"There it is. That’s the hut over there.” I followed James’ glance and saw the hut in the distance. On this unusually beautiful and clear day, the sight of the hut, while reassuring, was preceded by miles of rocky land. There remained hours left in our journey before we would call the hut home for the night. I pushed away those daunting thoughts and instead of focusing on how far we still had to go, I looked down at the uneven rocks below my feet, took a step forward and said to myself in a whisper, “Each step is progress, you are one step closer.” As the 12th hour of hiking was winding down, and the sun was setting on the mountain, we approached the hut, now close enough within reach that I could let myself smile, let my guard down a bit and welcome the relief that I was about to feel as I stepped into the hut for the night. “We had done it,” I thought to myself. Day one was complete, I had succeeded in both physically completing the grueling distance over the rocky terrain and in mentally keeping my mind positive throughout the long day. James had warned me that the mental strength needed to complete this trip would exceed the physical demand and I couldn’t help but pat myself on the back for the incredible work we had done pushing through in both areas.
As I opened the door into the hut and was hit with the musty smell of a mountaintop cabin full of unbathed hikers, I was a little taken aback. But I continued through the hall and made my way into a bunk room. I gratefully unclipped the forty pound pack that had been on my back all day and untied my hiking boots. As we sat down to dinner, I began to realize that while the physical challenge of the day ended when I unclipped my pack and untied my shoes, the mental challenge and burden of making it through a night in this cabin would not be so easily achieved. The cold dinner, lacking in flavor, much unlike the hut meal James had described to me from his prior trips, paired with a pathetic attempt to wash the dirt away after dinner with a ziplock bag full of baby wipes was just about more than I could take. As I laid down for the night, in a bunk room packed with strangers, my achy body longing for a soft bed and cozy pajamas was greeted only by a mattress pad so thin that my hip bones dug into the wooden plank below. As the sleepless night progressed and the sounds of snoring filled the room, I found myself wanting to be anywhere but there. Wishing there was a way out of this; feeling as though I had reached my mental limit and could no longer stay positive. As the hours grew longer and the negative thoughts ran endlessly through my head, it only intensified my feeling of failure. I had been physically strong enough to complete this part of the trip, but my mind was failing me. I had been prepared for the day but not for the lack of relief that would come from the hut and I laid there discouraged and disappointed in my weakness.
As we returned home from our trip, I had time to think back to that feeling on the mountain and I realized that the expectation that I would never give in to a moment of mental weakness, that I would be able to smile through everything was unrealistic. I had given my body grace but not my mind. It was a reminder that to grow stronger I have to be challenged, and at times, meet failure. It’s not about taking a path and making it through with no hardships, but being able to experience those setbacks, those walls and push back despite how hard it is. The realization that both my mind and body should never accept a moment of failure as the end, but rather a stepping stone to reaching for new limits.