Putting “back to school” in the back of our minds, this past Saturday at 4:15 a.m., my family and I awoke in a tent with our two dogs, our hearts filled with ambition. Cold, tired and excited we put on layers of clothes, headlamps and our hiking boots and prepared to climb Mount Elbert, the highest fourteener in our beautiful state of Colorado.
“We got this!” I said.
But before we could hit the trail, one of our black labs, Dillon, went missing in the pitch-black darkness and panic ensued. Voices were raised and the peaceful morning took a turn. After minutes that seemed like hours, we finally found Dillon back in the tent! (Guess someone didn’t want to be up that early!) Relief rippled through us, and breakfast bars in hand we left our campsite under the light of the moon and stars. Each one of us remarked upon the glory of the sky and the magic of walking together at such an early hour in such peace.
At the trailhead I pulled out my phone to take a photo of us at our starting point, but as everyone snapped at me that we didn’t need a photo, “it’s too cold!” all I captured was darkness. Despite my family’s protests I tried again with one of my daughter’s phones, same issue. With everyone too impatient to keep trying I gave in and captured the photo it in my mind instead and we started forward in the dark one foot in front of the other, headlamps and the moon lighting the way.
As we began our ascent our puppy Willie wanted to run. Our kids wanted to slow down. Dillon wanted to poop. And everyone began to argue. Not a great start! But, eventually, after some sharp parental commands to all we found our pace and cadence and we were off! It seemed as the sun rose, so did everyone’s spirits, and the magic of the mountain dawned upon us.
In the peaceful shelter of evergreen trees we spoke of a teenager in our high school who was just diagnosed with Leukemia and was lying in the hospital as we climbed. We spoke of my dad who due to an injury and surgery has been in pain for over a month. We spoke of those we know whose family has been broken by divorce, alcoholism, disease or death. We spoke of families who rarely make time to be together and how thankful we are that we do. We spoke of how sad we were that school had started and how glad we were to be spending the day together climbing a fourteener before the year ahead got too crazy.
I asked my family to spend a few minutes in silence thinking about all we had to be thankful for. Our health to be able to climb. Each other to climb with. The mountain itself. All the amazing people in our lives.
I don’t know if anyone actually spent those minutes thinking about what I asked them to, but I did. I thought about my incredibly strong, unique and loving daughters. I thought about my supportive and faithful husband. I thought about my parents and my brother and how lucky we are that my dad is going to be ok after our awful scare this summer. I thought about my incredible friends, the best I have ever had, and I thought about my health and how lucky I was to be climbing a fourteener without struggle. I even thought about the dang dogs that were pulling my arms forward and out of their sockets as we hiked, because as much of a pain as they are I sure love them.
And magically right at that point, right in the middle of my thoughts of gratefulness, we reached tree line and the mountain range unfolded before us glowing in the morning light. I noticed the significance of this timing and asked everyone to gather for a photo. This time no one argued, my phone’s camera worked, and everyone smiled.
After some water and trail mix, upwards we continued, my daughter Katy leading us in a camp song about “A tree in a hole and a hole in the ground and the green grass grows all around all around” and then me leading the age old “The other day, I saw a bear, a great big bear oh way up there…”.
As the mountain grew steeper and our breaths deeper I reminded them of the yoga breath “in through the nose out through the mouth” and we went on, one foot in front of the other. Step by step breath by breath. Single file we moved forward sometimes talking, sometimes lost in our own thoughts, but always together.
As we neared the summit I paused, turned around, and looked at these people (and dogs) that I love so very much. Looked at these individual souls on a mountainside in the middle of Colorado. Looked at our family and realized just how very lucky we are. How very lucky I am.
“Let’s do this!” I shouted with adrenaline about a hundred yards from the top. And of course, because I am me, tears trickled from my eyes as we summited with a “Woo Hoo!” and gathered for a family hug.
“Gosh, I love you all so much,” I said to them.
After we released the hug and took several family (and dog) photos, I took a minute by myself to look at everything that surrounded me. It still is amazing to me that we live in a place where I can climb a mountain. And even more amazing to me that I can do it with my family. The feeling of being up on that mountain top with the people I love most in the world is absolutely indescribable and surreal.
This is the second actual 14,000-foot mountain my family has climbed together, but there have been many other metaphoric mountains we have summited as well and there will be more in the future. And real mountains or metaphoric mountains, what matters to me is that we climb them together.
The start of the school year is hard for me. Hard for my kids. There are always new obstacles and new challenges, but there are also new opportunities and new heights to be reached. I know that if my kiddos can climb above 14,000 feet they can do pretty much anything, and I hope they know that as well.
I feel we are always on a mountain in our life. And just like on my family’s mountain climb this weekend there will be some darkness. There will be some fights. There will be ups and downs. There will be breaths that are hard to take and steps that are rocky. There will be challenges.
But there also will be light. There will be beauty. There will be successes. There will be summits. There will be celebrations. There will be hugs.
So, with a deep breath I take in the beginning of this new school year and all it’s realities and I know, “We got this!”
And so do you!
Blessings and love for a wonderful school year ahead,