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Wednesday
Sep192012

Rooms 61-100: Climb A Mountain

Rooms 61-100: Climb A Mountain
Start Doing the Impossible

“The mountains are calling and I must go.”
John Muir 

On August 24, 2012, I climbed Mt. Whitney in Lone Pine, California, which, at 14,505 feet, is the highest summit in the contiguous United States. It took me 15 hours and 20 minutes. 

To be honest, I don’t know why I wanted to do it. 

While I’m a late-in-life runner who has muddled his way through two marathons, hiking was an entirely different beast. I’m not really an outdoor type. I like nature and all, but mostly from a rocking chair on a cabin porch. I’m the guy who loves a good survival story, but can’t stand it when pebbles get in his shoes. I also hate mosquitoes, snakes and dirt under the finger nails, not to mention long, twisting mountains that go on forever.   

So why did I do it? 

Well, my brother had done the climb a few years back and there was something about the photos he brought back and the stories he told that inspired me. 

What started as an itch slowly turned into an obsession. 

Before I knew it, “the mountain was calling,” urging me to challenge myself with something big, bold and different…to try something I didn’t know I could finish.  

Six months later and there I was: 4:00 in the morning, with a headlamp on, walking up the mountain in the pitch dark. I’ll spare you all the dignity-stripping, knee-wrenching, head-spinning, lung-pounding details, but let’s just say I made it to the top. 

That being said, make no mistake about it, it was one of the hardest things I’ve ever done in my life. 

It wasn’t the altitude sickness that got me, or the dreaded 99 switch backs, or even the physical pounding on the body. It was vertigo. Not drop me on my knees vertigo, but enough to make me wobbly on my feet, like I had spent the night in a bar instead of my wife’s mini-van.

Truth is, I probably shouldn’t have gone. Two days earlier, on my drive to Lone Pine, I had a reaction to the altitude sickness prescription I was taking, which, coupled with the vertigo, resulted in something between dizziness and a full-blown panic attack. 

I pulled off the road in the middle of nowhere and fortunately made it to a rest stop. I immediately phoned my wife with my GPS location. I wanted to make sure someone would find my lifeless body a few days later. To her credit, she didn’t hang up. 

Two hours later, I was able to drive the last fifty miles to the mountain. 

Long story short, I stopped taking the altitude sickness medicine, flushed out my system with lots of water and, by morning, was well again. The dizziness was still there, but it wasn’t so bad that it would stop me from attempting to hike the next day. I decided that I would at least start the climb and then go as far as I could. 

Now, I can deal with vertigo and a bit of dizziness. I’ve done it before. But, the parts that humbled me were all those places along the way that were nothing but narrow strips of rocky trail, straddled by unprotected cliffs, which ominously dropped down thousands of feet.  

It was bad enough I couldn’t walk a straight line, but combined with a fear of heights, and my hypochondriatic tendencies, it was a recipe for a long day.

I kept imaging myself being air lifted off the mountain, then seeing the horror and sadness in my wife’s face as the rescue team informed her just how much it cost to chopper me down to safety. 

But, again, I made it to the top. And so what if I was the only guy on the summit who could barely look out at the magnificent panoramas that surrounded us.

At least I heard it was beautiful.  

Truth is, there wasn’t much time to enjoy it. Like so many of the epic journey’s we take, it was over before I knew it. In fact, we only spent about 23 minutes on top of the mountain. 

But, it wasn’t about reaching the top. It was about the journey. Along the way, I had not only rekindled old friendships, but created new ones. I had became physically fit and mentally tough. I also learned to appreciate nature, and not just the beauty, but the elemental rawness of it. The challenge of it. 

I had faced obstacles and kept going in spite of them. I had proved to myself that, with the right attitude, I could endure more than I thought. 

I proved to myself that if I could do this, I could do almost anything. 

In other words, I stood at the top of the mountain as a new person. 

Such is the power of a good room. 

Rooms 61-100: Climb A Mountain
Start Doing the Impossible

“Great things are done when men and mountains meet.”
William Blake 

This week’s room is to begin climbing your own mountain. It doesn’t have to be Whitney or even a mountain for that matter. 

Let it be whatever that “thing” is that’s calling you.   

Maybe it’s a raging river you want to raft down, or a cliff you want to dive off of. It could be a 10K, a marathon, or triathlon. It could be a business you’ve always wanted to start, a children’s book you’ve wanted to write, or an instrument you’ve wanted to learn. It could be quitting smoking, losing weight or walking the Camino de Santiago with your kids.

It doesn’t matter. It’s your mountain. Just let it be something that’s been whispering in your ear for a long time. 

If it’s a good mountain, it will scare the shit out of you and make you wonder if it’s possible. Can it be done? Can I do it?  

Like any good mountain, it should be a stretch, a challenge, a climb.  

And don’t tell yourself you have no mountains to climb. We all do. There’s always a whisper. We’ve just learned to shut it out before it arrives. 

Fear does the job for us. It tells us we’re too old, too young, too busy, too tired, too poor, too sick, too something. It also convinces us that we’ll do it later. Next month. Next year. After the kids leave. Someday.

Unfortunately, every time we ignore the call of the mountain, the whisper gets fainter, until one day we wake up and realize we haven’t heard a thing for years.  

To live a life that is fully awake, we have to listen to the whisper of the mountain. We have to know it’s more than a bucket list experience we’re chasing. It’s our higher self wanting to creatively express ourselves through the dreams we’re called to follow. 

To deny the mountain is to deny our essence.   

“But, how will I get there?” you ask. “How do I even begin?”

We begin where we are, and with the trust that once we commit to the whisper, the path will appear. We’ll find the right people, ask the right questions, adopt the perfect plan. With our intent and desire, we will set the wheels in motion for ourselves. 

Of course, climbing “your mountain” might take a month, six months, or even a year to reach, but time doesn’t matter. What matters is that you begin. And as Confucius said, "it does not matter how slowly you go as long as you do not stop.” 

Ultimately, climbing a mountain asks each of us to prove to ourselves what’s possible. Something we’ll never know unless we try.  

Months ago, my niece boldly announced she wanted to do a triathlon. While she hated running and rarely biked, she heard the call of the mountain and unlike 95% of the planet, she answered it. 

She asked the questions that got her started, planned her course of action, then did the work to get the job done. And she didn’t stop until last weekend, when she proudly crossed the finish line. 

Afterwards, someone took a photo of her with a medal around her chest. 

Her look said it all. 

She had followed her heart, listened to the whisper, then proved to herself what’s possible. I don’t know about you, but that’s about as close to the secret of the universe as you can get. 

It’s also a doorway to anything else she wants to achieve in her life. 

So, what are you waiting for? Your mountain is calling. 

I’ll be rooting for you.

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