I think it was late Spring that I got a Facebook alert from my dear friend (and Roots to Branches colleague) Charlene Pierce, inviting me for a girls weekend away to hike Mt. Katahdin in Maine.  Excited by the weekend away with a bunch of ladies, I quickly accepted without really considering what I had got myself into; I had never hiked more than a couple of hours at a time before.  About a month prior to our adventure, I started to think I might have been over my head, and immediately became diligent with more vigorous exercise in hopes I’d be able to complete this thing!  What I didn’t realize was that I was going to feel one of my most inspiring and exhilarating moments I had had this year.  Could I have gone the rest of my life without hiking Mt. Katahdin?  Sure.  But I would have missed out on that thrill of being able to accomplish something I didn’t necessarily believe I could.  Better yet, I got to witness someone else go through those same challenges and ultimately, accomplishments as well.  When we got home, one of our fellow hikers, and local Registered Massage Therapist, Karen Basque, wrote something so beautiful that it brought tears to my eyes.  I wanted to share it with you all.  Please read below on “How We Stepped Outside Our Comfort Zone and Why You Should Too”, by guest blogger, Karen Basque.

Embarking on a Challenge

‘steadfastness in doing something despite difficulty or delay in achieving success.’

I had the most incredible weekend with a group of 8 women while we hiked Mt. Katahdin in Maine last month. We all had different backgrounds with regards to physical fitness and endurance but we shared a common desire to be a part of this experience.  We also didn’t all know each other but were brought together by a common friend who organized the adventure.  Everyone needs a ‘Charlene’ in their life!

We all knew that inevitably we would break up into groups dictated by our hiking style. I am a stroller if you will, more so than a hiker. I was taught by a guide years ago in Peru to enjoy it, what a simple concept. Hiking for 4 days through the Andes can wreck you, physically followed quickly by emotionally.  I was taught to not fight your way up the mountain but to embrace it: stop and look around, see how far you’ve come, admire the simple things like fascinating plants and mushrooms: but don’t eat the mushrooms, that’s a whole different trip.

We began the ascent early and had agreed as a group that if any of us did not summit before 2 pm to turn back around.  The trail we chose to hike was Abol. This is the most direct route from base to summit but has the most gain in elevation in the shortest distance.  Essentially we traded distance for difficulty.  In my classic meandering style I was at the back of the pack when we started.  About 15 minutes into it my breathing adjusted and we had set a pace.  Soon after one girl stopped to remove a layer and have a sip of water.  As I caught up to her I stopped and waited. We had only met the day before but I was of the mindset, leave no one behind.  I noticed she was having greater difficulty catching her breath and had a bead of sweat running down her forehead.  I thought ‘damn girl, we just started, there’s 14 kms ahead of us!”  She then explained that she had severe exercise induced asthma.  Wait what?  This is perfect! I found someone that would welcome my hiking pace, jackpot!

Let the Negative Self Talk Begin

Of course having only met me the day before, Chelsea felt bad and embarrassed.  She spent the better part of the next hour apologizing, berating herself for agreeing to do this, cursing, I remember a lot of cursing, and my favourite, “you don’t have to wait for me.”  I said, “Um, if I were in your shoes, would you wait for me?”  Before she could answer, I said “because if you didn’t I would call you an @#$hole” and we laughed and laughed.  She went through all the feels, “oh my god what have I got myself into…this is f^*&!#@ stupid…I can’t f^*&!#@ do it…I’m sorry for being so f^*&!#@ slow…”

A Shift in Mindset

As we went on a few things happened:  1) We found a pace that worked for her (and secretly me too), and 2) Eventually the negative talk ceased.  I like to think that’s because I told her that ‘Negative Nancy’ can stay at the bottom of the mountain and I would only hike with ‘Positive Penny.’  I told her stories of my experiences hiking and we got to know each other a little bit.  I did most of the talking as Chelsea was concentrating on breathing. This girl has more strength than she knows.  My coach Cheryl (from HIIT30 KV) always says that your brain will tell you to shut down long before your body has to.  I think Chelsea found a way to get out of her head and her comfort zone.  She began to respect her body and its limitations but also be encouraged by its strengths.  Eventually there was a shift in her attitude.  She was enjoying herself and taking in where we were and what we had accomplished.  “Wow, this is incredible…look how far we’ve climbed…look at these views.”

So here’s my confession.  At around 11:30 am it occurred to me that we might not summit.  2 pm was approaching and we still had quite a ways to go.  Wow, how did I feel about that?  My first notion was ‘damn it!’  A hint of disappointment was bubbling and I had to explore this.  I likely wasn’t going to summit because I chose to stay back and hike with Chelsea.  I had the stamina to push on ahead at a faster pace but I didn’t.  I asked myself a question: Why are you doing this?  The instinctive answer is “duh! To get to the top!”  I looked back on what my guide Percy taught me in Peru and thought he would be so proud to know that I am taking my time and enjoying this adventure; the process of hiking and making a new friend has been so fun that the idea of not reaching the summit wouldn’t influence the wonderful memories I was creating now.  Turns out I was ok with not reaching the top and that was a great feeling.  If we didn’t summit, the last thing I wanted was for Chelsea to feel bad and it would take away from the fun that we were having.  I needed to be ok with it because if I wasn’t and tried to fake it, well that’s not authentic and I couldn’t have my new friend thinking I was a faker!

Perseverance Pays Off: The Summit

Guess where we were at 2 pm…the summit of Mt. Katahdin!  We high fived, took some pictures, ate a bean burrito, and headed back down.  I have hiked in South America, Iceland, the Great Smokey Mountains, the canyons in Utah, and the highest peak in the UK.  This hike was among the most profound.  When I look back on all those hikes, the summit has always been slightly anti-climactic.  When memories pop into my head of these adventures, it is always about some experience along the way, be it physical, emotional or spiritual.  This one was all three: seeing Chelsea dig deep for the strength to stick it out was better than summiting Mt. Katahdin.

We all have strengths within us that go untapped and being able to be vulnerable enough to show our weaknesses is the truest sign of strength.  Despite having a respiratory condition, she persevered.  Asthma smasthma Chelsea, you killed it girl!  We all did.  I feel so fortunate to have friends (new and old) like this.