The forest blazed with green. Seriously it looked like some scene from Once Upon A Time. Remember the pilot episode, the shot where the camera zooms over an immense green forest? It was something that only dreams can conjure, a fairy tale. It was magical. Yet, the hike itself was ugly. Yes it was a mountain, so steep inclines were expected, but this was a terrible mountain, an evil spirited mountain. It teased you, played with your emotions. Just when you thought the worse of it was behind you, the land jutted up, stealing your breath, demanding your sweat and tears. It was not the way I envisioned my birthday weekend. To start a fourteen mile hike (each way seven miles) that was known to have athletic men turn away during the first hour. It was advertised as a hard hike. “A hike for only fit people. Very challenging.” Words that in the past would have me turn grey with fear. I would have talked myself out it, if it was a trip sponsored in Maine. I would have convinced myself that I would slow other people down, that I would not know anybody. I was not always great at making good first impressions. I am awkward.
My insecurities dictated my life, and honestly, it was never a problem. Being a slow paddler kept me from finishing my advanced sea kayaking course, being a slow and unstable skier prevented me from finishing a hut to hut hike in Maine. While I enjoyed nature, I did not see myself at being particularly skilled at any one outdoor activity. I know everything gets better with time, but I never liked to be a burden, and it prevented me from challenging myself or following through. I was developing bad habits. If I was not praised for my excellence then I would quit, fearing rejection and disapproval. It’s funny since I have spent the majority of my trip investigating local communities connection with outdoor leisure, and the last leg of my trip shadowing eco-tourism groups to see how the reach out to locals in their tours. Still I was very insecure. I always said I will try everything once, but I never had the courage to try it a second or third time. So when my tour guide kept suggesting that I try a different hike, sorry world I was created with curves, so I don’t look particularly fit ( I guess), to spare me the strenuous trail, I almost consider it. Almost.
I began researching tips on how to walk long distances uphill, how to hike properly. I was sure that I would be at the end of the pack and that I would turn back. On the morning of the hike I was a nervous wreck. I would be joined by a group of locals and we all signed on to hike to Paria Bay, a 7 mile hike up, and 7 mile hike back, you hike back the same way you entered. We started, and in my head I started counting one..two…three..four…one…two..three..four, because one article suggested that you march like you are in the army to maintain a steady cadence. As a result, I was ignoring the natural history speech my guide was sharing, because I read in another article that losing your breath was the worst you could do, so I was constantly focusing on my breathing.
As the inclines began and I entered deeper into a field of green, I was waiting for my mistake, my big mess up. I was in the lead group, but I was so sure it was just because the people in the back were interested in hearing the guide give talks about the wildlife and trees and whatnot. Once that part of the tour was over, I would be so far behind that I would lose the group. The guide would come to me soon and say “Teona, you should turn back,” I was sure of it. I just kept counting and breathing, doing my mountaineers stance when there was a sharp incline, and maintained my place in the front of the pack (the fast pack as my guide joked later.) Gaining confidence in my ability, I kept my head down for my own sake, the one time I looked up to catch my breath and orient myself, I saw that the next incline was five times steeper than the last, and only followed by another steep incline. By that part of the hike I was talking and joking with the other members of the fast pack, getting comfortable and confident, as I spoke with my eyes glued to the ground, only looking up to acknowledge that I was listening.
World, America, Friends, Family whoever is kind enough/foolish enough to still read my ramblings, when I tell you when I saw that steep incline that was followed by another steeper incline, that I promise you was followed by one last super duper steep incline, when I tell you that the one time I allowed myself to look up for more than thirty seconds to orient myself, and saw that beast that lay ahead waiting for me to slay it, the tears started welling up my eyes like I was the rain cloud feeding the trees. I started choking on my loss of breath, and for a good minute, I told myself “OH HELL NO! YOU ARE STUPID THINKING YOU CAN DO THIS. TURN BACK WHILE YOU HAVE YOUR DIGNITY.” For good minute I fought back the tears as the fast pack continued to ascend the beast, and after one tear fell from my eye, I told myself the lie of lies, I said “Teona girl, you can’t turn back, because this is the last leg of the trip, it will be just as hard to go back. This is a baby hill, put your head down and get up this mountain child. You can’t eat that banana bread until you reach.” So my dearest readers, I finished it. I kept hiking up. I kept lying to myself saying it doesn’t hurt, you aren’t tired. And when I came to flat land, and parted through the trees, feeling like the scene from Lion King, when Simba is running through the bush to find Rafiki or whatever, when I tell you that after climbing the worst mountain I have ever faced, even worse than Lion’s Head in South Africa, that I saw the most beautiful place in my life. That I reached a beautiful white rock that extended out to the ocean. Everything was bright blue, white and green. I was honoured to sit on the edge of this cliff and dangle my feet, teasing the fish below like I was bait, and ate my banana bread like it was my last supper, and cried silently to myself. The most beautiful things are always the most difficult things to reach. And I just thought that my hike was the perfect metaphor to life.
You doubt yourself. You keep yourself from living life because you are terrified of failure, disappointment, or rejection. You constantly question your abilities and your capabilities. But then face the belly of the beast, you climb up on top. You get the ocean view of the mountain, and you realize that you are more capable than you give yourself credit for. That while you may not the best, it does not mean you are the worst, it does not mean that you cannot improve. It does not mean you should quit at life. Usually for my birthday I give myself superficial gifts of clothes or trips, but this birthday I gave myself confidence. I pushed myself to my limits, and realized that those were not my limits at all, and for that I am eternally grateful.
As I enter the last month and half of my journey, I realized that through all the struggles I have learned to love, to trust, to jump, to sink, to swim, and I have finally learned confidence. I have learned to be confident in whatever adventure I choose. That I am more capable than I ever imagined. I hope that you all find ways to prove your own capabilities; it is at times an emotional but beautiful lesson.
Love to you all,