Chapter 5. Cloudsplitter Therapy

Mount Marcy; The Queen of the Adirondacks! It is the highest peak in New York State and sit at 5,344ft. The hike round trip will put you over 14 miles with an elevation gain of 3,166ft for the day. I remember the first time I heard about Mount Marcy. I was 15 years old and filing papers at my moms work to earn some summer money. One of my mom’s coworkers started talking in the break room about how she had hiked it and my first question was, “In one day!” At the time I couldn’t imagine someone doing that big of a hike without having to stop for a nap at some point!

I never would have believed that 10 years later I would find myself hiking those 7 miles to the summit with just my dog, in complete darkness and on zero sleep so that we could watch the sunrise from the top. But one cool and quiet Saturday morning I found myself doing just that.

There was no one at the trailhead when we pulled up that night. Which shouldn’t be a surprise since it was a lovely 1am when we arrived. Apparently, I approach hiking in the same way I approach most everything in life: Over-plan and arrive early. I was so nervous about hiking slow and missing the sunrise that I wanted to start obnoxiously early. The hike to Marcy Dam leads to many other high peaks besides Mont Marcy, and Cooper and I felt like old pros strolling down that trail by just the glow of our head lamps. Even though he’s got 2 legs up on me, Cooper always keeps our pace in sync. I was feeling really confident that first mile or so and allowed myself to get lost in my thoughts. Life had changes so much for Cooper and I in these last few months. My tears and fears came in waves for me now instead of being a daily occurrence. Each weekend I came to these mountains to fill up my mental health cup and it was working!

As I started my hike along the well-worn trail listening to the sound of my own feet, I found myself getting lost in my own thoughts as I followed the shine of the headlamp into the darkness.  With Coop’s footfalls keeping pace with mine I returned in my mind to a night a few months before.

.....It was another Thursday night on separate ends of the couch. Already a few beers down and Netflix on, we decided to choose a movie to watch. Scrolling through I saw one that caught my attention. I couldn’t even tell you what movie it was now, but I can tell you that what followed is a night that will be etched in my memory forever. I started chatting about how I had heard from some coworkers that the movie was really good. “What is it about?” He asked. I really didn’t know much about the plot, and simply replied that I just heard it was good. What proceeded was a back and forth that continued to escalate until I was repeatedly called a dumb bitch for wanting to watch a movie without knowing much about it.  Obviously, right?

I wasn’t innocent in this night either. I yelled, I swore, got defensive, saw a version of me that I would never in my life see again once I removed myself from that environment. There is something scary about how a toxic relationship can truly bring out the worst version of yourself. I had always considered myself a quiet people pleaser. Always wanting everyone to be happy. But the anger I felt and the words that I was able to say in the heat of things frightened who I thought I was and only made me feel more sucked in and stuck in this mess.

After the screaming had died down and we were broken up, yet again, I did something that really upsets and humiliates me to even type. I went into the kitchen and had him watch me as I took a knife from the drawer. I felt his eyes on me as I went into the bathroom, shut the door and turned the lock. I don’t know how to accurately describe the desperation I felt in that moment to just be shown love by this man. After having my love for myself stolen from me, slowly, over time and without even realizing it. After fighting so hard to stand up for this relationship and to prove to everyone that we were happy. After feeling so alone in my own home that this seemed like a logical choice to make at the time. I had no intention of hurting myself that night, and I didn’t. I just wanted attention and I wanted to be loved. I was so messed up within myself that this is how I thought to go about it. I had no Cooper to hold that night, as he hadn’t come into my life just yet. All I had was a cold bathroom floor to sit on, a knife next to me and a bathmat to cry into. As my tears got louder so did the volume on the T.V. I don’t know how long I stayed on the floor that night, but when I finally peeled myself off and opened the door again, he was sound asleep.

The next morning he apologized, I forgave him and we went to the bank to sign a mortgage together and move into our home. I felt like I was too far in and I couldn’t see out. We signed the mortgage, he took my hand and told me all of the loving things I was dying to hear and we celebrated at Red Robin as I bragged all over social media about our “happiness.”

A few weeks after that night Cooper would be given to me by a coworker of mine. I didn’t know it then, but months after that sweet puppy came into my life, he would change both of ours forever.

After having my own personal therapy session with Mother Nature in my head I suddenly had the sound of Cooper growling snap me back to reality. When you are out in the woods alone in the middle of the night having your dog growl at something you can’t see is the surest way to terrify you! Now this hike was my 3rd or 4th time hiking in the dark. I have almost peed my pants at a frog crossing the trail. I have wanted to cry when the wind blew pinecones off of trees. I have had many moments of pure fear in the woods at night. But Cooper? He had never growled at any sound or been startle up until this point, and that is what scared me the most.

We stopped dead in our tracks. Coop continued to growl as I tried to listen and started to sweat. I could hear it just off trail behind us in the woods. The crunching of the forest ground zeroed in on us. It moved slow and methodical, like a cat stalking its prey.

I was too scared to turn around and shine my light towards the sound. Instead, I shortened Cooper’s leash and began talking to him as loud as I could. We kept going down the trail, moving quick. Every once in a while I would stop to listen and hear whatever it was stalking us in the night. Coop’s mohawk was up as high as my nerves. Eventually we made it to Marcy Dam, crossed the bridge and ended up losing whatever it was that was following us. A coyote? A mountain lion? A squirrel? I still have no idea and I think it’s better that way!

We made it to the dam and started our accent up Mount Marcy. It was calm in the night with a million stars gazing at us through the trees. The hike was pretty uneventful after our initial scare with the mystery stalker but we kept our pace up and in no time the trees were starting to get smaller as we approached tree line. By the time we broke through the trees the horizon was just starting to glow. Coop and I made our way to the summit and parked our asses on the cold rock, drank a beer, ate some cheese, and waited for the sun to put on a show.

Have you ever watched the sun rise? I mean truly just sat somewhere in nature with an unobstructed view, with no cell phone or distractions and just took it all in?  We seemed to wait forever as the sun slowly lit the sky but within moments of it popping over the horizon it was fully in the sky and dawn was upon us. I have never seen anything more beautiful in my life. Coop napping on my lap, the summit to ourselves on top of New York’s highest point. It was pure bliss. I sat in that moment, letting the sun warm my cheeks while I listened to Coop’s quiet snore as the world woke up around us. This was what we were meant for. If I had left that relationship sooner I would have never had Cooper walk into my life. I would have never gotten the courage to hike on my own, to live, to take risks. This was it, this was what made life living for me. I found my purpose, my therapy, my happiness all in one on the summit that morning. It felt like Cooper and I could handle anything life threw at us after that climb. We were ready for it together.

The only question that remained was, Where to next?

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