Five years of my life. Five years of dwindling confidence, screams, tears, and control mixed in with shame, comfort, some happiness, insecurity and an enormous fear of being alone. I have no clue how many times we broke up. I truly lost count, which should have been clue number 1 of a toxic cycle. What I do know, is that in a sick way I liked it. After a break up there was urgency and guilt on his part to “fix it” and get back together. It was the only time I felt loved and appreciated. The only time I could sit next to him on the couch without being timed on the phone. That is not a misprint, I was timed for how many minutes we could hold hands before I would have to go back to my side of the living room. Break up; Say I love you for the first time. Break up; move in together. Break up; buy a home. Break up; get a dog. What did I think I was fixing? The more our lives meshed together and alienated everyone around me the more shame I felt to make this work and prove them wrong, whether I was happy or not.
Do you know that song Brave by Sara Bareilles? Of course you do! She’s an angel, and if you don’t agree we can’t be friends. I am only kind of kidding. But that song, I used to listen to it on my runs on repeat. I used to listen to those words and dream of leaving and what my life would look like. I would dream of this like people dream about winning the lottery. As if I had absolutely no control. I truly did not realize I could have made that choice that very day and not looked back. I was completely dependent. Not only did I have zero faith or love in myself, on top of that was guilt, terror, bills, a mortgage, dogs and humiliation. I didn’t know I had a choice. For five years I allowed this to be the life I thought I deserved. FIVE YEARS. I couldn’t leave. No matter what I knew was best, no matter what anyone who loved me told me. This was my narrative.
And then I got Cooper. I started to do more things on my own with Coop. I started to not feel alone in my own home. And after a while, after another fight, another break up, another screaming match where I didn’t even recognize the person I had become, I left. For good. It wasn’t complicated. I wouldn’t go back. It wasn’t like any time before. I had Cooper, and we had each other. He gave me confidence, bravery, and I was never alone if I was with him, even in my darkest days.
We found each other, and then we found the mountains.
Next up for us: Whiteface Mountain.
If you are from New York you may recognize the name Whiteface. It is a popular ski mountain and a large tourist attraction in the summer. The place where flatlanders from all over can commune and drive up to the top of it! My advice if you are going to hike it is to do it in the winter. There is just something unsettling about sweating and grunting your way up a steep climb only to be greeted by a hundred people who took the elevator and are looking at you like you’re sasquatch. It kind of ruins the whole mountain serenity thing for me.
There are a couple of different ways to hike this beautiful beast. Coop and I went with the summit trail which starts out just a few minutes from my parents’ house. The hike is about 9.3 miles total and 3,618ft in elevation gain. It starts by first having you climb a steep old ski trail up to Marble Mountain. I had this grand idea that we would reach Marble in time to watch the sunrise. Did I know if it faced east? Nope. Did I even know if it had a view, or think about how scary hiking in the dark alone can be? Also, no. I had an idea and I was going to do it. That was about as complex as my choices were during this time.
So we arrived in the dark, parked, strapped on our packs and our ‘fake it till you make it confidence’ and set off. Let me be clear that by set off I mean that we once again roamed the snow-covered parking lot in the dark, alone looking for the god damn trail for 15min. Luckily Coop has the worlds greatest sniffer and eventually got us on the right track. Anyone else’s dogs better at staying on a trail than they are? The dude is a regular Marco Polo.
I think 1,000ft of that elevation gain happens in the first mile up to Marble, but I also have been known to exaggerate quite a bit! Regardless, there is no gradual warm up for this one. I was struggling, sliding, kicking and swearing my way up trying to not miss the sunrise. After falling for the 10th time I began to refer to Marble as the pimple on the ass of this hike. Not to mention, it was pitch black when we started and every little noise, I heard would further convince me that something was going to kill me. Didn’t I just read about a cougar attack somewhere? Hadn’t someone gotten kidnapped that one time on a trail somewhere? My poor Coop was so confused on this hike. He was just being his usually good boy self, right by my side, but because I was scared and wanted to make noise I just kept saying” Coop” loudly every 5 seconds. I’m sure he was thinking “God she has really lost it now.”
We kept pushing up and eventually made it! We were just in time for the frosty mountains around us to start glowing red. We didn’t see the sun itself, but the alpenglow and shimmering snow encompassing us was enough to be a view I will never forget. It only took a few minutes of stopping to enjoy the view before we started to get cold. Now granted, my circulation is shit, but when I say I got cold quickly I mean that I tried to pee and couldn’t unzip my pants because my fingers were so puffy and useless. Don’t worry guys, I didn’t pee my pants just yet! That will be a story for a later time. I’m kidding; maybe.
But the sun was coming up and it was the most beautiful feeling when it hit my frozen face! The snow looked like diamonds sparkling in the first light of the day. I survived Marble Mountain hell and hiking in the dark! And now, with the scenery around me and Coop attempting to break in the trail ahead like a true gentleman, I was more fired up than ever. The rest of the hike was just filled with fun and beauty and not too much noticeable elevation gain. Everything about hiking Whiteface in the winter is unique. You will see remnants of an old ski trail on the way up. You can have lunch in a chair lift near where they held the 1980 Olympics. You feel so secluded in the woods and then out of nowhere the trail meets up with an empty snow-covered road. There is no room for boredom on this trail!
Eventually, we broke out of the trees and made our way up the ridgeline. This was my favorite part of the day. Something you don’t expect to see on a summit, a stone building that acts like a weather station but looks like a castle. I don’t mind the man-made features of this summit in the winter. Everything was covered in the most gorgeous glowing rime ice and we had the place to ourselves! Although somewhere between minute 5 on the summit and minute 5 and 15 seconds the beauty turned to Coop looking like a hairy icicle and the wind blasting us all around. I forced Coop to cuddle me for a minute, which was super easy to do with apple fritter crumbs all over my jacket. We had the summit all to ourselves, and even though it was getting uncomfortably cold I wanted to savor the moment. It felt like we were closing the book on our old life and embarking on a new terrifying adventure. I didn’t shed a tear on that summit for the life I was leaving behind, and it was with light legs that I started the hike back down. I knew I would never shed a tear for that old life again. With this new feeling of purpose, we hopped up and ‘sprinted’ back to tree line. It didn’t take long before we were back to the top of Marble Mountain and just an old ski slope away from the car. Did I mention this part of the trail is steep? Exhausting on the way up. Exhilarating on the way down. I sat on my butt and slide the entire way with Coop hopping back and forth over me having the time of his life.
We did it! Another High Peak summit down. We had officially survived a hike in the dark with a mountain sunrise. Mark this on the list as number 738 for things I would not have the courage to do without Cooper. My furry goofy security blanket. These weekends with Cooper were saving me. These mountains were saving us, one summit at a time.
Where to next?