“Whether you think you can, or you think you can’t – you’re right” –Henry Ford
Think you can’t go extreme? Think again.
Going extreme is more than hiking. It’s more than strapping on your boots, throwing on a backpack, and enduring three months of grueling training. It’s more than you signed up for, you just don’t know it yet.
So here’s the thing, I’m a writer and I love analogies. If you mix that with this past Central NY Xtreme Hike for Cystic Fibrosis weekend, where I hiked 12.4 miles, in 10 hours, to summit 3 Adirondack mountain peaks (Algonquin, Iroquois, and Wright) all in the name of cystic fibrosis, then you know this blog was bound to happen.
Tell me, what does extreme mean to you?
Whether you’re conquering a mountain or being forced to deal with a diagnosis, or you’re courageously starting something new, it’s what you become on the other side of your comfort zone; that’s your extreme.
Brace yourself, here come my analogies, broken down, to explain what I mean.
FIND A MENTOR
I’ve been deeply involved with cystic fibrosis since 1991 when my son Eric was diagnosed. Then in 1993, I doubled-downed when my daughter Jena also received the same diagnosis. I’ve been passionately in this fight for over 28 years and each year when I meet new families I get re-engaged trying to do all I can to support the efforts in finding a cure. My heart goes out to the newly diagnosed families because they have no idea how to navigate this new path they’re on. They’re scared, frightened, and when they ask for my advice or support I empathize with their fear and do my best to guide them from where they are to that next small step in front of them. I would not dare assume they could navigate from my vantage point taught through all the trials and tribulations I gained from being Eric and Jena’s mom. They only need help one step at a time.
I was on the receiving end of such support while seeking help to train for the Xtreme hike. Marc and I began our group training three months prior to the set hike date of August 24, 2019. Our fabulous, and highly experienced hiking guide, aptly named ‘Adirondack Jack’ knew how to give us the right steps at the right time.
“How do you train to hike the Adirondacks?” he’d ask us. Without missing a beat he’d answer with a grin, “Hike the Adirondacks!”
Adirondack Jack created a 3-month schedule that would build our muscles and stamina from where we were to where we needed to be in August. It was one grueling and exhausting hike at a time.
Q: Can you think back to anything that you began that you knew you needed support? Did you search for a mentor or seek professional help to deal with a diagnosis, or help to get you ready for a new job, a new life, a new personal goal?
For me, I already had hiked three CF Xtreme hikes before I signed up for this one. The prior hikes consisted of more miles, higher elevation, and I had hiked longer hours but this Adirondack hike I knew would be a beast. I knew I needed guidance. If you’ve never hiked in the Adirondacks, you should try it. An Adirondack mile, I quickly learned, is like no other mile I have ever done before; just like each hurdle in your life is unlike any other obstacle before. Just because you’re familiar with a seemingly similar challenge don’t be quick to assume you can handle it and don’t put so much pressure on yourself to have all the answers. Find a mentor.
YOU DON’T NEED TO SEE THE WHOLE PATH TO TAKE YOUR FIRST STEP
It’s August 24th, hike day. It’s 5:00 am and we’re all excited to begin. With our headlamps lighting only three feet in front of us somehow it’s enough to see all the tree-roots, small boulders, and twisting inclines in our path. Each minute passes with every step we take, and slowly in the darkeness, we move further along. Eventually, Mother Nature joins in and she slowly illuminates our path just as we reach our first rest stop, a waterfall.
In life, sometimes we can’t see three feet in front of us, or we can’t believe that we can handle even 10 more minutes of the stress-filled life we’ve just been dealt. Yet, if we take life in chunks we can handle it. Even if it’s just three feet at a time, or in 10-minute blocks, somehow Mother Nature, God, or the Universe will join you, lighting your path, helping you reach your first stop of rest.
When you think you can’t deal another minute, tell yourself, “I can get through this for the next 10-minutes.” When you think you can’t take another step, just promise yourself you can take just one more. When you’re at your worst, please know it’s okay if all you can do that day is breathe. Take those dark times in small chunks of time and at some point, your path will get brighter. Do what you can, when you can.
TRUST, HAVE FAITH, AND BREATHE
As the hiking day progressed, I soon realized that we were not really hiking but rather boulder climbing. There was no leveling out, just tackling the relentless steady incline of the mountain. Each step was spent calculating foot placement on the large rocks, muddy waters, or navigating how to scale boulders taller than I was. My hands were constantly reaching for tree limbs to pull the rest of my body upward, and my face felt the thrashing high wind-chill temperatures of 30 degrees.
When we came upon the first of massive rock that had minimal climbing options, I looked at it dumbfounded. There was absolutely no possible way I could climb the 20 plus feet of that rock-ledge before me. There wasn’t a place to put my hand or my foot. There was not a tree limb to grab.
“I can’t do it,” I said. “It’s impossible,” I thought.
Then I heard, “Yes, you can.”
I looked up to see fellow Xtreme hiker Mike standing just a few feet above me.
“Here,” he said. Mike extended his hand toward me. “Now,” he continued, “put your foot there, on that.”
By ‘that’ he meant a sliver of a bump that jutted out from the rock.
“I don’t think I can do that,” I said.
“Trust me,” he said.
Then, I remembered what Adirondack Jack had said to me earlier, “Remember when it looks like you can’t do it, know you can. Thousands of people have done it before you, and so can you.”
With that, I reached for Mike’s hand, put my food on the pencil-wide step and up I went.
Q: Have you ever thought there was absolutely no way you could do something? Have you ever thought, ‘I can’t start something new?’ Have you ever said to yourself, ‘I can’t dare to be adventuresome, I’m too old, I’m too young, I don’t have the skill?’ Did you ever think you couldn’t possibly achieve something so impossibly hard? That’s your extreme.
I’m deathly fearful of heights, I mean not a just little, I’m talking full out, pass-out phobia. Having said that, I also know that I refuse to let fear dictate an experience or keep me from a goal. In the past, I have tried to climb the fire towers that are often at the top of the mountains we climb. I have never been able to get to the top of one, in fact, I have never tried because I remind myself of my fear of heights. I become my own worst enemy.
Then I started training with this amazing group of supportive people. By the second training hike, I felt courageous to try another fire tower. I only made it up one flight, the phobia set in and had to go down. Back on the ground, this group cheered me on. They cheered because I attempted. With newfound braveness, I kept attempting with each training hike. One after the other, I eventually climbed to the top of my very first fire tower. It was Mt. Adams, it was July 27th, it was the day before my 51st birthday. Having not shared my upcoming birthday to anyone, somehow this group knew and they all joined me, at the top of the fire tower, and sang Happy Birthday to me. #BestBirthdayPresentEver
What I’ve learned in life is when you allow people to see your weakness, to see your raw and real you, be courageous, and trust them. It’s a chance worth taking. These guys knew my challenges, knew my weaknesses, and never did they exploit them. Instead, they supported and encouraged me. Being vulnerable isn’t a weakness, it takes a lot of courage to let your guard down and say, “Hey, I need help. I’m not sure I can do this alone.”
At the pace I was hiking, there was no way I would be in the first hiking group. There were a few hikers that I call ‘sonic’ because you’d see them for a bit and then poof they’re climbing like Spiderman with the speed of Sonic the Hedgehog. These guys led the way and we all need leaders. With muddy boots, they left footprints in which I could follow. When they had a misstep, they quickly let you know the better path to take. They reached down with hands to pull you up, they literally gave you their backs so you could go on. They were on the trail first and that honor gave them the gift of clearing all the thick cobwebs that covered the trail. Never did they slow down unless it was to give a lending hand or wait until the entire group was together to take an epic picture. Leaders don’t leave you, they make it so you work hard, at your own pace, so you can accomplish your goal of success. They may go at a different speed now but remember they too climbed those mountains for the very first time once. They know your path, they know what you can do, and leaders know, whether emotional or physical, that pain not a valid reason for stopping.
SUPPORT WHERE IT COUNTS
It’s those friends that bring over soup when you’re sick or a friend that will text you, ‘You can do it!’ when you don’t think you can, or that thoughtful friend who sends a sympathy card because you lost your 97-year old grandmother yet she’s dealing with her own serious health challenge. It’s those people who support, and love you, and make your day just that much brighter. They know how to touch your heart.
It’s the folks who set this whole hike up with everything from travel arrangements to handing out band-aids. It’s the thoughtful person who makes sure your meal is dietary friendly and your gift basket is heartwarmingly personal. It’s the group who got up at 4:00 am to drive you to the trailhead, though you’re barely awake. It’s the cheering smiles, the thoughtful flip flops, and the best and coldest chocolate milk you ever had waiting for you as you finally cross that finish line.
It’s those people.
It’s people doing what they can, from where they are, to help others.
It takes a village to be extreme. You never do anything of value alone. You can’t. It’s the adventure seekers and those who support them. It’s climbing out of your comfort zone to live a life you never knew existed. It’s not about climbing the fire tower, or hiking really, it’s about what it makes of you to achieve it. Once you step outside your comfort zone, you’ve just gone extreme.
PATH TO EXTREME
If you’re struggling with an obstacle, a diagnosis, or a huge life challenge, do yourself a favor and look for a mentor, find a humble hero, but most of all trust, have faith and breathe. You can get through the darkest days by only seeing three feet ahead of you at a time.
To all the Xtreme hikers I hiked with this past weekend, THANK YOU!
Thank you for literally lifting me to new heights, I couldn’t have achieved them without you. See you next year!