Last Saturday, I woke up early and made my way to Old Rag Mountain in Shenandoah National Park. The hike is 9 miles long, and rated as 'difficult.' You have to scramble over boulders, jump crevices, and take your pack off and squeeze between incredibly tight places. There were some serious height challenges that either required pulling yourself up, or lowering yourself down. The views were incredible on the way up, but in order to not trip over roots and rocks, you had to stop to see them.
Now is when I admit that I was totally unprepared. Living in Fredericksburg, and having many friends who are everyday athletes, I have heard lots of people talk about Old Rag as though it were a fun Sunday stroll.
"Have you hiked Old Rag?"
"Of course! I took my four year old. It was super fun!"
I had water, great new hiking shoes (thanks to my super knowledgeable friend, Julia at River Rock Outfitter), good quality snacks, and excitement. My caveman and I had the best guide, Meegana, also of River Rock Outfitters. She expertly set the pace, made sure we had the confidence to get over and through the toughest obstacles, and led with a sparkle in her eye that made me want to explore each and every rock.
It was tough. I mean really, really challenging.
There was something about knowing that we would reach the top and be rewarded by the view that kept me moving. I was focused on my goal, not the difficulty of the climb. I took one step at a time, knowing that I would get there. I practiced mindfulness and stayed present. The degree of difficulty of the Old Rag hike demanded it. In order to reach the top, I needed to focus on what I was doing, not follow the 'what if's' that danced at the corners of my attention. I had to leave doubt behind and climb.
It took us over 5 hours to get to the summit.
And then we reached the top.
It was magical. Being able to stand at the top of such an incredible mountain, that I climbed, felt powerful.
For about 30 minutes.
And then, I began to think more about the journey than the summit. I went over the most challenging moments in my mind, and marveled at my ability to keep my balance, to pull myself through tight places, to endure. Reaching the top wasn't nearly as satisfying as the journey.
And so it is with life.
As an athlete most of my life, I have learned about the empty place that follows a race or a competition. As a rule, you should always have the next event planned. I didn't realize that Old Rag would leave a similar gap. Many, many times, since the hike, I have thought with a great feeling of satisfaction about the most challenging parts of the hike. I have only thought of the summit once.
When we leave doubt behind and mindfully move forward in our lives, we build the emotional, spiritual and physical muscles to overcome the challenges, the obstacles, the toughest moments. Once we achieve our goal, it's never the goal that we focus on but the challenges. Our strength, our wins, our power to keep our head up and keep moving, those are the things of legends.
I'm ready to hike another mountain. I'm ready to leave doubt behind and climb.
I often use the early morning to organize my thoughts into paragraphs. And sometimes into recipes.