Today I’d like to tell you the story behind this photo, taken of me on May 22nd, 2014 in Rocky Mountain National Park. I hope it serves as encouragement to those of you who are out there thinking I can never hike a mountain, I can never do XYZ because of my weight.
This past May, my husband and I celebrated two things: Our 5 year wedding anniversary and the marriage of an old friend of his in Colorado. We wanted to take full advantage of this opportunity and opted for a road trip instead of a flight. We had a few awesome stops along the way in St. Louis, MO and Tulsa, OK but our home for most of the trip was Colorado.
My husband has been an active person for his entire life, and when I say active I don’t mean he played basketball in high school or was on the football team. No, he has a bit more of an extreme adventurous side and spent most of his life rock climbing, ice climbing, mountain biking, and rustic camping. I knew this, and I also knew I had never been that kind of person growing up, and my weight was preventing me from being that kind of person now. I approached this trip with equal parts dread and excitement, telling myself that if I never stepped out of my comfort zone, I was never going to do anything.
We knew the weather in Colorado was going to be mild to decent, and obviously the mountains would be colder, but I don’t think this city girl from Michigan realized just how much colder it would actually be in the mountains. Cold meaning snow, and lots of it. In fact, some of the trails hadn’t even opened yet for the season and after this first hike, I thought I could see why. Little did I know that this was nothing, as the snow was only on small parts of the trail. I hammed it up for the camera thinking, this isn’t so bad. I can do this! This first hike was only a couple miles round trip, and with only a small elevation gain, I made it fairly easily. There were a few moments though that I was gasping for air and had to stop. At one point, we kept trading places with a very fit couple and I felt so pressured when they were behind me that I would push myself hard to the point of not catching my breath just so I wouldn’t feel embarrassed that I couldn’t keep up. This always backfired so I was glad when they pulled ahead of us for good.
I woke up the day of our anniversary nervous. I knew that I had struggled a bit on our hike the day before, and the one we planned for today was going to be harder. Over 600 feet in elevation gain(we started at 9,475 feet) and the trail was 3.5 miles round trip. The hiking trail guide lists Emerald Lake as relatively easy, but that’s not factoring doing the hike while there’s still snow on the ground and you can’t even find the path.
I ended up not packing my hiking boots for space saving reasons, and as I gazed at the four feet of packed down snow on the trail and then glanced down at my tennis shoes, I regretted that decision. With nary a ski pole, hiking stick, or snowshoe, we began our hike.
I slipped and slid, but managed to do okay for a bit. The uphills started getting awful and my breath was getting shorter as we trudged onward. We ended up losing the trail(did I mention it was covered in snow?) and conversed with a family on which way to go from there. These moments gave me time to rest, and getting to know this family gave me time to get out of my head. They were a mother and father with their two children as well as their son’s girlfriend. I first chatted with the girlfriend and helped her get her camera in and out of her bag. I later chatted with the mother and learned that this was the girlfriend’s first trip with the family and she, having never been an outdoors person, was struggling. I sympathized immediately, and after a particularly brutal hill commented that I was biggest, most out of shape person climbing this mountain right now. If I could do it, she could!
After only one moment where I truly debated giving up, I forced myself up the last bit of trail and was taken to a place of complete calm and rest. My husband has mentioned that some views you truly have to earn, that not everything should be a simple park and snap opportunity, and at that moment, I couldn’t agree more. Staring out across Emerald Lake, standing at an elevation of 10,110 feet I was awed at my surroundings and the momentous accomplishment I had achieved by getting to this place. I had told myself several times that day that I couldn’t do it, but I could. I did.