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I have this reoccurring thought in my head presently…. How did I get here? Of course, the here that I am talking about is: 88 summits, 64 individual peaks, 21 deep in the winter of the white mountains, and 586.5 miles hiked and climbing? That’s right, I’m not done yet. I still have to finish the New England 67, my grid, and maybe even redline the entire region. The mountains are my playground and I would not have it any other way. But, how did I get here?
I got really sick one early spring in 2010. I was tested for all kinds of cancer that really gave me some perspective to my life and scared the crap out of me. I had abused myself for the longest time and this was my wake up call. I was finally diagnosed with Hashimoto’s Disease after countless doctor’s appointments and tests and a lot of tears. It’s a thyroid disease… No cure… It gets worse before it gets better… And I get to be on medication for the rest of my life. Oh, and let’s not forget that I got it really early. I should not have had these issues until I turned 60. Yay me for being an over achiever! I had been mildly active at that point in my life and after losing a lot of weight and getting really weak and depressed, I told myself that this would never happen again. I lifted up my head and put one foot in front of the other.
I started walking again just after my summer on the couch. The rail trail was suitable to start and every day I could, I dragged my tired and achy ass up and down that trail. Joints stiff and swollen, leg muscles weak, and coordination way off, all permanently damaged, I had to learn to live like this. I stopped complaining and started going further and further each day. The majority of my sickness and recovery had been on my own. People floated in and out of my life, maybe realizing that I needed to do this on my own. Maybe because I was still painfully shy and could not ask for help thinking I was not worth it. Maybe because I pushed them away adn still wished they would come around… I managed to bring myself to some form of sanity and health and re-entered the dating scene. What does all this have to do with mountains? Well, I’ll tell you… I had a desire to hike, camp, fish, hunt, surf, and be outside. The most important of that list was hiking. I would meet guys that would either say they were hikers and later prove that they were not. Or they just could not live up to the intensity that I wanted this. Again, they quickly moved in and out of my life and I got used to doing my own thing. I was my own best friend and really getting to know who I was and what I wanted. I wanted a hiker.
Men would promise to take me camping, hiking, fishing, surfing, and mountain climbing. I would joke that I couldn’t do the mountains because what if I fall off? I was also afraid of heights. All the while I was also managing my disease which drove a lot of people away to begin with. Managing it through diet and exercise makes me complicated to some. Being gluten free is critical and if a guy doesn’t get it, I can get sick all over again. This would also prove complicated on the trails and in the woods. No one wants to deal with it ( I still don’t want to deal with it sometimes). I was getting depressed all over again. After one particular relationship went south, I became angry for lack of a better feeling. And I suddenly went into the woods on my own. I suddenly didn’t care that another person had let me down… I tired of waiting and I was going places. So, my work out moved to state parks. I got a small pack and filled it with everything that I thought I needed but really didn’t, and began telling stories with my camera. I was… Home.
Shortly after the state parks, came little local mountains. There was a stint in therapy to get my head right. And there was a sky diver that finally said it… You need to go into the White Mountains. And another promise that he would go with me. Well, I climbed Chocorua without him and watched Hurricane Irene blow in. It was breath taking! And I did this all on my own. I was getting stronger. I loved the person I was becoming. I felt whole sitting on the summits. My playground had been found. My health was finally good and I was in a good place. I had a new world to explore.
While working, I was able to see a presentation by two women that had climbed the 48 4000 footers in New Hampshire. I had no idea that there was such a challenge. I was moved because each of these ladies had overcome some personal issues. I was turning 40 in 2012 and had recently come back from a difficult time. That was what I was going to do. All 48 before I turned 40. I brought it to my therapist and she loved the idea. In September of 2011, I set foot on the trails and climbed Moosilauke, a modest 4000 footer and I loved it. The summit however, was locked in the clouds so, I had no view but what I had was magical. I talked to a few hikers that were up there and a Thru Hiker that had a cat. I had found a way to make a connection that was missing in my life.
I moved through the late summer and fall seasons working and climbing mountains on the weekends. Soon I began planning my weekends the minute I was down from the most recent summit, carrying maps with me everywhere to look at, and constantly shopping at EMS. My pack improved and had all the required equipment. My clothing was selected for all the right protective factors; warmth, wicking, and lightweight. I had evolved into something completely different from where I started. Once upon a time I was only interested in the next club or the next party. I lead a shallow existance. Now I was going to bed early on weekends and getting up even earlier… Who was going to tolerate getting up at 3am with me? Go on dates that involved me not showering to meet up with him and even better not showering for days to carry a 30 lbs pack up a big pile of rocks to camp? HE’s either have to go with me or he’d have to be seriously independent and secure with the fact that a lot of my time was spent in the woods or driving to the woods. Yes, it would have to be a very special person or a person that could support me and roll over and go back to bed easily. Oh, I still like to have fun and do other things in a life below 4000 ft. It’s just that “the mountains are calling and I must go”.
Lots of changes throughout that year… People moving in and out and always ups and downs. No one seemed to stick around long enough to allow roots to grow. The mountains were always there. I hiked through the winter and found that season more beautiful and a lot better to hike in. It brought a whole new set of gear to my collection. I was determined now to do all the 48 in winter. Maybe even one winter (so few have done that list!). And suddenly, I was moving on to the New England 67… There were mountains in Vermont and Maine that were calling me. I struggled to finish the original 48 on time. For a while, it looked as though I was not going to make my goal. Life would continue to get in my way because I let it and once I stopped letting it, in August of 2012 on the 11th, I climbed with a group of friends to the top of Carrigain to camp and celebrate. My goal was attained a full month ahead of my 40th birthday.
I have not looked back… I’ve looked up… Still going and enjoying the journey. Each mountain holds a special meaning as I move through the trails. Noticing the surroundings and the changes in season brings tears to my eyes sometimes. It’s an intensely personal and shared experience all at the same time. All my senses are firing as I move to the summit. Sometimes I’m overwhelmed and sometimes I am struck speechless but always I am aware of the world around me. The mountains have brought me to a lot of special people and a dog to hike with as well (you can bet that she’ll get her 48 too!). The hiking community is warm and supportive of one another and I finally feel I can be myself. How did I get here? On my own two feet… One foot in front of the other… I pick them up and put them down.