The two words, I fear uttering. Whether it’s pondering a career choice, a move or travel opportunity, if I don’t weigh the options I fear that one day down the road I’ll wonder what if and potentially regret an opportunity not taken. Where does this come from? My best guess is my dad. He’s always loved Robert Frost’s “The Road Not Taken” and I can recall at various points in my life when we were having life decision chats where he would refer back to the poem. It’s how I’ve lived my life to date and while if I had things to do over, I may have done things a bit different, I don’t regret a single thing.
Just as travel can be fun and exciting, it can also have its challenging, or even downright scary, moments. Being in a new place pushes us out of our comfort zone and makes us face our fears. Tell about a time you had to face your fear when traveling, and what was the result.
Standing at a fork in the trail, the 12 of us gathered around Trailmaster Pete. Our destination: Madison Spring Hut (elevation 4825′) in the White Mountains of New Hampshire. There were a couple of routes ranging in difficulty: some being less direct, but less strenuous and the big mother of all trails, one that cautioned it included many scrambles (i.e., big boulders to climb up) and was better to ascend than descend. As we sat and weighed the options, I knew which way I wanted to go.
Just the day before we stood at a different trailhead, some considering the more direct route vs. the more strenuous hike over the summit. That day we ended up in two groups, I opted for the summit, after all, that’s why we were there. While the majority of the group headed straight to the Carter Notch Hut and had a good hour or two relaxing with a cuppa hot tea, playing Uno, we hit the summit of Mt. Height. It was an eerie climb above treeline with the summit covered in fog, but it at the end of it, we had such a feeling of accomplishment and I knew I made the right choice.
Back to day two and further deliberation, when we decided to go for it — the most direct, yet most difficult trail with more than 100 feet of vertical granite rock faces. I’d been rock climbing before, so I thought I would be prepared for what awaited me. Was I ever wrong.
The trail started slowly, meandering through the woods, taking us deeper towards the base of the mountain. You could smell the dampness in the air as we traversed creeks, disrupting mossy landscape that felt as though it had been untouched for weeks, probably even months. The quiet solitude cast a pallor over the day as we walked single file towards the base of the mountain. Along the way, we had two mishaps: my friend Dan tried to balance himself on a tree limb as he leapt to a boulder, only to discover it had rotted through and tumbled head over feet into a ravine. A short time later, Bonnie had been crossing a brook, stepped on the last, slick rock and fell backward into the creek, completely submerging her head and pack. These events had us all unnerved. Last year, there were no major incidents and here in the short span of an hour we had two. But at this point in time, we were too deep to turn around. The only option was to soldier on.
And then we saw it. Granite as far as the eye could see. Time to climb.
From the relatively few times I’ve been, rock climbing is all about scanning the rock, determining where you can use the cracks, crevasses and boulders to propel yourself up to the top. This is difficult in it of itself, let alone with 18 pounds strapped to your back throwing off your center of gravity. It’s this little fact that is easily forgotten when faced with a boulder more than 10ft tall, with nary a handhold or root to grab.
As we assembled our line up, we each set about conquering each boulder as it lay before us. Marc and I bringing up the rear with a few fellow climbers. It was all about quiet togetherness, deciphering each hunk of white, silver and black flecked surface for something to stand on, grab and scrape past. Over time I sensed a rhythm in the climb and fell into the motions. Despite its difficult nature, I knew it would be ok. I would just need to focus on what lay before me and not get ahead of myself.
The vertical climb seemed to appear in stages. You would get through one section, breathe a sigh of relief, walk a short distance and be confronted by another wall. It seemed endless and I was growing weary and low on water. As we neared the tree line, we hit a particularly rough patch. No matter where I looked I couldn’t find a place to grab and grew extremely aware of the small stone beneath my feet, the jutting rock above my head and the near impossible move of bending backwards a bit, while using my quads to lunge up and grab the lip of the rock above, which was out of arms reach. My chest began to tighten as I knew I would have to rearrange my foot position to accomplish the move. I immediately had the vision of falling backwards, head hitting rock, rock knocking out teeth and a bad end to the day.
“Babe, you know what you gotta do. Just reposition your foot and reach for it. You can do it. I’ve got you.”
The calm, soothing voice of my boyfriend, Marc. It broke through the fear in my head and released it out of my mouth.
“I know…I just, just can’t.”
Uh-oh. There it was. The voice I knew all too well. The slight tinny whine of me, being a girl. The voice that petulantly cries out when I am confronted with something difficult and I’m too exhausted to think rationally. It’s a side of me that rarely shows itself, but when it does it’s hilarious. However, it has a profound effect too. Instead of enabling me to wallow in my current state it breaks me out of my pity party and into action.
I took another look down, figured out how I was going to get myself out of this pickle and made my lunge. As I looked back at Marc, I felt the grin break across my face. He scrambled up behind me and with a quick swig of water we set off to complete the climb to the hut. It felt like an eternity, but we reached the top where we were reunited with members of our group. The wind began to pick up and the temperature was rapidly dropping. It seems we had made it just in time. Looking down over the Great Gulf Wilderness as the wind whipped past, a wave of euphoria washed over me. You could only get this view by coming up the trail I had, staring down into the canyon where no cars go. Completely unspoiled, nature in all its glory.
I guess you could say it was the road less traveled by, and it did make all the difference.