Sunday, August 12, 2007

Climbing Baldy

I wrote this almost three years ago and as I get ready to depart for Michigan in the morning, I thought this was the perfect time to post it on my blog.

Every summer that I can remember, my family has vacationed in a quaint resort in Northern Michigan. It’s a wonderful time that I have always used to relax, read, swim, hike, bike, and generally restore my spirit and soul. One of my favorite activities had always been a particular hike up a huge sand dune named Baldy. This hike is partly an easy walk through the woods where I enjoy looking at the scenery, birds and flowers, etc, but the last 1/3 of it is truly grueling. In fact, the last ½ mile is almost entirely straight up. For many reasons including having gained a significant amount of weight, I have not made this trek in 12 years. But this summer, I was determined to do it. I had until mid-August to reach my fitness goal.

One of the important things I’ve learned about setting goals is to share them with someone who will hold me accountable and be loving simultaneously, because, when I feel like letting myself off the hook, if I’ve made my goal public, then there’s usually someone there to keep me from giving up. That’s exactly what happened in August. Two nights before I was scheduled to come home (and having not climbed Baldy yet), my brother Dave wisely announced towards the end of dinner that he and I were going to climb Baldy that evening. Understand, I’d had a pretty big dinner and a couple glasses of wine (it was vacation after all) and at that moment, I simply wanted to roll out of dinner and go watch the sunset in peace. Remembering the promise I’d made to myself, I agreed, changed clothes, grabbed my water bottle, and off we went. Frankly, without Dave announcing to all of our friends that we were doing this, I would have found an excuse to get out of it.

The beginning of the hike was beautiful. The sun was starting to set, the leaves were changing and I thought I was in Heaven. Well, until we really started to climb. Dave is in awesome shape and this was easy for him. In 12 years, I’d forgotten about quite a bit of the difficulty of this climb – all except for the last little bit. No one ever forgets the last part of the Baldy hike. As we reached the end, I was working harder than I remembered being necessary and had many moments of uncertainty about my ability to finish. Dave reached the top about 40 minutes before I did and sat patiently waiting for me (although out of my view). The truth was that this was my battle and it was nice to have a cheerleader, but he couldn’t do the climb for me and nothing he could say would make it easier. As I trudged through the sand – my feet sinking up to my mid-calves with almost every step – I was unsure I could make it.

Some people aspire to climb huge mountains like Mt. Everest and they train for it their whole lives. My Mt. Everest was named Baldy and it represented more than just a big sand dune to me. Baldy was truly a metaphor for many things I’d fought to overcome. As I struggled through the last part of the climb and with each step fought to stay on my feet, self-defeating thoughts kept going through my head. I stopped frequently, but always kept going. Finally, I reached what I thought was the peak and I called out for Dave because I didn’t see him. He yelled back and told me to keep climbing! “KEEP CLIMBING???” I thought, “Good God! I thought I was done!” But it turned out, that just around the bend, there was 1 more mini-dune that was probably 50 feet tall, pure sand, and no trees or branches to help me balance and stay on my feet. I took a deep breath, a big gulp of water, and started up the almost 90 degree climb (I swear this is not an exaggeration). Even though it was only about 50 feet, I still had to take frequent breaks because of the difficulty, and at one point about ½ way up the mini-dune, I made the almost fatal mistake of sitting. I say fatal because as I sat there and looked out over Lake Michigan and Lower Herring Lake I thought “I’ve gone far enough. This is gorgeous and I don’t need to really reach the top to feel good about this. I'll just climb back down the way I came and call it a night. No one will know the difference.” A second later when I was ready to give up, another thought entered my mind. “I'll know! When else in my life have I given up on an important goal just short of the finish line and let myself off the hook?” The long list of times I had stopped short flooded my head and I rushed to my feet, determined that THIS time I would finish. Failure was not an option.

About 25 feet later, I reached the top. As I did – I turned around to see where I’d started and what I’d gone through to reach this goal – my eyes just filled with tears. I was so proud that I’d set a huge goal, worked hard, encountered obstacles, overcome them, kept going, and reached the prize. The view was more magnificent than my 12 year old memories had provided me. My belief in myself was higher than 10 sand dunes named Baldy. As Dave and I sat on top of the dune and watched the most breathtaking sunset of my entire vacation, I knew that I wasn’t really watching the sunset. I was seeing my old doubting self disappear for the final time, knowing that my journey up this dune had been about more than just climbing a dune. It was about confronting my fears and walking through them head on. I looked my fears in the face and said “I WILL NOT BE STOPPED!” I said good-bye to my old self who doubted her every move and enthusiastically welcomed the new me who could achieve anything I dreamed of. For proof, all I need to do is remember the feeling of pride I felt that night and continue to feel each time I tell this story.


  1. Wow! Calves in sand? You are one tough cookie!

  2. your Mom's friend JaneAugust 15, 2007 at 7:40 PM

    Very PROUD of you, Jessica!!! I am continuing to enjoy your writing!!!
    And you and Dave are blessed to have each other as siblings :).


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