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As the snow fell in the winter months this year, I hatched a plan. After having made significant changes to my life and gotten myself healthy and fit, I told myself that the coming summer would be a summer in which I actually did things. Not just visiting the beach, playing golf or spending time on a boat, but actually doing challenging things that would leave me with a feeling of great accomplishment.
This led me to sign up for things like the Peaks to Portland swim, and plot out 50-mile bike rides on the weekends. It also brought my eyes to Baxter State Park, with a plan to engage in a physically demanding trek up Mount Katahdin, in celebration of the success I had found.
It had been more than 15 years since I last made that climb, and I had truly missed doing one of my favorite activities in the intervening time. This past weekend, though, I made good on my plan and climbed up the mountain with my fourteen-year-old son, who admittedly had no idea what he was in for when he agreed to come with me.
We started our journey at the Katahdin Stream Campground, which is the base of the Hunt Trail up the mountain.The hike itself was phenomenal, and quite challenging. Saturday was quite cool, very foggy, and the wind was howling. This wasn’t much of an issue while we were hiking in the woods in the early portions of the hike, but as we got to the exposed parts of the mountain, it was a significant issue. Fortunately I had expected this and we were both well prepared.
Not so of many others. As we got to the tree line, we encountered nearly a dozen different groups of hikers coming down the mountain, each of them complaining that the temperature dropped too much and it was too windy for them. “This was very disappointing,” one father said to his two teenaged children, both of whom were dressed for summer weather.
Given our preparation, it wasn’t really a big deal when we got up there, and we kept right on moving. The wind was a problem on some of the more treacherous bouldering spots, particularly when a dangerous edge was just off to the side, but we managed. The final slog up the mountain is pretty grueling, but we pressed on and reached the peak a little before noon.
After having a solid lunch and some rest, we started down the mountain a half hour later, and almost immediately the sun began to burn off the fog. This was a glorious blessing because up to that point the incredible views you can see on the mountain were blocked by the fog.
There is nothing quite like standing on top of a mountain, looking 5,000 feet down, and soaking in the glory of the natural world. No picture ever taken will ever reproduce that feeling, which is why I think that if you haven’t experienced it yourself, it is something you must add to your bucket list.
The way down was absolutely beautiful, though I will admit that I had a tough time in the last hour or so. I have had an injured quadriceps for the last couple months, so my legs were less able to endure the abuse I was giving them than they otherwise would be. By the time we hit our last mile, my legs were buckling, and I was unable to walk downhill or descend down steps unless my knees were locked.
Yet we pushed on and made it back to the car. Mission accomplished.
It is now days later, and still I have muscles in my legs that are stiff and hurt. Yet it is the best kind of discomfort any human can feel. They are aches of accomplishment.
Truthfully, I had thought this part of my life was over, and my days of trekking up mountains and doing physical things were gone.
This year, I discovered that was a lie I had been telling myself. The truth was I could do whatever I wanted, and had control over my own circumstances. It was never impossible, I had just chosen a lifestyle that made it impossible.
So my advice to you, learned on a mountain in Maine is this: Don’t let your life pass you by. Take control of it, prioritize your health, take care of yourself and get out there and enjoy the hell out of the limited time you are afforded on this planet. Don’t wait. Do it now.
You don’t want to be in the twilight of your life, lamenting all the things you wanted to do and all the amazing experiences you wanted to have. Go do them, and bring the people you love along with you. Trust me when I tell you, it will be worth it.