my life that I respect, value, and look forward to. There are many pieces to the puzzle that comprise who I am and being a lover of the mountains is one of them. While I miss the summits when I cannot visit them I also have other activities that bring me joy when I’m away or injured (knock on wood, I’ve been healthy for a few years now). Even my hikes are varied from short to long, with friends  or solo, in the daylight and by moonlight. This constant balance has afford me an independent form of love for the mountains. After all, no one likes a codependent lover, haha.

A Quick Story From This Past Weekend:

In 2011, only a year into discovering the mountains, my hiking partner asked me to attempt a Hut to Hut. The Hut to Hut Challenge is where you visit all 8 major huts in the White Mountains under 24 hours. It’s roughly 48 miles with 36,000 feet of elevation change. It’s a beast. Thankfully, in my ignorant state of not realizing what I was attempting I managed to do it in under 24 hours! πŸ™‚

After reviewing Cole’s many achievements the past year I determined that he may be capable of completing a Hut to Hut. With my usual minimal preparation I coordinated a ride and asked a hut caretaker if the huts would be open. His response was “some might be shutting soon, never really know”. So, on September 26, just before sunset, Cole and I hiked into Carter Notch Hut. Below is a photo of the foliage beginning to pop.

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We started our journey seeing the sun disappear behind the Presidential Range as we began our ascent of Mt Madison. Cole had a light on his harness and stayed within eyesight. Slowly the stars emerged and the brightness of the full moon appeared. After signing the register at the Madison Spring Hut we continued across the Presidentials and saw 2 groups of hikers doing a moonlit traverse. It was great to see other people out enjoying the crisp, cool Autumn air and the clear skies. While the photo does not do the night justice we were able to see the Mt Washington Observatory lit up under the moon with a highland silhouette as its foundation.

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When we arrived at Lakes of the Clouds Hut just below Mt Washington it was boarded up. Gosh darn it, I couldn’t sign that register! We continued on and at this point Cole was becoming disinterested in drinking water and staying closer to my side. While Cole shows as much emotion as Bill Belichick, the apathetic coach of the New England Patriots, I was beginning to suspect that he was losing momentum. We continued to Mizpah Spring Hut, signed the register, and began our descent to the Highland Center where a change of clothes, more food, and my awesome supportive surfer, Dan, was waiting. Emerging a little after 4:00 a.m. I changed while Cole jumped in the truck. By the time I finished changing Cole was curled up and asleep. I began weighing my options to push on into the Pemigewasset Wilderness for 25 miles where bailing out would have been difficult or ending our event there. Looking at Cole’s angelic face I decided that 33 miles under a full moon was one hell of an adventure! We slept in the car until sunrise where I deemed him my Prince Charming.

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One of my favorite quotes is by Sir Edmund Hillary, “I will come again & conquer you because as a mountain you can’t grow, but as a human, I can.” My ad-lib is “… as a dog, I don’t have to”. We had an incredible night together and the pleasure of enjoying a daytime kayak and sunset trail run. He’s my sidekick and constant reminder that every journey is well worth it.

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6 thoughts on “Why Do I Do This?

  • This truly encompasses the old saying “It’s the journey, not the destination!”. Spending time on the trail and in the woods the way that’s most enjoyable and rewarding for “you” is what it’s all about. Peak bagging, photography, clearing ones mind…who’s anyone to judge and tell you how to better enjoy yourself.

    The hut-to-hut completely fascinates me and congrats on doing it a few years back. Pausing your journey at the Highland Center this time sounds like it was the best decision. At the end of the day, Cole’s journey with you was just as fulfilling when he hit the Highland Center as it would have been going all the way to Lonesome Lake.

    Nice post!
    Karl

    • I appreciate your comment, Karl! You’re completely correct that the journey is what truly matters. I wouldn’t change the experience in any way. I also love that you honed in on the piece regarding each person having their own individual reason for enjoying the mountains. I’m excited to view your blog, as well. Happy hiking and journeying! πŸ™‚

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