By Jessica Sager, 2020 Fierce Fancies Mentor
I cried when I reached the top of the mountain.
We had started our hike that morning at 3 am, under the huge expanse of a clear, cold, and starry Colorado sky.
Really, though, we had started 6 years before, a thrown-together group of pre-teens and wannabe (I say that lovingly) mentors, in the HOT summer sun of Texas. On that initial Summer Wilderness Trip – notoriously known as the *hardest* one we ever did, for more stories than I’ll share right now – the longest we hiked as a group was 2 (brutal) miles. Now, it was in the heat of the Texas summer sun, and it was with full packs on, but the fact is – it was 2 miles.
On this particular Thursday morning, we were waking up – dark and early – to complete a 6 mile hike that would take us across creeks in the dark, up snow patches with ice axes and gaiters, over countless rock boulders, and to the top of a mountain, to come back around a valley, and back to camp again. And if we were lucky – all before the afternoon storms were to come in.
(I love nighttime walks, and was *really* excited.)
If you know me, it probably won’t come as any surprise that I generally like to take the unofficial place as the “caboose” during most of our activities. This is both practical and meaningful.
First – never have I ever been accused of being a fast walker. And, more importantly, I find the conversations with the girls who also find themselves at the end – the ones who struggle, or doubt themselves or question their choice to even be there – to be the kind of rich and real talk that I learn from and love the most.
“But really,” one of the girls – who was also hiking at the back with me – said, “I don’t even know why we hike mountains. Like, why even do this.”
This girl was one of my favorites. I believe you meet people of your “soul tribe” in so many places throughout your life, and this girl was definitely in mine.
Unlike me, however, she was *NOT* enjoying the journey this morning. She was terrified of heights and was hurting physically. While she was generally one of the most upbeat and positive in the group, when it came to heights, she was at her edge, literally and figuratively. She had even talked to each mentor separately the days leading up to this hike, mentioning that she didn’t think she would be able to do it. However, once you are on a mountain, there isn’t really a place you can easily just get off of it. No elevators, escalators, or teleporters on this one, sadly. And my teenage friend was not particularly pleased with that.
“I kinda didn’t even really want to come this year, but my mom told me I had to.”
She continued on like this, as we continued to hike and climb, despite all her resistance and near insistence she couldn’t keep going.
And, as we climbed up the trail and over the boulders, we discovered another important truth: You can hike any far and seemingly impossible distance in 10 step increments. Every time your right foot hits the ground, you get to count. One, two, three, four…. When you reach 10, you get to stop. For a moment, at least. And, then it’s time to keep going. The count begins, again. I don’t actually know how many times we counted to 10, but it was a lot. Sometimes, when the path evened out, we’d just walk and stop counting, and when it got harder, we’d start again.
Miraculously, and after countless counts of 10, the top of the mountain came to us. Or, us to it. Either way, we got there – our whole group was together again at the top of the summit.
As we reached the top, another girl who had been just a few paces ahead hugged a mentor and started to cry.
It was incredible, to see these girls have these emotional moments because of the physical feats they undertook and the natural beauty around them.
Then, all of a sudden, I was crying. We had reached the summit of a mountain together, and the summit of 6 years of growing, laughing, hair braiding, adventuring, hurting, challenging, and learning together. And I knew in just a short while, we’d back down the mountain and heading home, again.
“This will be a memory too soon,” I thought.
After a few more hours of hiking down the mountain, I was happy to find myself on the final stretch of trail with my young straggler friend again.
I pointed at the mountain that now seemed far away and so high up. I traced in the air the path we had taken that morning, once again it looked like incredible feat: up a wall of snow, across the ridge, to a peak far away, and back down again.
“Can you believe you did that?” I asked. “You asked me why we climb mountains. We climb mountains to learn about who we are. And who we can become, because of them.”
Not going to lie – I still don’t think she was buying it.
Later, in our closing circle, a new truth finally was ready. An Appreciation game called “Spotlight” had become an important part of our closing circle every year.
It is moving beyond words to see young women share with full hearts about how proud they are of each other.
During her time in the spotlight, in between receiving heartfelt acknowledgment for all that she did for the group, my previously struggling young friend thanked the mentors and trip leaders for all their support, especially when she resisted.
“The top of the mountain was the most beautiful thing I’ve seen,” she said.
And later still, as our van pulled up to the airport and we were about to begin the last leg of our last trip home, I heard her say to herself and no one, in particular, a new truth that was just waiting to be seen:
“I’d rather climb another mountain, then have it all be over and be going home.”
I am so thankful for the way these past 6 years held me, grew me and changed me. All the mountains – both real and relational – taught me who I was, and who I could become.