Last weekend I hiked the highest mountain in the UK with a group of people, some of whom I knew (like my boyfriend and friend who was visiting from the US), but some of whom I didn’t know.
We rented two cars and drove the entire day to Scotland where we stayed in yurts near the base of Ben Nevis in Fort William, and this was our front yard:
There were nine of us divided into three yurts, and a big outdoor kitchen to share. We took turns cooking both nights and in the mornings, and the whole experience made me nostalgic for my days as a Girl Scout.
On the morning of the hike all of them ate oatmeal and fruit for breakfast. I seriously couldn’t believe it. I was thinking, where is the full English?! How the F are we going to hike for eight hours on an empty stomach?! So, I ate my oatmeal and fruit but by the time we got to the grocery an hour later I was already hungry. We picked up supplies for the day and also for dinner later, and I got extra food to have a lunch before as well as during the hike like everyone else.
We drove to the trail head and I still wasn’t feeling very nervous. It was supposed to be about 4.5 miles up the mountain, but I figured I’ve easily walked that and have gone on runs much longer. Somehow I didn’t consider the fact that I haven’t actually moved myself more than a couple miles (on flat land) without a vehicle in about a year. I got so used to thinking of five miles as an “easy” distance.
Almost immediately (within two minutes!) I was feeling out of breath and my legs were tired. The fact that I’d decided to eat a huge salty salami and cheese baguette sandwich at the start of the climb really didn’t help. Imagine how you’d feel if you got up right now and walked up stairs for 15 minutes straight while eating a giant sandwich.
I was struggling so much that I barely noticed the scenery and for the most part didn’t take many pictures on the way up! It was hard to look to the left and see this beauty …
… when I was constantly looking ahead and seeing this demon:
I really, truly thought I couldn’t make it up. I’m in the absolute worst shape I’ve been in since before I started university almost ten years (!) ago. Before ten minutes had gone by I was already so far behind everyone else that I couldn’t see most of the group. My boyfriend and friend both realized how far behind I was and came back to walk with me, but my spirit was already way down in the dumps by this point so I kept saying I shouldn’t have come on the hike and they should leave me behind because it wasn’t their fault I was so crap.
We passed a bridge over a stream, and I assumed this was the halfway point the sign at the beginning had told us to watch out for. It had to be! I didn’t know how long we’d been climbing, but IT HAD TO BE. Then I was informed we’d been climbing only an hour or so, and we had at least three hours until we reached halfway. At this point I wanted to cry, because I was so unprepared for the trip, so out of shape, WAY behind everyone else and worried I was ruining the trip for the two kind men who stayed behind with me. Worst of all, I was so thirsty from the heat and my giant sandwich that I’d drank almost all of my water and still had at least six hours of climbing left.
I didn’t tell anyone I’d never been on a real hike before, because somehow that never entered my mind as being relevant information. It was. I’d brought one bottle of water that wasn’t even full, so it was lucky that other people brought more than enough water and were able to share.
On a normal day I have a serious problem with looking at other people’s accomplishments and totally forgetting anything I’ve done. I was sure I wasn’t going to make it to the top because I seriously doubted I’d make it to the halfway point. I started questioning why I bother doing anything, because I’m average at everything so what’s the point? I actually started talking about how my tombstone would probably read:
Here Lies Sara.
Died at an average age.
Lived an average life.
Climbed half a mountain.
Then I started thinking I’d probably get dumped after the trip, because why would anyone want to date a girl who could climb only half a mountain when there are girls out there who can climb a whole mountain?
I’m laughing now at how ridiculous this is, but at the time the path was somewhat of a projection of my mental state!
When we finally made it to halfway, I was so excited because I knew my tombstone would no longer say, “Climbed half a mountain.”
I still had energy, so I knew I could make it to the point where my tombstone would at the very least read, “Climbed 3/4 of a mountain.” I was also starting to figure I probably wouldn’t get dumped for my lack of hiking experience, although maybe I’d get dumped for being so dramatic.
My friend Eric was also inexperienced, so we both look pretty happy to have made it this far!
Simply making it to the halfway point made me so happy that I was able to stop being so dramatic and start talking about how I could make it, and how I’m not average at everything, and how I have accomplished a lot recently. Only the week before I was over the moon about getting hired to blog for Food Network (!!!!!!!), so I started talking about that and also how I was starting my new job (which is going great!) when we got back from the trip.
I felt like I had so much more energy, and it really made me realize how powerful your mental state is. I’m sure to a lot of experienced people Ben Nevis isn’t a hard hike, but for me it was very difficult physically and my lack of confidence in the beginning made it a lot worse. This is something I learned a lot about in field training (like military boot camp) for ROTC in college, but it was so long ago that I forgot how good it feels to do hard things and focus your mind on positive areas to get through challenging situations.
Near the top it was all rocks, and it was cool to see the clouds blowing up over the mountain and forming above us.
When we got to the top of the mountain I can’t even tell you how excited I was. I wanted to run around and yell and high-five random people, but I tried to contain myself because I wanted to be cool like, this is no big deal.
The rest of the group had waited for us at the top. In my mind I thought they’d made it hours earlier, but they didn’t stay together, either. The fastest people made it in only a couple hours, and then others came in later and later. We were last, of course, but I didn’t care. I was just proud I made it!
The hike back down was so easy I didn’t notice it took about three hours (the hike up took more than four hours). Physically it wasn’t easy at all because it was a lot harder going down to keep balance on the unsteady, slippery rocks. But I was so happy I made it to the top, and I was 100% going to make it down because I didn’t have another choice but to walk down the mountain.
Once we got near the end we saw these guys and stopped to say hello:
I loved the hike so much that it finally made me motivated to get serious about fitness again and set some challenging goals. I’ve realized this year that the biggest contributor to my being negative about my life’s accomplishments is not being physically fit. There are a lot of reasons why I stopped working out, but I feel like I have everything together now and can start working toward a big running goal. While I would LOVE to run a marathon, I want to be realistic and train on the extreme safe side. I’ve made a 5K training plan that seems almost too easy to me, but I want to make absolutely sure that I’m being smart and don’t get injured again. My plan is to run a 5K in two-three months, maintain that level of fitness and slowly increase it to half-marathon distance by early summer.
If you have any mountain climbing, running, confidence stories I’d love to hear them!