A Moment to Last a Lifetime on Saddleback

Submitted by Nancy

"You must be the change you want to see in the world."
--Mahatma Gandhi

"Internally, we are divided against ourselves; the emotions want one thing, the intellect another, the impulses of the body yet another, and a conflict takes place which is no different in quality, although it is in scale, from that of the world wars. If we are not related to ourselves in wholeness, is it any surprise that we cannot perceive the wholeness of the world?"
--Vimala Thakar, Spirituality and Social Action: A Holistic Approach

Mountains: Saddleback (4120) and Horn (4023)
Date: October 4, 2008
Time: 9 am - 7 pm - 10 hours
Weather: Cloudy, temps in the low 30s, wind 20-30 mph with gusts up to 40 mph
Miles: 14.6
Elevation Gain: +3,728
Trails: Appalachian Trail - out and back

Picture Gallery

We are above tree line and have been for over three hours. There are 20 mph winds, 40 mph gusts (Pat has a wind gauge), 30-degree temps and a chill factor probably in the teens. Even though it is the beginning of October, the shrubs around us are covered with rime ice. We get glimpses of the florescent fall foliage in between the clouds that surround us, but for the most part we can't see any of the tremendous views we had hoped for. Pat and I are walking into the wind. My jaw is frozen and I sound like I've been drinking when I speak. But it's tough to be heard over the wind, so we're not talking much. My eyes are having a hard time focusing, and I have to keep blinking to see. The wind is whipping my backpack straps into my face and pushing my fleece hat over my eyes. And YET, yet, I have this incredible feeling of well-being inside of me. It's not just pea-sized. It fills me.

I don't really know how to describe it because I've never felt it before. Never! I know...how is that possible? I've lived 54 years and I have never felt this inner sense of well-being that seems to have coated my nerve endings, doused all the nasty voices in my head, kicked out all my fears, shoulds and can'ts, replaced my inner skeptic with a cheerleader and released a bounty of endorphins. It feels more even-keeled than excitement, greater than calm, more full than complete. It has erased all the hopes for a clear sunny warm day and left only contentment for what is. It has completely wiped out all my hiking insecurities and left only strength and self-assuredness. It's like the inside of me has been cleaned out and all that remains is a surging life force that has no end, no limits, no separations, no concerns, nothing but potential and possibility and promise.

I want to live here forever. I want to hold onto this moment and never let it go. I want to feel this peace always. I want to superglue myself to this place of wholeness and well-being...and I know I can't.


On the mountain I was in the experience. Now, sitting on my purple couch, I'm trying to figure it out so I can write about it. But the experience wasn't nouns and verbs and sentences. It required no thinking, only feeling. And now I am thinking...so I don't get it. Maybe it is not figure-out-able. But here's what I have so far.

All my inner voices that are normally yapping constantly were quiet. It's like they up and quit their jobs prior to the hike and all was peaceful within. My critic, who constantly barks at me, reminding me that I can't hike, I'm not strong enough, not brave enough, not good enough -- she was no where to be found on Saddleback. My inner child, who is scared of the cold weather and furious winds, either grew up or was taking a nap. And the parts of me who hold my anxiety and worry about being strong enough to get up and down mountains over 4,000 feet and over trails 14 miles long carrying a pack, they had an attitude adjustment.

Perhaps the past two-and-a-half years of experience has had an affect on all my inner voices. Saddleback and the Horn are number 64 and 65 of the 67 4,000 footers in New England -- just two mountains left to complete the list. Our hikes have pushed me way beyond my comfort zone many times. I fell to my knees on a snowfield near the summit of Adams in tears, tired of carrying emotional baggage and physically exhausted. Our first hike above tree line in the Northern Presidentials totally unnerved me because the wind was beyond anything I had ever experienced before. It was one of the first times we turned around without bagging a summit. I was frozen in fear on Moosilauke as I tried to climb an impenetrable ice slide with stabilicers that couldn't get a grip on the ice. Winter hiking pushed me because the freezing cold temperatures simulated a horrendous experience I had in the month of October as a little girl and I found myself sure I would not survive all over again. The Bonds, a 20-mile, fifteen-hour adventure, left me completely drained. Each experience pushed my leading edge out a bit more, and then a bit more, expanding my comfort zone one hike at a time. I am more comfortable in the elements than I was in 2006. The wind and the cold on Saddleback challenged me, but they didn't enter into me, they didn't change me, they didn't open up my raw fear or past experiences. I stayed in me.

Along with my comfort zone, I have also grown in the believing-in-myself department. Our hikes have brought me from the I-am-scared-to-death-that-I-can't-do-this place to I-hope-I-can-make-it, to finally, I-know-I-can-do-it. In the beginning, I questioned whether I was going to make it every time I stood at a trailhead. It took me a year and a half to think of myself as a hiker. Thanks to hiking, running, weight lifting and spinning, we are strong, fit women. Now I know I CAN DO THIS.

So, this feeling of well-being is not a reaction to something outside of me - the cold, the steep, the wind, the mileage, the non-views, although it is certainly as active, as equally alive. The feeling is coming from inside of me. The extreme conditions were showing me how "in" I was, to feel so peaceful while the weather raged around me. I wonder if my inner experience shows on my outside. I wonder if Pat can tell this amazing thing is happening to me. I picture it as a light glowing from my heart out, intense and bright. If I look like how I feel, I am shining.

Now don't get me wrong. I haven't got anything you haven't got. If this experience happened to me, which it did, then it can happen to anyone.

So what really happened? Was it peace? Was it wholeness? Was this some kind of passage? If I can figure out how I got to that amazing place, maybe I can make it happen again. Or I could write about how to make it happen and sell a million books. I could patent the formula if I could figure it out. Make big bucks if I could bottle it.

But it is even bigger than that, isn't it? Whatever is inside of us, manifests outside of us. Peace within brings peace into the world. So if everyone could experience a "Saddleback" simultaneously, what would the world look like? Would we be fighting in Iraq? Would we be experiencing an economic crisis? Would the Presidential elections be the same? Would Corporate America treat workers as they do today?

Something very special happened to me, in me, on Saddleback. I love knowing that life can feel like that. I love living life without my past traumas, my critic, my skeptic, or my fears. I love that I can let go of thinking and let myself just feel. Most of all, I love picturing the world as if we were all on top of Saddleback walking in wholeness and well-being. It starts with me.

65 out of 67 NE 4,000-Footers