Coming up short. A re-cap of my first mountain climb.

You cannot prepare for life. You can only prepare yourself to be flexible to it.

This is what I wrote the night before I climbed -- but didn’t summit -- Mt. Hood.

“I know lots of people climb mountains. All the time. Every day. But this is the first mountain that I get to climb. I will make my way slowly to the summit, hopefully see the shadow of the peak cast upon the snow, and I will be -- for just a few minutes -- at the very highest earthly point for hundreds of miles around. And I will know that this world is not only traversable, it's scalable.”

I did in fact, see the shadow. But I did not see the top. I did not blow kisses to my kids from the top of Mt Hood as I had promised them I would. I did not unfurl the banner that bore the name of everyone who had contributed in some way to my and Tim’s fundraising goal, a combined $6400 to benefit the American Lung Association. I did what it seems like I do often in life: come up short and somewhere in the middle. It was devastating.
this image is tattooed on my heart, in a very poetic way. 

In my head there would have been a glorious final ascent. Tim and I would clamber over the summit ridge and kiss from on top of the mountain, having worked for so many months together fundraising, having trained by pushing our bodies up the hardest trails in the area. We slew Mt. Defiance, Devil’s Peak, Huckleberry Mountain, Dog Mountain, Ruckle Creek (I hate you Ruckle Creek), Cloud Cap, Palmer and more. We collected gear: new packs, trekking poles, base layers, boots. We fretted about the details and prepared in earnest to make them inconsequential.

But this isn’t a sad story.

Life comes in chapters. Sometimes the chapters seem like they belong to a different book, one that is not entirely my own but one in which I’m a character, a supporting role, or even just a footnote. In the great big book of Mt. Hood I am a blip on the radar. I am one of the thousands who have climbed to 10,500’ and had to turn back because the mountain wasn’t ready to receive us. Kinley Adams, the climber from Salem, gave his life to be a bigger character in the great big book of Mt. Hood. I cried because I came as close as 700 vertical feet away, while Kinley’s body was nestled in her crevices below. I cried because I didn’t yet get to do what I know I will be doing as soon as the mountain grants me permission.  I cried as Kinley’s family and friends fretted at Timberline Lodge below, their hope rapidly waning that he would emerge safely. I cried for all the wrong reasons. Perspective is so very often a quiet passenger waiting to be noticed. But it did not escape me quietly this time. At least not for long. For whatever statements get thrown about when a climber loses their life -- they were foolish or unprepared or over-confident -- the one true statement that remains when they are gone is that they did something that mattered to them, and they were a significant someone to others and they will be missed. Kinley Adams will be missed. And Mt. Hood will remain.

For the last two years my work colleagues and I have been exploring a new way of being. It is absolutely as woo woo as it sounds, and I rejected it vehemently when we first set out, to a point where I was even suspended from coming in to work. The day that Jason, a man I respect to the ends of the earth and back, asked me to take some time off, unpaid, and to leave my laptop behind, I cried like I had never cried before. Perspective was the quiet passenger then, and I was the wailing and entitled me who had quite the journey to travel before I noticed it riding next to me. I had to dive to a deeper part of myself and decide if I’d re-surface with a pearl, or with a fistful of sand. It has been a process led by a visionary couple that I refer to as “the cult leaders”. I called them this spitefully at first, and now it has simply stuck because I find it hilarious and ironic. But what they have infused into the company has had a profound impact on how I see, interact with, and react to the world. We employ a standing technique that looks a bit like you’re holding a giant barrel, we assess each other, we use new language like “I see” instead of “I feel”, we cut through the noise and hone in on the truth of why we’re doing what we’re doing. My productivity has increased a hundred fold, the clarity of the project (aka “my job”) is crystal, and the tools that we’ve gathered have been maddeningly useful in my personal life (maddeningly only because they don’t necessarily make sense to everyone who has not been through this crazy process, but useful nonetheless). The process at g has been similar to preparing for and then climbing a mountain. It has been strength training, nervous system training, it has been a focus on that which is critical and a removal of that which is superfluous. It has prepared me immensely for a mountain summit that I did not reach. Just because a mountaintop is there doesn’t mean I am entitled to scramble all over it. If or when it is ready to receive me, I will be there, ice axe at the ready.

Go climb a mountain. Hook up with The American Lung Association if you can and kickstart the process through them. Collectively we raised $130,000 to go in toward research and policy changes for lung health. You know the no smoking in public places policy in Oregon? You can thank the ALA in part for that. It was because of this program that my love, Tim, gave up cigarettes completely, thankthestars. I enjoy kissing far too much for cigarettes to get in the way. It was because of the program that I found a gajillion and one challenging and beautiful hikes in what is practically my own backyard. It is because of the program that I met Abby and Daniel and Gia and Lauren and Susan and Brea and Shauna and Cindy and Rochelle and Steve the Silcox Man and Brian and Wolfie and Jeff and Gabby and Eric and Carla and Marla and Dave and so many others. It is because of the program that I re-discovered thigh muscles that I thought had simply fallen off my body. It is because of the program that I learned how to wield an ice-axe and to self-arrest when sliding down a mountainside. It is because of the program, perfectly timed to coincide with a cultural and visionary transformation at gDiapers, that I feel empowered to conquer mountains, and to know that I am not entitled to do so.

really shoddy yoga at Silcox Hut, hours before our climb. photo courtesy of Tim. (thank you, Tim.)


Lei said…
Life does come in chapters, doesn't it. That's important to remember when you're going through a challenging one.

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