One of my first jobs after college was to teach French and coach lacrosse at a boarding school. What I didn’t know, was that I was also going to be one of the lucky faculty who got to take groups of freshman up into the White Mountains for a three-day orientation weekend where there would be much with the hiking, carrying cast-iron frying pans in your pack and sleeping on the ground.
The prerequisite for this high honor seemed to be that you were under the age of 30 and owned a pair of sneakers.
I was paired with a guy named Jim and because he was the seasoned teacher who had done this weekend romp for upwards of ten years, I was in the subordinate, assistant position. He made all the decisions on where we camped, how we pitched our tents, and he took the lead role on cooking.
The odd thing is, had anyone bothered to ask me, I was quite comfortable spending three days in the woods, sleeping under the stars. In my family, holidays were always spent camping, but no one asked and I was young, brand-new to the team—so I kept my mouth shut and did what I was told.
Jim had a reputation for being a great outdoorsman. To this day, I don’t know how he earned it, but I clearly remember questioning it as we slogged up an impossibly steep trail without a single break, ate the most inedible goulash of godknowswhat and spent an entire night shivering and combing our wet hair as the tent flooded. (I was in the tent with four of the girls and we were all drenched).
Throughout the weekend, Jim’s attitude was one of ‘isn’t this great? This is camping!’
For the kids who had never been camping before, this experience was indelibly marked on them and I can only wish I’d had the confidence then to step up and say, ‘actually, no—this is not camping. This is the first circle of hell.’
The next year when it came time to pony up to the bar for another weekend to orient the freshman, I dug my heels in like a mule. There was only one other female teacher on the staff and I insisted we were going to take a group together. You’d be surprised how much the dean of faculty resisted this idea—or maybe, you wouldn’t.
Either way, we won out and Kate and I led a group up the Garfield Ridge Trail and what a different weekend that was.
Like me, Kate was all about the pleasure of the hike. There was no pushing or driving—in fact, I remember sitting with our bare feet in a rushing stream and hours rolling by. She let me take the lead with the cooking and we had biscuits and cornbread and all manner of things that taste especially good when eaten outside and when, after a day of hiking, your stomach is loud and hungry.
Most of all? Our tents and tarps functioned as designed— we stayed dry and slept deeply. We did the full route we’d been assigned. We were there waiting when the bus lumbered down the road to pick us up— our pace did not in any way affect the outcome. The only difference was on this second trip, all of us had a really good time.
I’m not sure why this all came to mind this morning—but I think it had something to do with shifting into the week ahead. Yes, a new year. Yes, we’ve all had extraordinary build-up to all the ways in which we are going to live our lives—and I feel like it would be so easy to crash and say—what was I thinking? No way in hell I can climb that mountain. Or conversely, so easy to drive ourselves up the mountain forcefully—every step painful, a journey fueled by willpower and gritted teeth. I WILL get up that mountain, damnit.
May I suggest a third alternative?
Go easy— keep it easy—stroll up the mountain— stop and take pictures when the light is especially pretty coming through the pines. Drop the pack and soak your feet in the cool pond and hey, while you’re there—break out your lunch and follow it with a nap.
You will get to the top if you keep pointing yourself in that direction.
I just don’t believe things have to be hard and to hurt in order to reach your goals. Of course, I am a hedonist at heart—so if masochism is your path of choice, by all means—put some sharp pebbles in your shoes. Me? I’m all about exploring how much pleasure can be experienced in a single day.