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How to Keep Going when You Can’t See the Finish Line

What Hiking 2 14,000ft. Mountains Taught Me about Resilience

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When I moved to Colorado in 2015, I started hearing the word “14ers” buzzing around before I could even finish unloading my stuff into a tiny, overpriced apartment on Colfax. Turns out, they’re a big deal.

Colorado is home to 54 mountain peaks with summits over 14,000 feet, including some pretty famous ones like Pikes Peak. So, of course, my naive 24 year old self thought, “I need to climb one!” In fact, I decided to climb two in one day just a couple months after arriving.

My friends and I packed everything up the night before, got up at 2am and arrived at the trailhead around 4am. Most of these trails take several hours, and it’s important to get up to the top and down again below the tree line before afternoon thunderstorms roll in. So…. 4am it was.

For the first couple hours, my excitement kept me going. And then… the reality that I had to walk up to the top of this started to set in.

Gray’s Peak at sunrise

Um… what? Starting to regret a lot of life choices at this point. You see, there are a lot of really fit and active people in Colorado. There were actually people who RAN up this mountain with nothing but some water and shorts. I am not one of those people. And I was quite sure this was going to kill me.

There are times when we find ourselves in stressful situations with no obvious finish line: chronic diagnoses, global pandemics, ambiguous loss, financial difficulties, ongoing discrimination. And just about the only way to keep going is to find and grow our resilience.

All of these things are so much more important than climbing a mountain, but the mountain definitely helped me think about resilience in a new way.

Resilience Tip #1: Take What You Need

I had friends with me who were very experienced climbers, and told me what I would need: the right boots, protein-heavy snacks, plenty of water, extra layers, toilet paper (there’s none on the mountain!), and head lamps. The climb was really freaking hard, but it would have been much harder if I had, say, no water.

Take what you need when it comes to self care and healing: extra rest, reduced hours at work, therapy, good nutrition, lots of water, moving your body daily. Take what you need and don’t apologize for it.

Resilience Tip #2: Be Like the Turtle, Not the Hare

Ok so to be totally fair, some wild people on that fateful hike were totally like the hare and did just fine. Don’t ask me how because I have no idea. But assuming you’re more like me and not a professional mountaineer, going slowly helps a lot.

Going slowly helps us through stressful situations, too. It’s okay to preserve your energy. It’s okay to slow down your normal routine. It’s okay to just do less. Doing less of the fluffy extra stuff is what will allow you to do more of the important stuff.

Resilience Tip #3: Enjoy Each Victory

So, remember when I said I planned to climb two 14ers in one day? Yeah, so first we got to the top of Gray’s Peak. Woo hoo! Amazing! So gorgeous! I mean, truly breathtaking. It was easily one the hardest physical feat I had ever achieved.

The view from the summit of Grey’s Peak

Beautiful, right? Worth it, right? Time to go home now?

Yeah…. no. We had to climb down this part called a saddle and climb back UP to the next summit- Torrey’s Peak. See those little white lines in the picture below? That’s the trail. Again… regretting a lot of life choices. I thought we were done? Wasn’t this the finish line? Can’t I go home now? I mean, yes technically I knew we were doing both. But my legs and my lungs were screaming, “please no! We want to live!”

The summit of Gray’s Peak from the Grays’/Torrey’s saddle

The biggest thing that helped: sitting at the top of that first summit and celebrating it. We knew we had a ways to go, but we stopped to enjoy the moment and notice the achievement. Most people in the world have not climbed a 14,000ft peak. And there I was, doing a really hard thing.

Even if your path has more difficulties ahead, even if you’re not truly at the finish line yet, enjoy the victories when they come. You deserve that.

Resilience Tip #4: Let Your Emotions Out Along the Way

I did it. I summited the second peak: Torrey’s Peak. The view was equally incredible, and I felt the achievement even more. Now it’s all downhill. And that’s when I realized that while my lungs did much better on the way down, my knees were screaming. WHAT NEW HORRORS HAVE WE HERE?!

It truly felt never ending. And I just had to let some emotions out. I had to cry a little. I had to make totally morbid and inappropriate jokes about dying. I had to accept my fear that I wouldn’t get down before the storms and would certainly be struck by lightning. All of this is what actually helped me keep going.

If you’re going through long, ambiguous periods of stress with no finish line, you have to give yourself emotional releases! Write down your thoughts and then light the paper on fire. Scream into a pillow, or scream in your (parked!) car. Let yourself have the cry you know you need. Laugh at memes until 3am. Do whatever you need to do.

The End of My Journey

Out of all the views that day, this one (the last leg of the trail back down) was the best.

The end of the road for me that day in 2015.

You will reach the end too. Things will get better. The finish line will reveal itself. Take what you need, be like the turtle, enjoy each victory, let your emotions out, and keep putting one foot in front of the other.

And by the way, I did another 14er the next summer.

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