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Photo by Tom Pablo, South America Semester.

My Hiking Realization

My mind was in overdrive, panicking. It warned me to stop. I could still turn back, I probably wouldn’t make it to the top anyway. I was thinking I just wasn’t quite cut out to do this, simply not enough.
This was the state of my mind during our first hike into the Cordillera Real. At about 16,000 feet, your mind and body work twice as hard to circulate oxygen through your body, and you get twice as tired half as quickly. At least that is what it felt like for me. From the minute we started the hike, my breaths became increasingly shallow and a lot more frequent. By mid-trek, my legs were ready to give out from underneath me. I wondered if anybody else felt the same exhaustion that was creeping over me. As Eduardo led us further along the path, I caught a view of the path that lay in front of us. My eyes followed the rocky path that zigzagged all the way up the mountain, noting that the steep ascent only stopped at the top of the ridge. Almost instantly my heart plummeted into my stomach. I thought to myself, how am I ever going to get from here to there?
I felt like I was losing momentum. We started the long and hard climb up to the ridge, yet no matter the amount of steps I took forward, I felt like I could never catch up to the group. My mind and body seemed to be in a turmoil, as my mind was telling me to give up, but my body did not want to stop moving forward. I could hear words of encouragement coming from my group mates and instructors up ahead, and from Zack behind me. Step by step, little by little, the ridge was almost within my reach. I could see Anna waiting at the top, while Doug made his way back down the path to help me with my backpack. Just a couple more feet and I would be there. Only one last powerful step and I knew relief would be there at the top. And just as one moment folds into the next, my feet touched level ground, and I was at the top. I was at a loss for words as I found a place to sit down, and I reacted in a startling way, yet it somehow seemed to make perfect sense; I started to cry.
Since that hike I have spent a lot of time thinking about what happened within those hours, and how it has affected me. I’ve started to realize the importance of appreciating who I am as a person in the present, especially after growing up in a culture that idealizes the notion of the future. On that particular hike, I shocked myself by the amount of strength and power my body had, something I always overlooked because I focused more on how I could improve myself for years to come. I was constantly trying to make myself better in the hopes of it impacting my future without stopping to notice who I already was, or what I already had accomplished. I found myself capable of accomplishing something that I thought was out of my reach, because I was used to watching and waiting for the right time to come along. I did have the opportunity to quit the hike and to head back down to base camp and try again the next day. But if we are always wondering what we can do tomorrow, what’s going to be accomplished today?
I also now understand having a great support system makes a world of difference. Although the entire group was working hard to make their way up the steep trek just as I was, they were still able to make time to stop along the way and encourage me to keep going, or lend a helping hand. It was humbling to see I was surrounded by people who supported me even when to say nothing at all would have been the easier and more comfortable option.
During that first hike I realized that I was worth more than to constantly be thinking about how I could improve myself. I used to day dream about who I wanted to be that the person I am today was completely slipping through my fingers. I also deserve to surround myself with people who constantly lift me up, not only when it is convenient for them. I guess the reason I cried at the top of the climb had more to do with the fact that I was frustrated with myself. Why did it have to take thousands of miles from where I grew up and almost 16,000 feet up in the atmosphere to realize what I deserved? Maybe we need to be put outside of our common element to find ourselves and identify our flaws. That hike may have not been the highest we climbed or the most rigorous trek we experienced, but it’s the fact that no matter how hard my mind was telling my body that it couldn’t do something, it did. I did. And for me, that is the best realization I could ask for.