Coming Full Circle

Submitted by Nancy

"Life is all about timing...the unreachable becomes reachable, the unavailable becomes available, the unattainable...attainable."
--Stacey Charter

"Each friend represents a world in us, a world possibly not born until they arrive, and it is only by this meeting that a new world is born."
--Anais Nin

Pat and I walked to the front of the school auditorium amid the applause of my beloved husband Don and many fellow hikers, and received our 4,000 footer awards, officially becoming members of the AMC 4,000 Footer Club and acknowledging the new world born of our friendship. We have climbed all 48 mountains in New Hampshire over 4,000 feet high, from Tecumseh at 4,003 feet to Mt Washington, the highest point in New England, at 6,288. It's hard for me to believe.

Not too long ago I weighed over 200 pounds, and was so filled with shame I could barely take part in life. I fought every day just to stay on an even keel, centered on loving my family, even though I hated myself. How could anyone love a 200 pound, 5 foot tall person? I couldn't look in the mirror, hated buying clothes and had a closet filled with every size imaginable from 12 petite to women's 1X. I dreaded being in public and was so embarrassed when people saw me as the fat person I was. I was so filled with shame it encompassed me, hung over me like unwanted low cloud cover, infiltrated every thought, tinted it with deep sadness and an angry revulsion. It was hard to move, but I didn't notice. It took every ounce of courage I had to put on a bathing suit and play in the pool with my kids when we were on vacation in the Florida Keys. The only way to continue on was to push the reality of my size and looks far away, and stay entirely disconnected from my body.

I tried every diet imaginable from fasting to drinking liquid pre-digested protein. Then Lori, a dear friend, and I drove to the mall and bought the Atkins Diet book. I was ready. I followed the diet literally, every word, every food choice, and lost 40 pounds and reached a plateau. I switched to Weight Watchers, and started losing again. Another dear friend, Marty, talked me into going to an exercise class. I sat in the car for 15 minutes, fighting sobs of fear that I would be the largest person in the class and would make a fool of myself. I forced myself out of the car and into the gym. One whole side of the room was a huge mirror. I held back the tears and walked to the very back where I could hide. I stayed for the whole class and then another and another until I was going four times a week consistently.

Life is all about timing...

I met Pat probably two years later after I had lost about 60 pounds and was exercising regularly, lifting weights and doing aerobics weekly. My children were grown, no longer needing my undivided attention. My husband, Don, had his own pursuits of golf, racquetball and handball. It was time for me. I knew very little about Pat, except that she liked to be outside and looked very athletic and worked in IT at Keene State College. One morning I looked up Pat's e-mail address on the KSC website and I sent her an e-mail asking is she wanted to walk with me. It was a bit scary to hit the send button - what if she said no?

She answered saying she'd love to walk.

A new world being born...

My friendship with Pat opened up this new world so gradually and naturally, neither of us was aware of it happening. We walked the four miles between our work places, Keene State College and Cheshire Medical Center, a few times. Our walks quickly became a regular routine, rain or shine, right through the winter and into spring. I was getting in shape for a river rafting trip down the Grand Canyon, a trip of a lifetime for my husband and me. To get ready to hike up the canyon, Pat and I started walking up and over Beech Hill. During one of those walks we talked about wanting to hike Mt Katahdin in Maine. We set it as a goal. Just like that. Pat suggested maybe we should climb a few of the White Mountains first and casually mentioned there was a list of the 67 4,000 footers in New England, that included Katahdin. She explained there was a 4,000-footer club and you got a patch once you'd climbed all the mountains on the list. I said, "Let's do it!"

Let's do it? Holy shit! What was I thinking? Even the bravest, healthiest, smartest people would wait until they had climbed at least ONE mountain before they pledged to climb them all! After our enthusiastic yes, we never wavered.

That was the beginning...

We started mountain climbing in earnest on May 6, 2006 and climbed all 48 4,000 footers in New Hampshire ending in high spirits on Jefferson just 14 months later. We hiked through all four seasons and endured hot sun, incredible humidity, deep deep snow, cold rain, sheer ice, steep slides, ledges with few hand or foot holds, and straight down trails that made our knees talk to us. I have never been so afraid, elated, cold, hot, proud or determined in my life. I spent years pretending I didn't have a body and now my body was doing incredible things, giving me unbelievable gifts, gracefully, and I am so grateful. Did I just say that? I am grateful for my body? Yes, I am grateful to my body for getting me up the mountains to see the unimaginable grandeur of the vistas from the mountaintops. I am blown away by the beauty I have seen and by my effort to get there. To go from the lowest low, totally detached from an overweight body, to being on top of the White Mountains, my body having lifted me up all those thousands of feet. It is hard for me to comprehend my own transformation.

I guess this is a reclaiming of sorts. I've hated my body most of my life and now, finally, we are beginning to make peace. It's no longer a tug-of-war; it's a more friendly game of give and take -- a two-way street. I have changed how I eat and move and my body has rewarded me with strength, endurance and the ability to get me where I want to go. It hasn't been easy. I still struggle with weight, and food, and to feel okay in my own skin. But when I am on top of a mountain, it never ceases to amaze me that I actually got there under my own power. I am discovering my strength and my feelings through the effort of climbing, and that in itself is healing. The effort required to climb up and down not only pushes me physically, but mentally as I shed old negative thoughts, replacing them with tentative moments when I acknowledge my body with kindness.

And there's more...

Pat has her own version of my story. Pat's struggle was with alcohol. As we got to know each other, Pat shared with me that drinking was a part of her nightly ritual and had been for most of her adult life. It was a way to relax, to fit in, and to connect with others. I could see how difficult it was for her to talk about it, the guts it took for her to share this truth and trust I would hear it without judging her. One day we were hiking on the Wapack Trail and Pat was talking about the cycle of self-hate tied to her alcohol abuse, how much she wanted to quit and just didn't know how. I asked her, as compassionately as I could, knowing it would be hard to hear, "So why don't you just stop?" A moment of silence, but I could see she had heard me. Pat was ready. Timing is everything. She stopped…that day, that moment, and hasn't had a drop since. Talk about strength and courage! What I love most is that taking the alcohol away left just Pat, beautiful Pat without any veneer or false layer of protection, leaving her very vulnerable. I am sure that was very scary for Pat, but truly beautiful to see. It was June 10th, 2006. She is coming up on two year anniversary. How cool is that?

And even more gifts...

After our first hike Pat said she was going to write a trip report. "A trip report? Huh?" I said, giving her my hairy eyeball. In the back of my mind I am thinking, Who the hell would be interested in a trip report of our hike? Pat explained there were hiking websites where people posted their hike reports and that we could do that too. As a matter of fact, she thought we should have our own website and she could and would do it. That sounded way cool, but I just couldn't imagine anyone being interested in what we were doing. But I loved the idea of having a record of our hikes. It took a few hikes before I was ready to try my hand at writing a trip report. Now I love sharing the stories.

Writing the reports puts me back on the mountain and gives me a chance to sit with the hike a bit longer, so I can mull it over and figure out the gifts of the experience. There are always a-ha moments when my writing brings me to a new understanding of myself. It happens almost every time I write a report. And then we post the reports on our website for all to read. In sharing our hike reports, we have been honored by beautiful heartfelt responses that have touched us immensely. I had no idea people would read our reports, or that our words and stories might inspire others. Holy SHIT! How many gifts can a person get from climbing a mountain? The ripples from our journey spread in ways we don't even know or understand. What happens after the hike is as beautiful as the views from the summits.

And we don't just hike. We run! Pat and I started out training for the Tufts 10K. (Could we have started with a shorter race?) Pat had done the race for years. I wasn't so sure I could do it, but there I was, in Boston with thousands of women wearing a friggin' race bib on my chest and timing chip tied on my sneakers. And I made it! And I have made it every year since. But do we stop with running? NO! Pat and I hiked from one rim of the Grand Canyon to the other last year and this year, Pat, Don and I rafted the class V rapids of the Futaleufu River in Chile.

What next?

We have plenty of mountains still to climb. We hope to have hiked all the 67 4,000 footers in New England by this fall. We're also working on the 100-Highest list, the 52-with-a-View list and the 48-4,000-footers-in-Winter list. We plan on running in the Tufts 10K again this year and are applying to run in the Falmouth Road Race, a seven-mile race on Cape Cod. We are doing a White Mountain Presidential Traverse over 10 summits in July and a rim-to-rim-to-rim hike in the Grand Canyon in September.

But it's not so much what we do that matters most; it is how we do it and how it changes us. Who really cares how many miles we have hiked, run, walked, rafted and talked together? What moves me most is that every mile has been filled with moments of self-discovery within a growing friendship. There are tears and fear, celebrations, anger, laughter - it all comes into the world between us where we are safe enough to explore who we really are. We push, support, and inspire each other. Pat and I often marvel at the journey we are on, unable to believe our luck. here's an a-ha moment; right here, right now...

Huh... you know, it's easier crediting luck and serendipity for where Pat and I are today, than stating the truth. But as I write this, I realize I am missing a chance to see Pat and myself more clearly, to honor us both more deeply. Yes - we had perfect timing and incredible luck. But I can't write it off to luck. I am on this incredible adventure because I said "YES" to the journey, one step at a time, every step of the way. I made a choice, over and over again, for me. Pat has done the same incredible thing. We both said yes - yes to life!

Timing is everything.

Lucy was at the 4,000-footer ceremony. I was drawn to her. She was so excited getting her award for climbing all the NH 4,000 footers that her tail was wagging furiously. She was a very happy golden retriever. After the K9 awards, as we walked into the auditorium for the people part of the ceremony, I knew beyond a doubt that I didn't want to live my life or climb these mountains without a dog. I want that happy-to-be-alive contagious joy of a golden bounding up the trail ahead of me, turning around occasionally to make sure I am with her. Pat has been thinking about getting a trail dog as well. Hey! Hey! Hey! What if we get sibling golden retrievers and start all over hiking the New Hampshire 4,000 footers so they can get their patches?

I say YES!