I will never forget the first real hike I ever did. I was probably about 22 years old and 235 pounds. It was with a hiking group of which my mother was a member. I didn't even have the good sense to be nervous. In fact, when I showed up and saw that most of the participants were probably about three times older than myself, any concern I may have had, vanished immediately.
That hike would end up, literally, being the most I had ever pushed my body in my entire life up to that point. Those people three times my age would end up being the same people I would occasionally look up and see waiting in the distance for me. Sometimes with looks of annoyance, other times with looks of sympathy as I huffed and puffed red-faced toward them, the leader of the group often helping hoist my heavy, exhausted body over rocks that I realized years later were not even large rocks. I wrote about my experience in revisiting this trail again years later, in much better shape, in my blog post titled 100 Pounds Gone Forever.
I wouldn't attempt hiking again for almost a decade. And, when I finally did, it could be argued that I wasn't in much better shape at the time than my 22 year old hiking self. I may have weighed a little less but I still carried a lot of extra weight, and was only beginning to dabble in exercise.
This hike was different than the first, however. That trail years before was a 5 mile loop that just traveled up and down through the woods, over rivers and into fields. It was pretty, to be sure, but that day I learned about a little something called "the payoff."
"The Payoff" changed everything for me. I can not fully explain the feeling of that first time I pushed my body past its limits to hike up a mountain only to be absolutely blown away as I reached the top and saw the most amazing view that my sheltered, sedentary self had ever carried herself to in my entire life! That's the payoff my friends!
With all those "feel good" hormones that come from intense exercise poppin', I walked out on the top of that mountain and I changed forever. I became addicted to the feeling. And not just hiking to the top of the mountain but getting that dump of endorphins that is literally similar to morphine. I had tried to "like" exercise for years, and finally, my addictive, excessive personality paid off and I found my newest drug of choice.
After that hike, I started running, lifting and eventually even did some crossfit. Anything to get that dump did it for me. But an intense hike to the top of a mountain, was always my number one choice when I had the time to do it.
I rocked along for a decade this way, getting into better and better shape, crushing new goals, hiking my boots off....then my mother got sick...
Mojo...gone. Desire to move...gone. After just over two years of suffering, in and out of hospice, even a grueling trip all the way across the country in the back of a mini van because she was too weak to fly home, I said my final goodbyes to my precious mother. My first friend. My best friend. Life was flat and dull for a couple years after that and I felt this overwhelming need to be still.
Fortunately/Unfortunately, the fitness studio my mother and I had created still needed me. And, to be honest, I freaking hated walking into that studio in the beginning. I almost closed my doors a hundred times....but it was our dream. It was HER dream and I couldn't let it die with her. So I pushed on and kinda BS-ed my way through for a long while. All along, losing my fitness.
When I finally started to really wake up again, only about 6 months ago really, I found myself in a much different body than when I woke up in my early 30s. Stiff and painful, now in my 40s, things didn't move as easily and I had to ease myself in much more slowly this time around. But I slowly started to build up my strength and endurance again.
Then last month, my husband and I took our annual road trip out west. This year he had the idea to hike Ice Lake in Colorado. Ice Lake sits at 12,320 feet and the hike up is almost 4 miles of switch backs and a bit of a rocky scramble at the top.
I can go ahead and admit it now: as we planned this hike, I was pretty sure I would be dying at some point before we got to the top. You see, this weird thing happens when you turn 40 and then lose your mother, who you thought was so healthy, all in the course of a month's time....you believe that your body is secretly broken and it is only a matter of time before your body fails you.
However, this hike was important to my husband so I quietly did research about how to prevent elevation sickness and read horror stories of other people who talked about how this was the hardest thing they had ever done in their life.
When I started off that morning, I decided that I would just go so unbelievably slow that my secret heart condition (or whatever else was wrong with me) would not be able to kill me on the trail.
And slow I went! So many people passed us that it started to get embarrassing. Then something interesting happened. As we got further into the trail, we started passing a lot of those people back. It was a very "Tortoise and Hare" experience. I just kept turtling my way up.
Then the coolest thing of all happened, we crested the top of a hill and I realized WE WERE THERE! We were at the top and this ended up not even being the hardest thing I'd ever done. My eyes filled with tears as I gazed at the glowing blue water. It was pretty to be sure , but that wasn't what moved me as much as the realization that my body had not failed me. And that much of that foundation I had created in that decade before was still with me.
I will never understand why my mother's body, that she worked so hard to keep healthy, failed her at such a relatively young age. But I no longer feel fear that my body will fail me, at least now....one day all of our bodies will fail us. It is simply the sad fact of life. But that day is not today! And I won't feel guilty that my body works because I realize now that was an underlying issue as I watched my mother's health decline. I will, instead, appreciate my body twice as much so I can live a life amazing enough for the both of us.
I used to push myself for the endorphin dump or to have a firmer this or that...I still do both of those actually. But now it's more than that. I push this body BECAUSE I CAN! And because I am determined to live my best life and to suck every last sweet second out of it that I can...and that's what my mother did!
I am almost 43 years old. I will not live forever. I have stretch marks, scars and skin that will never again rubberband back like I would like. But this body has carried me through every experience of my life. This body was cradled by the most loving mother a child could have ever known. This body has wrapped its arms around the most amazing man I've ever known. This body bore a child that is the wittiest little turd on earth. This body teaches others how to move their bodies. This body dances with glee...a lot! This body carried me to the top of the most beautiful mountain I've ever stood on. And this body is nowhere near done yet!