I want to share a story with you. This story is a story about a path (or lack there of!) that I once took. Stick with it to the end. Along the way I will share 6 lessons that I learned from this epic experience.
You will find value in these lessons along this path.
The year was 1999. I was 26 years old and living a bit on the wild side. I had always been into adventures and as I was getting older the adventures were getting a little bolder. I never really had money so I didn’t go that big but I did do some silly things.
It was May and I was on vacation by myself in Colorado. On a perfectly clear day I drove to the trail-head on Mount Elbert and decided, since it was the highest point in Colorado, that I would climb it. The snow pack was massive and I had no snow shoes or crampons but I had some determination, a bit of heart, and a extra helping of bad decision making.
After a night of sleeping in my car I was on the trail by 7 am. By about 7:15 am I had lost the trail but I continued on. How hard could it be to get to the top? Just go uphill, right?
Lesson #1: Who cares if there is a path or not? If there isn’t a clear path, make your own!
The going got real hard, real quick. The hard pack snow early on had turned to hip deep soaking wet snow. Each step was a workout. The altitude was getting high so the exhaustion was starting to get to me.
The going was ridiculously tough. I labored on for a long time.
Lesson #2: Make decisions and stick to them.
I decided to keep pushing on. Eventually I found harder packed snow and started climbing up he steeper slopes of the mountain.
I no longer had the hip deep snow to contend with but now I was having to climb a VERY steep incline at 12,000+ feel elevation. It was physically very difficult for a guy who just drove from zero elevation in Massachusetts.
Still I pressed on. I could have gone back. I could have taken a different route but I didn’t. I had a goal to get to the top of the mountain and I was going to fight to get there.
Lesson #3: Your willingness to give up or your willingness to press on will define you for better or worse.
There was no time on that hike that I contemplated quitting. Granted, I was on the wrong path, I was ill prepared, I was struggling to say the least but I yet my turn around option wasn’t even there.
I tried to eat and I tried to drink water. I was developing altitude sickness and, to add insult to injury, I realized as soon as I got out of the trees, that I had neglected to bring sunglasses.
All that didn’t matter. I had chosen my path for that day and I wasn’t going to settle for anything less then the top of that mountain.
I hiked on for what seemed like an eternity until I could hike no more. I had reached the top of the mountain. I took a quick picture then headed back down.
Lesson #4: It’s NEVER about the destination. Its ALWAYS about the journey.
As I lay there on the snow, half blind, very nauseous and sunburned (I had neglected sunscreen as well. Hey, I was determined, NOT SMART!) I realized that the “goal” was accomplished but the trip was far from over. The hardest part was yet to come.
I still needed to get down.
Lesson #5: If you focus on getting to the top then you will likely die on the way down.
Think about physical goals for a second. Let’s say you are 40 and you set a goal to do a marathon. You spend a year (1.2% of your life if you live to 80) training. Then you do the race in 5 hours (this is about .0007% of your life). This is less then 1.3% of your entire life. What happens after the race when you still have 50% of you entire life left?
The lesson here is VERY important and I want to summarize it in another way for clarity. It’s not about those 5 pounds or that 5k or that triathlon or that cruise or that class reunion. It’s about the other 98% of your life. Be someone with determination and drive. Fight to get where your going NOT to get there but to keep fighting to the next goal.
I made it down to my car. The last hour was spend (on flat ground, mind you!) hiking for 3-4 minutes then sitting down for 3-4 minutes. It was excruciating. If you have never experienced altitude sickness it can only be described as the worst nausea coupled with the worst headache you can imagine….while having the flu.
I made it to my car and slept for an hour. I had been on the mountain and in the sun for over 8 hours. I wad tired, hungry, dehydrated and a tad sunburned but I still had a 3 hour car ride to get back to my buddy’s house. On the drive I stopped for dinner and I caught a glimpse of myself in the mirror. I was horrified, My face was a shade of red that I had NEVER seen before.
I got back to my friends late and crashed on his couch. In the middle of the night I woke up unable to see as my eyelids were sealed shut from the sunburn. I crawled to the bathroom and got a wet towel to put over my eyes to get them open. The next day I sat in a dark room simply trying to get my eyes to work again.
A couple of days later I made the 29 hour drive back to my home looking like I had leprosy. My face literally peeled off. When I got home to Massachusetts I found out my girlfriend at the time was pregnant. We had a baby, got married and I haven’t done something that stupid since.
I also looked a little closer at a map after my hike. It turns out that I had not actually climbed Mount Elbert. I had actually summitted a smaller adjacent peak that was a few hundred feet shy of the high point in Colorado.
Lesson #6: It’s not about what you do or where you go. It’s about who you become and what you learn alone the way.
That hike was my most epic, and my last, adventure. I become a father and started my career. The lessons from that day have always stuck with me and maybe they can help you. The good news is that you don’t have to have permanent eye damage to learn there lessons!
Remember that the fight and the struggle are about making you better and stronger. Don’t shy away from the challenge. Embrace the challenge. Stick to it and you will grow in some way.
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