I love the idea of climbing mountains. There’s something romantic in the classic sense of the word about pitting your body against nature to feast your eyes on a magnificent view. I love the thought of walking among the trees, surrounded by the sounds and smells of nature, the stink of machinery and other people’s living habits nothing but a distant memory.
All of which is to say that I do not hold John responsible for the fact that I currently feel as though I’ve been lightly trampled by a horse. When he said, “Hey, why don’t we climb Mount Monadnock this weekend?” I didn’t complain or object. I, in fact, eagerly looked up driving directions and trail maps. I chipperly woke him up early on Saturday morning. There may have been singing while I packed a picnic lunch. I even did something I never, ever do in the city: I offered to drive. I was that excited about hiking this mountain.
Let me share a secret with you: the reality of me climbing mountains isn’t pretty. We weren’t ten minutes into the hike before my lungs were burning. Either I am desperately out of shape or I have some undiagnosed sort of breathing problem, because I was struggling to breathe to the degree that I couldn’t do anything else but put one foot raggedly in front of the other while instructing my lungs on how to draw air. The butterflies and flowers and trees that I had so many happy visions of? I didn’t see much of them, because they weren’t six inches from my feet. The fresh mountain air was welcome for its role in at least keeping me cool, but it kept taunting me: “Ha ha, you can’t breathe me in!”
And then there’s the hydration battle. You’re desperately thirsty, but if you satisfy your thirst, you’ll run out of water well before you reach the top and will have nothing for the way down. Also, you know you’ll end up needing to pee if you guzzle it down, and on a mountain as crowded as Monadnock? Well, you’ll just have to suffer all the way back down the mountain. Either way, you lose, and the end result will probably still be swollen hands and shaking knees.
The ridiculous thing is that I’ve gone through this before, and I’ll do it again. From the first time my dad dragged us up Little Bigelow, I have known that mountains do not need to be particularly imposing to wipe the floor with me. Mountain-climbing has always equaled severe muscle pain and oxygen-deprivation headaches. As a kid, I was smart enough to realize my limitations, so I dug in my heels and refused to go hiking on any mountain but French’s (which even I can handle) whenever I could get away with it.
As an adult, however, I get struck by this madness that insists that it doesn’t matter how bad the pain or lack of air is: it will be worth it. The twenty minutes at the closest thing to the summit I manage to achieve will justify the following week of being unable to walk down a flight of stairs.
I was seriously questioning this philosophy of “the pain is worth the gain” about half-way up Monadnock. The last time I was seized by hiking mania I had at least been biking around a hilly city as my primary mode of transportation for several months, so the pain in my lungs took a little longer to hit the threshold of agony. My only real exercise of late has been climbing stairs and walking around a mostly flat town, which needs to change, as I was bluntly told by my body. I was about ten vertical feet from throwing in the towel…and then John found blueberries.
Blueberries are not my favorite fruit, but I have been homesick for the tiny, tart Maine blueberries that you just can’t buy in a Boston grocery store. When John found a little bush growing in the crevice of a rock laden with half a handful of ripe blueberries, I had a strange moment of realization. For those minutes, the hike was worthwhile. Not just because of the blueberries, but I can’t quite pin my finger on what else made it worth the suffering it was (and is) putting me through.
All I can say, I guess, is that those were the best damn blueberries that I have ever tasted. They gave me the inspiration to get within sight of the summit, at least. I also hope that our gym membership at the new apartment will make a difference in my ability to climb mountains because (Lord, have mercy on my stupid self) I’m looking forward to finding more mountains to climb.
P.S. This lovely man, my husband John, is the guy who took all these photos (except this one, obviously), and who generally takes all the nice photos and videos that show up in my blog. He’s in the process of setting up a deviantART account for his photography. Details to come!