“Insanity: doing the same thing over and over again and expecting different results”-Albert Einstein
I had been living with my sister and her girlfriend for 2 months before I told anyone else in my family. I knew deep down in my heart that I would never go back to that relationship.; to that shame and sadness I put myself in daily. I knew that, I really did. But the whole situation humiliated me. Just because I felt different this time didn’t give anyone in my family a golden ticket to believing me. After all, why would they? I had put them through so much over these last 5 years. Month after month they would watch as I faded away into a lesser version of myself. Countless times a year they would answer my 2am phone calls and listen to me sobbing on the other end. Six times they helped me move out of a home with this man only to have me move back in less than a week later. My sister would leave her job to come pick me up because I was scared in my own home, and then watch as I smiled with that same person a few days later, me not understanding why she couldn’t just be happy for me. For so long I would ask the impossible out of them. To be there for me when things were awful and to support me and accept this person into our family every time I made the choice to go back. And for years that is exactly what they did. Even when they were openly upset with my choices, I never felt like I still couldn’t come to them. I am very aware that it didn’t have to be that way. They could have easily alienated me, cut me out or given me an ultimatum. They didn’t. All they did was love me. And when Cooper and I finally had the courage to get out for good, we wouldn’t have made it farther than the end of the driveway without them by our side. It took a lot of courage that day for me to leave. But that is nothing compared to the courage that my family showed for years when they believed in me before I ever believed in myself.
I had a goal to make it past Christmas before anyone else found out. I thought, if I could just make it through the holiday parties without having to explain myself to anyone, then my socially awkward, people pleasing self could put this off a bit longer. Brecka words of wisdom: Why face your problems when you can just avoid them! Just kidding, don’t write that one down.
So, I went to those holiday parties. I smiled about how great life was. I made an excuse that he was working. I talked about how great our home was and the vacation we had planned in a couple of months. When an interaction felt too overwhelming, I would look towards my sister, who could see my desperation and would gracefully jump in and steer the conversation away from me.
That Christmas would be the last time I would feel physically ill as I lied to my loved ones when they asked how I was doing. It would be the last Christmas I lied to myself as well.
I got home that night after the holiday parties, eager to get back to Cooper. That night we would stay up late in our small cold attic, eating takeout alone with Coop’s drool shining bright beneath the Christmas lights. Thanks to Santa, I finally had a map of the mountains! I remember sitting on the floor wide eyed looking at all of the trails and feeling the same admiration that Coop has for bacon. Or spinach, cheese, poop, anything he can eat really! We were alone but I didn’t feel lonely. We had made it through the holidays. Sitting in the attic that night with Coop I felt a shift in me, my previous life was starting to become the motivation I needed to change. Studying the map that night I could see the potential of the life that was ahead of me, a life full of yet unimagined adventures and limitless possibilities. I had a long road a head of me but I finally knew I was on the right path.
Next up: Mount Colden.
If you have been near the High Peaks before you have likely stared in awe at Mount Colden’s beautiful slides and the large crevice running up it. The peak sits at 4,714ft and is sandwiched between the big guys, Mount Marcy and Algonquin Peak. The hike to the summit is about 12-miles round trip starting at the Adirondack Loj trailhead. If you read Chapter 1 you will know how happy it makes me to proudly say that I knew where this trail started!! I could actually find the trail from the parking lot! What a crazy concept. Typically, I like to continue making the same mistake over and over again just to be sure, BUT this time I had learned quickly and hopped out of my car and straight to the hike. Cooper trotted beside me as we listened to the rhythmic sound of the snow crunching beneath us as we made our way to Marcy Dam. Looking back now I can see how many mistakes I made during these early hikes. It didn’t matter to me though. With each summit I could feel my confidence growing. Typically, all I wanted to do was blend in and not be seen. In the woods though, I walked taller.
It is a strange feeling being 26 years old and just learning how to love yourself. Everyone around you seems to be getting engaged, having kids (on purpose!), buying a home, and taking those next steps in life. From the outside looking in, everyone seems to have their shit together except you. I literally had no clue who I was. I lost it all. Was I still kind? Or was I that screaming women filled with anger? What did I enjoy? Where did I want to live, explore, learn? Who was I before I was told who to be?
At this point in time I had none of those answers. But it felt ok to not be ok on the trails. I didn’t know me, and no one else out here knew me either. All that mattered was Coop and I, having fun and escaping. Because before I knew how transformative these hikes would be for me, all they were was an escape from my sad and confused day to day. There was no deeper meaning to this 46er journey to me in the beginning. I just desperately needed the opportunity to break free. Little did I know these hikes and the confidence and clarity they gave me would lead me to years of adventure. That these trails in the Adirondack Mountains of NY would be where I would meet my husband and end up with more than I ever could have dreamed of. But that’s a story for another time.
In the beginning of this hike we were on the same trail as our previous trek up Phelps Mtn for the first couple of miles (See Ch.1!). It felt so calm and comforting to be able to zone out on familiar territory without constantly wondering if I was going the right way. Eventually we split at a trail junction and hit new terrain as we passed by Lake Arnold and headed up the steep ascent to the summit. The sign said “Colden Mountain” with a fancy arrow pointing the way. I started to ascend, being out of breath and getting hangrier by the minute I assumed that once we got up that section of the trail that my victory beer could be opened! Let me just tell you how played I felt to bust my ass up this trail only to find out I had just reached the FALSE summit. This my friends is why people have trust issues. I truly contemplated turning around at that point and heading back. No one would know I didn’t reach the actual summit! I was wet, cold and tired and I could feel the tears welling up in the back of my throat.
I had thought about this before. About why I didn’t just turn around after feeling so discouraged, and the only thing I can come up with is pure stubbornness. When I first left my ex I remember my brother saying to me, “Don’t be sad. Get angry, stay angry towards him and that will get you through.” And while I am not condoning a Dave Buznik, Anger Management type of vibe, this is exactly the advice I needed at the time, and it would carry me through many moments of weakness. So as silly as this may sound, I took that advice on this hike too. I got straight up pissed at Mother Nature that I wasn’t at the summit yet and I rage hiked my tired self all the way there without stopping for air.
Of course, I had my buddy Coop at my side during all of this. He stuck right next to me and any time I felt tired or I felt nervous hiking up a certain area I would feel his fluffy weight pushing into to me and head butting me until I knew it would be ok. And while an 80lb dog pressing his full weight into your back on a steep section of the trail is not ideal, it was just what I needed to remind myself I wasn’t alone.
After some temper tantrum hiking Coop and I finally started to approach the actual summit! I will never forget how I felt breaking out of the trees that day. Remember earlier when I mentioned that Mount Colden was sandwiched between Algonquin and Marcy? Those are the two highest peaks in New York State! I felt like I had the most incredible view in the world. The best part? I somehow got lucky enough to hike this peak on a rare blue bird winter day. The sun hitting my frosty cheeks made me feel like the weight of life was lifting off of my shoulders. There was no wind. No other people. Just Coop, myself, beauty and freedom. I took my pack off and laid it down as a pillow. Coop instinctively curled up next to me and I closed my eyes to take this moment in. This remains the most peaceful 20 minutes of my life, and it was in that moment that I truly began to feel that I would be ok.
Unfortunately, we couldn’t stay there forever. We peeled ourselves off from that cold icy rock, threw our packs back on and began the descent. My next thought?
Where to next?