There are some defining moments in your life you can pinpoint to the exact time of clarity and reason they happened. I had one of those epiphinal moments this week.
As a child my family would frequent the White Mountains of New Hampshire for our summer vacations. One key and recurring memory of those trips was visiting Franconia Falls. We would take the long, beautiful walk along the Wilderness Trail following the Pemigewassett River to our destination. Franconia falls was about 3 miles in. About a 6 mile walk total, with the return trip included. As kids, we could have sworn it was 20, but you know how that works. At the end of the flat train trestle that was the Wilderness Trail (It’s now called Lincoln Woods, and think rail trail without the asphalt), we would take a sharp left to reach the falls, just around the corner.
If you were to continue straight ahead, across a wooden bridge, that’s where the real wilderness lay. As a child, I could only picture the trail leading to the end of the earth, the certainty of getting lost, and a place only the super daring, ultra-experienced, and super-confident tackled. People simply didn’t go out there. I knew I sure as hell wasn’t. The only thing harder or more impossible than going beyond the falls trail to that unknown wilderness would be hiking the 48, 4,000 footers. Those would certainly take a lifetime to do…
Fast forward about 35 years... and hundreds of hikes later. I finally decided to just do the 48 – 4,000 foot peaks. I never really wanted to “officially” do them all, but the timing just seemed right in my life. Sure, I had hiked most of them, but never kept track, and as some of you will attest too, I couldn’t even remember if there were peaks I had actually done. I also decided to do them in a little under 3 years and hike them all before I turned 50 years old.
With some occasional foot dragging, procrastination, and overall dilly-dallying, I just about have them done. The last few months, I’ve hiked like a man running out of time on his goal (and I was, my Birthday is December 19th, and will be 50 this year). I think at last count I’ve done 18 in the last 3 months. Most were tedious, rushed, and exhausting. No matter how much you hike, the sometimes 8 total hours of driving, and 12 mile slogs just catch up with you. The mountains were burning me out, and that was one of my fears in taking a goal like this on. The mountains have always been a place of rejuvenation to me, not of misery.
The good news about a goal like this is how much these hikes have taught me. My confidence level has skyrocketed on the trails. I’ve found many of the difficult, and formerly impossible (in my mind) trails were, well, no big deal. I’m not saying that to sound arrogant, but many, if not all of these trails were totally do-able. Not always done quickly or perfectly, but all pretty easy, in the grand scheme of things.
I now officially have 3 trips left to complete them.
Last week, I decided to tackle Owl’s Head. The 18 mile hike that follows an unmarked slide up to a peak with no views. As with a lot of these hikes, I got up at an ungodly hour to drive the 2 ½ hours to walk 18 miles until my legs ached, then drive the 2 ½ hours back home again. The Goal… Almost done… Must finish…
In order to get to Owl’s Head, you need to head out on Lincoln woods (formerly the Wilderness trail), and when you get to the end, where I used to turn left to the falls, you need to cross that bridge.
This is where the epiphinal moment kicks in… Instead of dismay, horror, and fear over crossing “that bridge”, my exact thoughts were, well, “meh.” No big deal.
And with that… I decided to take a left instead and head to Franconia falls, where I had so many fond memories as a kid. I laid on the rocks for hours in the warm sun, and just listened to the rush of the river. It was at that moment, where I decided to take that left, when I realized that life is not a destination to keep running to, but a journey to be enjoyed at every moment. This is actually pretty obvious advice, and something I always said I believed in, but now it hit me. In my bones hit me. Why am I rushing through this? Why am I rushing through life in general? SLOW DOWN.
I’ll be finishing my 47th peak shortly, and would have had plenty of time for my 48th by the time I had turned 50. I think having that knowledge is as good as completing them. Then again, who cares, because it’s my goal and my race anyways.
With that said, I’m leaving Owl’s Head, as my 48th, for whenever I want. No more turning friends away for hikes I wouldn’t do because I had another peak to do, or I had already bagged that one. No more killing myself to get these done, and no more slogs to places I don’t want to go.
I am so grateful to the friends who have joined me on this journey, and so grateful for the lessons that this goal has taught me (a book is in the works).
In many ways, I feel like I just had a wonderful meal at a gourmet restaurant, and I’m just saving the last bite on my plate. I’m delaying my gratification and saving having desert, if you will, for just a little longer. I’m just extending the journey for as many moments as possible. One day I’ll finish. Or not. It doesn’t matter.
Let me be your tour guide to life. I'm the author of "Learning to be Human Again", and just like you, I'm still happily trying to figure this wonderful life out.