There’s only one word I can use to describe this weekend’s hike, and that’s brutal. By the end of the day we had hiked over ten miles during the course of eight hours, made it to the summit of two of the New Hampshire 4000 footers, and spent five hours in the car. Definitely a challenge!
We began the hike at the parking lot for the Flume Gorge Visitor Center. Instead of entering the exhibit and going down into the gorge to spend a day in the cool shade of a mountain, our destination lay in the other direction – up. At the northernmost edge of the parking lot, we started on a paved bike path, which is the unmarked Whitehouse Trail. Almost a mile up the road, we entered the woods and took the Liberty Spring Trail until the path forked. From there we went right, opting to take the Flume Slide Trail to the 4328 foot summit of Mount Flume. If you do a bit of research, there are numerous warnings against descending via this trail due to its steepness, and boy, am I glad we listened. They weren’t kidding – parts of this trail are ridiculously steep!
The first two hours were relatively easy. The next two hours were seriously difficult, spent scrambling up loose rock slides and using tree roots to pull yourself up vertical ledges. Breaks, which we had to take often, involved stopping anywhere you could get your feet level for a moment to take the constant strain of the incline off your calves.
After four hours, we finally found ourselves at the top of Mount Flume. We took a break for lunch on top of the mountain surrounded by a gorgeous vista. Usually I lose myself in the scenery.
Usually, by this point of the hike I’ve reached an adrenaline induced euphoria where I don’t register much pain, but not this time. I woke up feeling horrible. I still wasn’t feeling great, and I was only halfway through the hike with another 4000 foot peak and a descent to go.
Had I given myself the choice to back out, I wouldn’t have been on a mountain that day. But I didn’t give myself a choice. I was doing this climb for my dad, in honor of the one year anniversary of his passing. There was no room for weakness, which became my mantra as I continued to put one foot in front of the other.
Another 1.2 miles and we had conquered the 4459 foot peak of Mount Liberty. We took another long break, surrounded by a magnificent 360 degree view. By this time my voice was cracking from a day of severe acid reflux, but I was finally feeling better. I never reached the ‘zone’ this time where the hike becomes natural, easy even. Every step of this hike was a struggle, and it was the hardest hike we’d ever done. But I still got through it.
So, why do we do it? Whatever doesn’t kill you makes you stronger? Nope. The pain let’s you know you’re a live? Uhuh. There’s something very spiritual about the experience. Something about the journey, as your mind and body breakdown and then become stronger, as your resolve evolves to a more determined level. There’s a type of bonding that takes place between hikers on a mountain, even with strangers you’ve just met, and I think it’s amazing that my husband and I get to share that with each other. It definitely beats couch time together.
So why, after all the pain and suffering, do we continue to do it again and again? I think climbing mountains produces the same type of partial amnesia that mothers experience. You remember the difficulty and the struggle, but after a little time passes, the benefits, the pleasurable parts overshadow the grueling, tortuous parts, and you do it again.
For me, though, it’s more than that. After finishing an eight hour hike, I’m sore. And that’s normal. It’s not like waking up after an average day’s activity and being in extreme pain for no reason. Or spending a rainy day watching movies on the couch to be rewarded by an intense neck and head ache.
You only have a certain amount of pain receptors in your body, and I function better when mine are receiving earned pain – muscle aches and soreness due to strenuous physical activity that I put my body through, instead of fibromyalgia pain – pain that’s constant and there for no understandable reason and that gets aggravated by feelings of anger and frustration.
For me, the pain isn’t as bad when I’ve done something to deserve it. I can’t speak for others with fibromyalgia; my experience with them is limited to individuals who claim disability and rely on morphine lollipops. On the rare occasion that I out myself in a conversation I find that I receive doubtful looks while I’m told about how the people they know with fibromyalgia have a really hard time and are in such constant pain that they can’t do much of anything.
I’ve learned to just smile in nod instead of pointing out that constant pain is the definition of the diagnosis, to commiserate instead of suggesting that they tell their friends and loved ones to try pushing through the pain to live a physically active life. But I know I’m on to something. Besides the muscle pain I have bone and joint issues. Most mornings I feel like I’ve been hit by a bus, but you just have to keep going.
Some days it gets easier, others it doesn’t. It is what it is, you just have to keep going, accomplish what you need to do and make the best of it. I think one of the main benefits of hiking mountains is that it trains you to think positively. You can’t think negatively. Once you’ve gotten yourself up there in that situation, only you can get you out. There’s no easy way down the mountain.
Every day I remember the doctors who told me that I was disabled and that I’d never live a normal life. You make your own decisions, set your own limitations, and chose your own destiny. My drive and determination – this is the legacy that my dad left me, that I chose to honor him by. I climb because I can.