My husband, Gary, and I climbed several mountains during his cancer years. The highest elevation we ever reached was a trail ending at an icy-cold lake in the Colorado Rockies — 13,850 feet up.
I am now a cancer widow and my goal is to hike all the central Oregon trails that were our favorites. Alone. It’s part of my brave-making campaign. To practice being courageous.
Yesterday I climbed a mountain. Tumalo — standing at 7,775 feet in elevation.
The trail, littered with rocks and tree roots smoothed by thousands of hiking boots, begins uphill through thick evergreen growth.
After several switchbacks, the terrain opens out into volcanic ashy sand and a few wind-stressed trees as it keeps ascending.
Yesterday’s trek reminded me of a mountain Gary and I climbed that took us thirteen years. The trail started out with a job lay-off. It steepened when we eventually sold our home and depleted our retirement investments.
Through the switchbacks, we picked up my mother and carried her as she was slipping into Alzheimer’s.
And then we came out into a steep, desolate terrain—a terminal cancer diagnosis—that almost did us in because we had already been climbing uphill for some time where the air was thin and the weight was heavy.
And now there was no shade. Just ashy sand. And those few weather-beaten trees.
But then …
I began noticing brave wildflowers in the barrenness. Adding color and beauty in a place where you wouldn’t expect much color or beauty.
Gary and I eventually discovered beauty in our barren places. And we began sharing with other cancer survivors and caregivers best methods for uphill treks:
- Practicing gratitude
- Getting plugged into community
- Accepting love and support
- Taking care of ourselves with rest, good nutrition, increased physical activity
- Giving back
- Leaning deeper into our faith
And then widowhood paid me a visit. Which meant the trail got steeper. But I was already conditioned for uphill climbing.
Here’s the thing about taking on steep trails: the sense of achievement and the views from the top—those views that represent not giving up on life—are so worth the struggle and discomfort.
My reward after yesterday’s uphill hike was viewing the majesty of three distinct peaks in my ‘backyard’ of the Cascade Range.
One more mountain trail got checked off my brave-making list yesterday. But there is something of greater importance than checking things off to-do lists.
More than anything, I want our thirteen-year-long, uphill trek to matter.
This thought from Morgan Harper Nichols:
Tell the story of the mountain you climbed. Your words could become a page in someone else’s survival guide.
What if telling the story of our hard, grueling places could be part of someone else’s survival?
What if we tackled the thing we’ve been putting off that will get us out of comfortable spaces and add some adventure, or new faces, or new experiences to our books?
What if our stories could speak courage and hope into the lives of other people walking this same steep path?