- Words by Katie Hake -
I have a competitive soul.
I’d been dating my boyfriend for just a few months when we took a weekend trip up to Burlington, VT. The owner of our bed and breakfast supplied us with Heady Topper and a record player, which I knelt next to, knees digging into the soft carpet, sorting through a box of records to feed my inner hipster.
A few spins of Crosby, Stills, and Nash later, we headed upstairs to explore the rest of the house, climbing the rickety old stairs to reach the top of the house for a view of the surrounding town. Lake Champlain sparkled off in the distance, and a chess set sat on a small wooden table next to the window.
We pushed back the chairs, sat down, and began to play. This, alas, was Spencer’s first insight into just how competitive I am – for no reason.
It must be said that Spencer is pretty good at chess, and I am not (yes, I can admit it.) I know this. I have known this since I played chess for the first time as a kid, and the one time I played in a recreational chess tournament in college where I lost so quickly I pretty much ran away afterward.
Anyway, on this occasion, I lost. And I was so mad. Clearly, I’m not good with failure, even the kind that is inconsequential and predictable and, oh yeah, part of a game that’s supposed to be fun. Or as fun as most people think chess is, at least.
Drinking my can of Heady Topper and looking out from the widow’s walk towards the town, the thought flitted across my mind that there was really no reason to be upset. I tried to consider why I was actually upset. Believe it or not, I don’t really care about chess.
I knew the reason. I just hate losing. Even after silently acknowledging this fact, I was a sore loser anyway, pouting my way downstairs to my boyfriend’s utmost confusion before I finally realized I was being insane.
Fast forward to a few weekends ago, when we were planning on kicking off our fall hiking season with Mt. Tecumseh, the shortest of New Hampshire’s forty-eight “4,000-footer” mountains at 4,003 feet tall. I figured it would be a good way to begin my quest to conquer all forty-eight, a few of which I ticked off in college by accident.
Notice my word choice – conquer. Red flag number one in any hiking scenario, because you don’t really conquer mountains. Anytime you start up a trail thinking you can best a mountain, you’re destined for trouble.
“It is not the mountain we conquer, but ourselves.”
-Sir Edmund Hillary
The first several minutes passed smoothly, though I felt out of breath more quickly than usual. By a quarter mile in I knew my knee, which I injured on a hike a few years ago, was going to be a problem.
Here are a few reasons why competitive people like myself like to pretend nothing is wrong when they’re in pain:
All three of these applied, but luckily for me, my boyfriend is not nearly as competitive as I am. (Hence his confusion when I overreacted to the chess.)
When we compare childhood stories of playing soccer in our hometowns, he was the kid picking at the grass on the field and not understanding why the other kids became so upset when they lost a game. I was one of the upset kids.
So when I paused yet again on the trail to take a break, massaging my knee, I knew it was time to give it up. Something didn’t feel right. I was breathing heavily despite having hiked extensively over the past few months, and my knee kept twinging, shouting, “Pay attention to me! Pay attention to me!”
So I did.
Taking care of your physical health is obvious when it comes to outdoor activities; if you’re injured, there is a set limit to how much you can physically do (and a much lower limit for how much you should do.)
Though we don’t always pay attention to them, mental health and emotional health are equally as important. Pay attention to the voice inside your head that is telling you to come down. You will not summit today. That is OK.
It didn’t take long to come to terms with the fact that we will not be hiking the Presi Traverse as we had originally planned to this fall. Our bodies are not there yet, as much as they might like to be. Our minds know better.
This past weekend, we made it partway up another 4000-footer in New Hampshire’s White Mountains. After a few hours of hiking, we realized that our likelihood of summiting at a reasonable time was slim. Our likelihood of injuring ourselves on the rocky way down was much higher.
So we turned around. And guess what? The hike was still worth it. I still voiced my amazement at the incredible oranges and yellows and reds blanketing the landscape at every turn.
I don’t count it as a failure.
Read more from Katie at wanderingadult.com
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I’ve made the choice to dedicate my life to my passion, and that doesn’t come without sacrifice. There are more days than not that not having a wife, a family or an established career can eat away at me. I experience a lot of loneliness because of my choices. I’m 45 years old, and there are days I wonder if I’ll ever have a different response to the questions people ask me. Sitting on a mountain top, tent flap open, sun going down, a majestic aura all around me fills me with inconceivable joy, but it also has its moments of aching solitude.