Climb That Mountain!

Life is not easy! Do not be fooled! Life is beautiful, exciting, challenging, troubling, but not easy. Life is like the mountain I climbed this past weekend. And by climbed, I mean hiked, because let’s be serious I’m no rock climber. Anyway, on Sunday, my boyfriend and I decided to climb (hike) Dog Mountain.

Dog Mountain is located east of Stevenson on the Washington side of the Columbia River Gorge. It is touted as the best mountain for wild flower blooms in May and June. It is also said to be one of the toughest hikes in the Gorge. When telling several different friends that I would be tackling Dog Mountain over the weekend, I received responses like, “oh, no comment, that mountain is the worst,” or “oh man, I will never hike that mountain again,” or “oh, good luck! That mountain is rough!” So, being the defiant and stubborn woman that I am, I said, “whatever, I can do it!”

From the moment we woke up on Sunday, the day felt like a metaphor for life. We planned to get an early start, but chose to lay in bed longer to cuddle. We ate a heavy, but healthy breakfast of scrambled eggs with potatoes and cheese and a fruit smoothie. We hit the road. There was traffic heading out to the Gorge. When we arrived at the Dog Mountain Trailhead, the parking lot was overcrowded with cars and red cones blocking off areas they didn’t want you to park. We tried to move a cone to park in what looked like a perfectly good spot and were approached abruptly by a sheriff and told we would be towed if we parked there. All the cars parked along the road had bright orange tickets on their windshields. The sheriff told us our only option was to drive back into Stevenson and park at the fairgrounds and catch the shuttle bus back. I started feeling anxious.

It was already noon and by time we got back here it would be past 1pm. We drove back to Stevenson and asked at the local grocery store where to park. The gravel parking lot of the fairgrounds had a line of cars parked there already. We should have known it would be busy on a beautiful 82 degree day on May 1st. By the time the shuttle bus picked us, and the rest of those waiting, up I started to feel faint and nervous.

At 1:30pm, we hit the trail. The shuttle bus driver said he would make one last run to pick people up at 4:45pm. So, we essentially had 3 hours to complete a 4-5 hour hike. As in life, things never go according to plan and you often times feel rushed. Our early start quickly became a late start. From the moment the hike began, it was an uphill battle. The trail did not start out flat. It immediately climbed several hundred feet at a 70 degree angle. Here we go!!

We plowed through the first mile, trying to make good time. Then, everything slowly started to burn. My lungs stung inside my chest. My heart drummed against my ribs. My quads burned. The tops of my toes rubbed inside my shoes. Luckily, most of the trail was shaded by grandfather trees. Light cut through the forest, illuminating the twigs and pine needles on the path. Jolly hikers bounded down the left of us, eager to end the hike. Frowns adorned the faces of those still climbing their way up. I started to break.

Ethan urged me on, “you can do it, babe!” “You got this, honey!” “You are strong,” he yelled ahead of him, as I grunted and moaned with each step. This was only the beginning, I thought. How would I make it to the top. But, I continued to push. I ceased enjoying the scenery of chirping birds and towering evergreen trees, and turned my thoughts inward. This itches, this burns, that hurts, I can’t breathe. I feel dizzy. I had to stop several times to lean against a rock or a tree and catch my breath and slow my heart rate. I sucked at my water bottle for every last drip. The faces people exchanged as they passed on the hike expressed a sense of camaraderie and understanding of the shared experience we were all going through or just went through.

This is life. It isn’t always so difficult, but we all must climb the mountain once in a while as we face hard times and are forced to meet challenges. When the trail would magically level out for even a minute, all my pain was forgotten. I felt a false sense of security, thinking oh it will get easier from here. Just like when things are just not going my way and I’m scrambling through it, hoping for some relief, those moments of calm remind me that it will all be okay, but they rarely mean the challenges are all over.

Ethan starts to regret his choice of shoes, as his Chaco sandals dig into his feet and rub his skin raw. We both have to dig deep into our psyche for a reason to continue forward. We don’t want to be defeated. We know that we are capable of conquering this mountain.

Every time the gray blue water of the Gorge and the silhouette of the Oregon mountains peek through the thick brush, we are reminded how beautiful life is and how worth it, it is to reach the top for a better view. We can do this! At this point we had completed 2 miles with very little break in steepness. Finally, the trail opened up to Puppy Lookout and we felt a sense of relief. People snapped pictures in front of the fields of red paintbrush, blue lupine, and yellow balsamroot. We collapsed onto the maroon dirt for a quick rest. In every direction we could see the masterpiece that was the Columbia River Gorge and the rolling hills above and below us, carpeted in yellow.  We sighed, knowing that this was not the top and we still had more to climb ahead of us.

The last mile or so was probably the hardest part. We had the option to just give up at the Puppy Lookout and turn around, but we just didn’t feel that sense of accomplishment yet. When you settle into your comfort zone and decide to avoid further challenges, you get to enjoy the thought that nothing worse can come, but you also have that nagging feeling that you could’ve attained something even better. Some people choose to stop there and are satisfied with what they’ve accomplished. We knew that if we pushed ourselves a little harder we could achieve something more spectacular, and we were right.

That last push to success is often the hardest, because you know you can just as easily throw in the towel and accept something mediocre and safe. If you do push yourself though, you discover that you can reach a place that is far beyond expectation. We wanted that feeling.

The last, almost vertical, mile climb really tested our resolve. I hunched my back and scrambled upwards. I huffed and puffed. My everything burned and started to give out. I was not in my best shape either. We recently got into a car accident in February and were still trying to get back to where we were physically. Flies teased us by buzzing in our ears and tickling our legs. I swatted them away, feeling annoyed. I stopped several times, feeling faint and wanting to give up. Ethan urged me on, knowing that he was also struggling. We were a team though, and we helped push each other past our limits.

Some hikers, heading down, told us there was just one more switch back to the top. So I channeled all my strength and pushed myself to my breaking point. We emerged from the thick forest to discover a rolling carpet of yellow balsamroot covering the mountainside as far as the eye could see. They resembled sunflowers with their brown/black faces and rays of bright yellow petals. I wanted to collapse into a field of them. I wanted to sing, “The hills are alive with the sound of music.” We looked out at the expansive view of the Gorge and released a collective sigh of relief at accomplishing our goal to reach the top.ethan n i on dog mountain

When you work hard in life and roll with the punches, you are rewarded with the beauty that life can be. Life isn’t all hardship and steep hills, it is also fields of yellow, red, and blue flowers and accomplishments and celebrations. It just takes hard work to achieve those things. You feel so much more grateful for the accomplishment at the top, after the hard work you did getting there.

We had a hard time turning around to leave, as we absorbed all the beauty into our souls. The glistening water of the Columbia River, the green and blue silhouetted mountains, the tall and proud trees, and the expansive hillsides of yellow flowers that helped us celebrate life, were all worth the trek up. We looked at the time and realized we only had one hour to get all the way down and catch the shuttle back to Stevenson.

Down, we bounded, scrambling to reach the end. This time our calves and knees shook in pain. My left knee, which was hurt in the car accident, tightened and braced against my every move. I could barely bend it and was forced to hobble down the steep hills. Ethan’s feet bled and burned from his shoes. We ignored it all in pursuit of our main goal: getting a ride back to the car. The gravel slipped beneath our feet sending us surfing down the hill. We were propelled forward by the steep slope and our desire to be done.

We rounded the last corner, with the top of the outhouse in site, and hollered, “we made it!” At the bottom we collapsed to the grass and rubbed at our aching limbs. “High five!” Ethan said with his hand raised in the air. We clapped hands, with big grins and kissed in triumph over our challenge. The shuttle bus arrived and we were safely transported back to our car in Stevenson and a delicious slice of pizza and cold beer at a local restaurant.

Oftentimes in life, I’ve chosen the harder path. I didn’t have to travel abroad alone at 19 and 22 to meet set backs and hardships along the road, but I’m glad I did. I didn’t have to quit jobs that made me unhappy in order to work hard to find ones that did. I didn’t have to move across the country to start a new life in Oregon, but I’m so glad that I did. I don’t regret choosing to leave my comfort zone every time. Sure, we could have stopped at that first look out and decided that was enough, but we pushed ourselves further, knowing the reward would be that much better at the top. And it was! I’m proud of myself every time I complete something I thought I couldn’t do. Would I climb Dog Mountain again? Maybe. Was I proud and happy I did it? Yes. I try to not cower from challenges in life, because I know in the end they will make me stronger and the reward is always worth it.

That is why, you’ve got to climb that mountain!! Forget the easy road, the view is much better from the top!dog mountain.jpg

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