On the weekend of December 12, 2020, I had planned to do a 3-day backpacking trip, staying overnight by myself in the woods in winter conditions around the Seward Mountain Range in New York. At first, I was so excited to use a sled for the first time. It’s been my goal for a long time to learn how to drag a sled. I just assumed there would be plenty of snow on the ground in Adirondack High Peaks in mid-December, but then I found out the trails had hardly no snow. So I had to pivot. I decided to still camp, but just not bring as much gear as I had originally planned.
Then I found out there was going to be a chance of rain over the weekend. I don’t mind hiking when it is cold and snowing, but hiking when it is cold and raining makes me nervous. Part of why I wanted to go on this adventure this weekend was to stay mentally and physically prepared for some big climbs I have been planning to do in the future. So I decided to still move forward with my plans, but to pack a little differently in case I got wet. I had to pivot.
When leaving my house on Friday morning I walked out to my car battery being dead. During the 3-hour drive to the trailhead, I was trying to think of ways to deal with the possibility of coming out to a dead car battery on Sunday. I was also kicking myself, knowing that every two years, in December, my battery dies and I have to get a new one. I had friends that would be hiking Seymour Mountain that Saturday and I planned on joining them at some point during the day. To avoid having to pivot, I came up with a plan to give my friend my valet key on his way out on Saturday, so he could jump my car if it needed it.
When I was ready to start hiking, I went to grab my poles from the back of my car and they were not there. I was so confused. I never bothered to check that they were in my car before I left my house because I always leave my poles in my car, as well as most of my hiking gear, because I hike almost every week. Then I realized that I must have left them at the trailhead when I finished hiking Kaaterskill High Peak in the Catskills the weekend before. I couldn’t believe it. I use my poles on every hike and here I was with a big heavy pack, my right knee has been acting up more than usual, and there were slippery conditions. I couldn’t wear my microspikes because the snow was packing and balling up in my spikes. I was worried about slipping and losing my balance with my heavy pack, so I had to pivot. I was able to find the perfect stick (in the picture below) that could serve as a trekking pole. It turned out to be a trusty companion during my adventure and I thanked it multiple times along the journey.
I made it to the Blueberry lean-to around the base of Seward Mountain right before the sun went down, as planned. I was grateful that there was very little wind. It made the cold conditions more tolerable. What helped me tolerate the cold conditions further was my Western Mountaineering Puma Super MF -25°F sleeping bag. This sleeping bag has served me on many of my big international climbs and it served me well again that night.
It was still early when I retreated into my sleeping bag for the night (around 6:00pm), so I started listening to one of my favorite books on Audible that I have listened to many times before, The Alchemist by Paulo Coelho. It turned out to be the perfect book for me to be listening to on this journey. I have thought a lot about what my personal legend is since I first read this book, but I have often doubted whether I was on the right path or not. Then he said something about your personal legend that hit me like I was hearing it for the first time, “It’s what you have always wanted to accomplish. Everyone, when they are young, knows what their personal legend is.”
What I have always said since childhood is that I want to travel around the world and help those in need. I never said that I wanted to climb mountains. I didn’t even start climbing mountains until I was around 30 years old. I currently have three avenues for helping my community. I work for the New York State Education Department, I teach at Hudson Valley Community College, and I have a life coaching practice. I have been traveling for many years, but somehow, in recent years, my reason for traveling has been to summit mountains instead of exploring new cultures, and new ways of thinking and living.
I paused the audiobook and reflected on the many thoughts racing through my head. I thought about the pain in my shoulders, hips, knees, and feet. My joints hurt every day and the pain reaches excruciating levels by the end of most hikes, including this one. I get so angry and frustrated that my body doesn’t want to cooperate with my goals. But then I thought, maybe it has been my body’s way of trying to tell me to pivot and I have refused to listen.
I shifted my attention to the environment around me. I thought about the winter conditions I was in. I thought about how mild of a winter night I was experiencing and how much worse it would be on Denali, Everest, and Vinson (three of the seven summits). I thought about experiencing extremely harsh winter conditions for not just a night, but for up to weeks at a time. I had to admit to myself in that moment, that I don’t want to do it. I don’t actually enjoy it. I had to admit to myself that I want to explore Alaska, but I don’t want to climb Denali. I want to explore Nepal, but I don’t want to climb Everest. I want to explore Antarctica, but I don’t want to climb Vinson.
My thoughts then jumped to all of the money I have spent on gear so I can withstand harsh conditions, thinking how it would all be a waste if I didn’t keep progressing up to longer and harder expeditions. But then I realized how blessed I have been to be able to purchase the gear to find out now that this is not the path I want to be on before I spend tens of thousands of dollars more on climbing more of the world’s biggest mountains.
It seems like I am ruminating over the same thoughts I wrote about two years ago after my summit attempt of Ojos del Salado in Chile, the second highest mountain in both the Western and Southern Hemispheres (read about it here). But I have been struggling with feelings around failing at a goal that I have broadcasted to the world so loudly. Even though my training as a yoga instructor tells me that it is just my ego and I need to stick to my yoga practice to release its hold on me.
I decided in that moment that I would take the longest, hardest expeditions off from my list of goals. I decided that my body was hurting and would hurt worse if I hiked the next day with my friends, and then carried out my heavy pack on Sunday, and that the extra pain was not worth it to me. I decided that I didn’t want to spend another night in the cold and possibly get wet from rain on the last half of my adventure. I decided that my dead car battery, missing trekking poles, hurting joints, and cold conditions that I was not enjoying, were all ways the universe was telling me to pivot and I needed to start to listen. I got a good night’s sleep, took my time packing up in the morning, and felt good about my decision to hike out as I made the trek back to my car with only half of my planned adventure complete.
Like during this weekend, there have been so many points in my life where pivoting was the best choice to make. This weekend was a great opportunity for me to reflect on why I have resisted pivoting on my goal of climbing the biggest mountains in the world. It allowed me the chance to see that it was my fear of failing, my ego getting bruised from what people would think if I retreated on a big goal, and feeling that I wasn’t mentally and physically strong enough to reach my intended goal, that were all keeping my tied to a goal I no longer wanted to reach. It allowed me the time to acknowledge that by resisting pivoting, I was putting time and resources towards targets that were never part of my personal legend. I realized, by pivoting, I will be able to do what I have always wanted to do since I was a child, to travel the world and to help others along my journey.
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