One Small Step at a Time

Step 1: Create a list of 42 mountains in Vermont that I want to climb.

Step 2: Research details about each of the mountains, including the length of the hike, driving distance from my house, and elevation change.

Step 3: Start hiking!

I spent a great deal of time with my hiking books including one of my favorites, Day Hiker’s Guide to Vermont: Trips Beyond the Long Trail while I created my list of potential mountains to climb. I wanted to start with something that was not too long, not too high, and did not have a dramatic amount of elevation change – primarily because I know myself and knew I was going to struggle.

Big Deer Mountain, Groton State Forest

Big Deer Mountain, Groton State Forest

I made the right choice to start with this hike.

I parked at one of the campgrounds in Groton State Forest and started my hike around 4 in the afternoon, the strength of the sun waning and the heat easing down to somewhere in the seventies. A little over a mile of relatively flat hiking and I was humming right along. Noticing the proliferation of red maples and groves of beach trees. Noticing the lush ferns brushing my knees and thinking I’m just a few weeks too late for fiddleheads. Noticing the gentle breezes keeping my hike reasonably bug-free. Feeling very proud of myself for cruising right along.

I soon hit a junction point where I could turn right and follow a fairly flat path I’ve hiked before with Jamie, or veer left to climb Big Deer Mountain.

About twelve steps up the incline and my lungs remembered they don’t appreciate climbing mountains, promptly attempting to smother me into submission. Rather than serving as a glistening demonstration of my exertion, sweat began pouring off my face and body, dripping down my back to pool in the waistband of my shorts. My feet suddenly imitated 50 pound free weights with every step seeming to take more effort than the last. I noticed the sharp increase in bugs swarming around my head. I noticed the occasional breeze dropping off and my face flaming tomato-red. I stopped noticing the trees and instead noticed any rock outcrop that could potentially serve as a temporary chair.

I had to stop every few steps to catch my breath before continuing to drag my panting self up the mountain. Every time I stopped, I felt the pull of the decline – the pull of giving up and heading back.

And every time, I kept trudging my way up the mountain.

After a half mile of climbing, I reached a point where the trail shifted to a gradual decline and flat section for the last tenth of a mile to the overlook. I noticed the blue sky peeking through trees on three sides and realized I was almost finished. I started noticing the breeze again. I stopped feeling so bothered by the bugs. I actually did a bit of a “hell yeah!” as I emerged from the trees to the view over what I think is Groton Pond.

view from big deer

I only spent about five minutes on the overlook to grab a few pictures, some water and a little journaling before the bugs kicked me back onto the trail. On my trek back across the ridge, I noticed several yellow butterflies lingering on the ferns, fluttering lazily across the trail, and at times seeming to hesitate in midair. I thought about snapping a few pictures with my phone but decided I didn’t need to capture them on film – I could catch them with my mind and with my words and it didn’t matter that I didn’t have photo proof to share with others.

The point of my hike, after all, isn’t to prove to other people what I’ve done and how I’ve done it – it’s to prove to myself that I can do it. Sharing the experience with my words is part of how I assimilate new experiences and how I figure out how I feel and what I’ve learned.

What have I learned about myself from this hike? I can fight through difficult moments and I can do anything, primarily by taking things one small step at a time. I actually can do this all by myself. It’s great to have people with me and I’m excited to take some friends on future hikes, but I don’t need to adjust my plans if they’re not available or interested.

Case in point – I invited one of my friends to go for a walk with me after work. I was willing to be flexible with my timing but if she wasn’t interested or available I was still going. This is a huge shift for me. Previously if I received a “no,” I likely wouldn’t have gone at all. Now? Whatever her response, I knew I was still going.

Watch out world –  I got this.

me big deer

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