Me hiking in the Canadian Rockies
At this point, one of the lowest in my life, I once again, turned to the mountains for help and for a good reason. A study from Environmental Science & Technology, reports that outdoor exercise results in greater feelings of revitalization and positive engagement, decreases in tension, confusion, anger and depression, and increased energy, exactly what I needed.
But this time I wanted to something epic. Something that I thought I could do but wasn’t totally sure. I wanted an adventure that would inspire awe from other hikers and in myself.
After searching in Google for epic long distance hikes of the world and variations of it, the Tour du Mont Blanc kept coming up. It was on every list. Words like epic, one of the world’s classic hikes, one of the world’s best hikes flashed on my computer screen.
Hiking the Tour du Mont Blanc in France, Italy, and Switzerland
The Tour du Mont Blanc is a beautiful 160 km long trek around Mount Blanc, the second highest peak in Europe and the highest peak in the Alps. It takes hikers through three countries; France, Italy, and Switzerland.
I knew almost immediately that it held the answers I was seeking. It would be my first long distance trek over 50 km, and despite valid concerns from my doctor, I knew that I could do it. I HAD to do it.
Convincing my husband wasn’t so easy; but I thought we were going to go to Italy for a relaxing vacation, he protested. Not being a fan of changing plans in general, and especially one which seemed like a lot of work for a vacation according to him. I finally won him over by promising to shower every day. Yes, the hygiene situation was that bad.
I may not be able to control other things, but I could control each step I took to complete the TMB.
And step-by-step I did complete it. When the going got tough, and my muscles ached, I would repeat to myself, Just take the next step. Sometimes I would repeat this mantra hundreds of time throughout the day. It’s what got me through the tough sections.
I’d be hiking with tears pouring down my face but gradually over the next eight days, I found myself smiling, something I hadn’t done in months. Then grinning for no reason. On day six there were only smiles, no tears.
I was on my way back to finding the person that I’d lost through endless doctor appointments and medication that made me feel sub-human.
The strength I gained from hiking the TMB, didn’t just stay on the mountain. Back at home when something wasn’t going as planned, I’d think, Just take the next step. It worked for you on the TMB; it will work for you in this situation too. And it did. The TMB has provided me with lasting strength that has transferred to many parts of my life.
It gave me strength at a time that I was feeling powerless. It gave me the confidence to attempt challenges that I had previously lacked the confidence to take on.
To this day I tell myself, If I can trek the TMB, I can do anything. There’s something incredibly powerful about taking the time to listen to what your inside voice is telling you while being surrounded by the healing powers of nature.
Little did I know at the time that it would be the first of many long distance hiking and cycling trips.
Hiking to Everest Base Camp
Seven months later I had the opportunity to hike to Everest Base Camp, a 12-day hike reaching the highest elevation I’d ever been to, xx m, at Base Camp. I’d just had another unsuccessful surgery and while I wasn’t in the same despair that I had been months earlier, I was definitely in need of a pick me up.
I developed a lung infection, bronchitis and suffered from altitude sickness fairly soon into the trip. My head was pounding 24/7, and every breath I took was a loud gasp. You can’t do this; you should quit, a not so little voice inside my head told me, battling the other one, You’ve got this. Quitting isn’t an option.
But I realized that I didn’t want to waste my time focusing on how sick I was. For crying out loud, I was in the Himalayas, the most incredible mountain range I’ve ever hiked in, and that’s saying a lot given that I grew up hiking in the Canadian Rockies. If I believe in the healing power of nature, surely her powers were in full force here.
My epiphany on this trip was to learn how to find joy in each moment by redirecting my focus. Instead of paying attention to the constant throbbing in my head and gasping for breath, I’d focus on my surroundings. Looking up, up, up in awe at how quickly the mountains rose from the valley. Observing how the scenery changed every day becoming more barren the higher we hiked. Watching the sun move across the mountains changing their appearance.
This gift has stayed with me. Whenever I find myself complaining or upset about something, I try to redirect my focus, just as I did while hiking to Base Camp. The more you practice it, the easier it becomes.
Cycling the Danube from Passau to Vienna
Two months later I did my first cycle ride over 40 km – needless to say that I wasn’t much of a cyclist. I cycled the Danube River from Passau, Germany to Vienna, 250 km over three days. I’ll be the first to admit that it’s not much of a challenge for a proficient cyclist, but for me it was. This time I did it with two friends. Unlike the two previous hikes I had done, this lesson was different.
It wasn’t just about me and what I needed from the experience but supporting my friends and giving them what they needed as well. Whether it was the encouragement that we were almost there, or just telling a joke to contribute to the fun – something that complaining about saddle soreness didn’t accomplish.
We can get so wrapped up in our lives that we don’t reach out to loved ones as often as we should. This trip helped me make more time for family and friends and find ways to show them how much I cared for them. I’m far from perfect, but much better after this trip as I’m conscious that I need to make an effort.
Cycling 1350 km Across Finland