This post was originally shared on May 11, 2015.
Last weekend, while traveling alone to Scottsdale for the wedding of one of my longest, closest friends, I was struggling with a question that I've been asked several times recently about my life.
"Oh, you're going alone?"
Whether it be to a movie, which I've done now several times since my first post about it, going to dinner or traveling across the country for a weekend, in the past few years, I've become comfortable doing most things alone. Not because I hate everyone and don't want friends or a significant other, but because I don't want to miss out of life's moments because I don't have someone to accompany me.
As an only child, I've ebb and flowed between dependence and independence, always knowing I have a solid community of people who are there if I need them, but very aware that this is my life, and my decisions should reflect what make me happy.
My original hopes for my trip included a longer stay, preferably joined by a close guy friend or, in dreams, the guy I would be seeing. With the date approaching, my quick, unplanned career change, and no sight of "dream man" I had to reevaluate and make the official plans.
One round trip ticket to Phoenix, please!
With only 32 hours in full to spend, I needed to find something to do that was exciting, different and a memorable way to forge an adventure alone. But, what is there to do in the desert?
My answer came clear when I received an email from my hotel accommodations. I'd never done much research before a trip, usually because my time is planned out for me without much wiggle room for free time, but I took a few minutes to check out tourist attractions within Scottsdale. While, of course, great food was on my list, even though we have the best of everything here in NYC, I wanted to find something that would force me out of my comfort zone but wouldn't make me a creeper doing alone. Insert Camelback Mountain.
Now, when you think of me, I'm sure besides incredibly graceful, athletic and insanely balanced on two feet, you think of an expert outdoors-woman and mountain climber. I'm as shocked as you are! So when I found Camelback Mountain, just over 2 miles from my hotel, and with different trails for levels of hike-ability, I thought, why the hell not? I can walk, I've been walking for years AND I can hydrate. I do it well, mostly with booze but I'm adamant about water to booze ratios so hydrating properly to conquer the climb shouldn't be an issue. Plus, I grew up on a hill, I climbed that hill over a million times, what's those million times combined together? We got this!
Quite literally, in fact.
Out of the dry, desert land, glowing with the reflection of the sun off of every flat surface, amidst gorgeously bright bushels of flowers, overgrown bushes, dust and cacti, arose a mountain, non-ironically named for its' two humps. A mountain seemingly placed for no other reason than to climb to the top and gaze at the desert. My eyes caught glimpses of blues and melons as I followed the trail ahead already full of fellow hikers.
"Ok, well if they can do this, so can I!"
Let me first say that any mountain, hill, faux rock wall, I've ever "attempted" to climb was also usually covered by grass, snow or built with ridges to leverage your body and balance. Little known fact, the "Rocky Mountains" are pretty rocky. And when I say "rocky" I mean, from pebbles to boulders, or dirt to dust, there is nothing but you and the two legs you have to leverage your way up the mountain. #thingsIdidntthinkabout
So, here I stood at the bottom of the mountain, heart beating with excitement and partial heatwave from the 2 mile walk in 99 degree heat, thinking,
"Well, you made it this far. That's pretty good for your first time in the desert. You've never done this. You could get hurt, trip and fall! Who do you think you are? You could go back to the hotel, relax by the pool, grab a few cocktails and Google pictures to tell everyone you climbed to the top....
Or, you could start to climb. See how far you get. Take the first step forward and see how you feel. Make it to the first ledge and check in! Whatever you do, take a step!"
No one was around to hold me accountable, to push me forward or to talk me out of it. This was my adventure and I was in complete control of the outcome. If I wanted to see the world from the top, I'd have to take the first step up, granted, the first 20 steps were up were technically stairs built out of rocks and wood.
With adrenaline, endorphins and sheer pride that I hadn't tripped over my own two feet yet, I continued my climb. Taking moments to stop and look as the world unfolded beneath me, mountains rose across the desert and a slight breeze amidst the heat enticed me higher up the cliffs. Careful of my steps, watching others strategically map out their footing, my feet found their natural place in the wedges between rocks and my body responded, easing up with the balance of someone I swear, wasn't me. It's almost as if I had to put a new level of trust in myself and my legs which have failed me in the past, but rose to the occasion to travel into the unknown with me.
Brief stops at various points to catch my breath, rehydrate and view the world below at a different height, helped me assess my journey thus far.
"My legs haven't given up, my heart isn't exploding out of my chest and while I'm dripping sweat, I feel pumped and ready to keep going!"
Through the variant terrain, from pebbles that were quick to move under my feet, to bigger rocks that took a bit of a hop to get to, my anticipation grew to finally reach the top. I'm sure the people behind me pegged me as a tourist from all the photos I took, however, these photos are proof of my physical and mental journey. With each step, I was as equally cautious as I was carefree, weary of the unknown but excited to explore, a perfect metaphor for the life I've been living.
While many would assume to view this adventure as "climbing an uphill battle" or "fighting your way to the top", I've actually done quite a bit of thinking on it. After reaching the top, alone, without anyone telling me where to step or when to give or or push harder, the feeling of great relief that I accomplished something I put my mind to, and pushed through my fears, the slow dwindling fear of my upcoming descent put pressure on the joy I had felt just moments before.
"So what's next? I can't keep going, there is no where to go but down....but how? I'll slip, for sure. I didn't think this through at all!"
The panic of my inevitable climb/slide back down the trail was so unexpected. Obviously, I knew the mountain wasn't a one way journey but no one ever talks about the climb back down, it's always the push up the mountain. So as I stood, overlooking a land that seemed out of a fantasy, I took another view at the far away mountains along the skyline, the houses of the people who called this land "home" and the others who continued to climb up the mountain. I may never get back to this place again, hell, I may never get the chance to climb a mountain again, but I'll be damned if a little fear of the ride back down will scare away the joy and accomplishment.
After a few, well dozen, photos, I made my descent, carefully placing my feet back into the crevices they found and caught my balance. While it wasn't as easy as the climb up, which is a complete understatement because I wouldn't call going up easy, this was different. We always discuss the goal as a struggle to accomplish, however we never discuss what happens after we've checked it off our list. Does everything get significantly easier after? Probably not. Do we set our sights on a higher goal, a steeper mountain? Or do we settle in to skidding and sliding through the rocks until we hit the bottom again? What happens when if I do fall and I'm all alone? Should I have gotten Life Alert?
As humans, we are given mountains to climb, some larger than others to test whether or not we can or will even attempt to climb them. Our mountains are all different and at most times, not always on the same path, let alone the same mountain chain. When we get to the top, we never take a moment to appreciate the view. We're always focused on the next mountain, instead of carefully making our way back down, preserving ourselves for the next adventure. Or we carelessly let ourselves fall mid-climb without understanding when or where we lost our footing.
This adventure on Camelback Mountain helped me learn more about my life, my journey and my strength. I learned that I'm stronger than I think I am, even if I have to push myself, as long as I trust my foundation, I'll make it to the top and I can do it on my own. I learned that the top is even more glorious than I had imagined but the little stops along the way are beautiful as well. I need to take the time to look around, take a breath, realize that even in moments when I feel alone on a mountain, there are always people around, willing to set examples along the way, willing to help out. And, that once I get to the top of the mountain, after I've taken in the world around me, the only way to get to the top of a higher peak is to make my way back down to the bottom. If done carefully, with thought, excitement and pride, it doesn't matter how many mountains I climb, the view will be different on each one and will encourage me to keep climbing.
It's not always about the highs or the lows in life, it's knowing where to stand, check out the best views, and keep your feet moving in the right direction. I also highly suggest water and good tunes as well!