I remember a hill in the Ramapo Mountains of New Jersey that had a reputation for being incredibly tough. I climbed this particular hill many times because our Boy Scout troop cabin was at the top. In the winter months, our monthly overnight camping trips would be there, at the top of that hill, instead of some other more exotic locale, so that the troop leaders could stay warm and comfortable and, at the risk of ridicule from the other boys, any scout that got too cold, could have the relative sanctuary of the warm cabin to warm his toes and coddle his soul.
We called this little hill “Heart Attack Hill”, and we all would struggle to carry our loaded packs up this short climb, stopping every few steps to rest and catch our breath. My fellow scouts and I all thought this hill was extremely challenging and yet, today, as I hike in the Whites, all of the hikers I take out would agree that slope would be very ordinary and the 300 or so feet in elevation that it gained, would be but a bump on a ridgeline.
This weekend as I was hiking, someone in our group was really struggling and I told this person, just concentrate on putting one foot in front of the other. As I told her this, all those memories of climbing that hill in the Ramapo Mountains came back to me. I remembered too, my first forays into the Whites and how utterly daunting these mountains seemed. I pressed on, one foot after another and hiked more, and climbed more, than I ever imagined I would as a kid. For many years, I “endured” it because it was what one had to do.
At some point, never being one to let a situation go unexamined, my critical eye began to question why I was subjecting myself to what often seemed to be grueling punishment. I came to accept that my love for the outdoors went hand in hand with the exertion required in getting there and that the two could not be separated. If I were to enjoy being on the top of a mountain and looking 50 miles on the horizon to see the Atlantic Ocean , or if I wanted to look thorough the haze and see peaks in Canada, I was going to have to climb the mountains to get there. It was not the understanding of this basic concept that changed me, but rather the acceptance of it. With that acceptance, a transformation began and there came a point when I no longer dreaded the climb up the next peak or the scramble across the talus field that was right around the bend. I hike; it is what I do, and sometimes it is hard, but I do not let the difficulty tarnish the experience any more.
Acceptance can buy us a lot in life but it wasn’t until I had made this transition that I even realized what had happened. My pack is just as heavy as it was twenty years ago, and my feet get just as hot and sore. I am pretty sure, my joints don’t work as well as they did back then and I doubt I have the strength I had at 30, but now, because of this change of mindset, this transformation of my attitude towards what I am doing, there are days I know I can hike three times what I could twenty years ago, and I have come to writing blogs that refer to “Heart Attack Hill” as just a little bump in New Jersey.
Here, hiking has taught me a lesson that I have applied to other areas of my life and you can make whatever analogies you like, but acceptance in this instance allows me to spend my hiking time appreciating the mosses on the side of the trail and the earthy smell of the woods instead of thinking about taking one step after another.