If you ever want to really get to know someone, invite them to hike Wheeler Peak with you. At 13,159 feet, Wheeler is New Mexico’s tallest mountain. There are a couple different options on how to hike up to the top and out. We chose to go up the steep, short way (in case it rained), and down the long, scenic way if it did not rain. Francesca, Elisa, Mindy and I, we got to know each other that day.
Mindy is not a morning person, but she is a mountain person. Though she would not be joining us for The Hike in Colorado, she got herself up at 3 in the morning and met us that day for Wheeler. She’d been afraid that she might not be up to this challenge, as she hadn’t been training as long as the rest of us. She also did not know how long the hike would be. Francesca, though, believed in Mindy and knew she could do it. Her confidence in Mindy is what got her in the van that morning.
We drove for a few hours and parked at the trail head in Taos, NM. It really was a gorgeous day. We hit the trail as quickly as we could, as we knew we’d be racing the afternoon summer rain.
I used my map app on my phone, but decided not to check distances. It would be better, I thought, to settle in my mind that we would simply be hiking all day, period. If we stopped hiking by dinner, I’d be happy. This was my mindset. And my goal was just to make it to dinner.
Mindy asked how far – how far we’d gone, or how far we had to go. She asked a couple times. Every time, Francesca sweetly answered, “Just keep walking! We’ll be out here all day!” Mindy eventually stopped asking.
We ascended rather quickly, which was awesome, in my mind. It was tough on Mindy, though. You see, she’s got a condition in which her larynx is constantly constricted. When her breathing becomes labored, as it does when you’re hiking up a mountain, it constricts even more.
You know what? If I had this condition, I would DEFINITELY use it as an excuse to never, EVER exercise. You think I’m joking. I am not. What better excuse is there than, “my throat could close and I could die”? I really can’t think of any.
But there she was – up before the sun to hike a mountain all day with a breathing condition.
Mindy was so worried about slowing us down, but I was grateful for the breathing breaks we took. Had we not taken those breaks, we would’ve missed marmots, mountain sheep, wildflowers, and…you know…breathing. They were very helpful.
I don’t know if you feel this way, but music has always had a pretty profound impact on my mental state. I learned as a high school freshman on the cross country team that a song stuck in my head could make or break a race day. A bad or annoying song could make every step feel even more excruciating, while a good song had the power to make me feel as though I wasn’t even tired as I chugged uphill. I used to strategically listen to 2 or 3 good songs on the way to a race to ensure that the music that fueled the mental side of my run was good, and to reduce the probability of having some horrible repeating refrain ruin it all. Maybe it was the rolling green hills of Carson National Forest that sparked the melody of Ed Sheeran’s “Castle on the Hill” in my mind that day. It enhanced the adventure and the freshness of the day. It brought a happy calm and a sense of strength for the upward climb.
On the way up, things got hard once we’d been above treeline awhile. The pace was slow-going on our ascent up the debris field…which is just a massive hill of rocks, in case you don’t know. I didn’t know, and I’ve since replaced the term “debris field” with “Hill of Lost Hope”. All debris fields all over the world now bear this title in my mind. They are arduous. They seem endless. They are ugly.
I stopped looking up. To exert oneself and find that progress is slow…almost imperceptible…when one looks up and feels she is no closer to the goal than she was before the exertion…it’s depressing. So I reminded myself that I’d be out there till dinner, no matter what the hill in front of me did. I focused on the rocks and “Castle on the Hill”.
I think Mindy looked up. And I think her breathing issue was scarier than she was letting on. And I think she worried that she shouldn’t have been up there in the first place. And she panicked a bit. Not in a weird, screaming, freak-out way, but more in a heart-racing, tears welling way. But what are you going to do when you’re stuck on the Hill of Lost Hope?
I’ll tell you what Mindy did. As I tried to speak words of courage to her that I didn’t even believe (“We’re almost THERE!”), she pulled her phone out of her pocket with a stern look of determination on her face. I think she knew I had no clue how far away we were. She pulled up a song from her favorite musical at the time, turned it up, put it back in her pocket, gave me that look one more time, and faced back into the trudge up the hill.
Mindy listened to her musical all the way to the top. Yup…we actually did make it beyond the Hill of Lost Hope, as well as the Ridge of Lies (a false summit). We celebrated, we ate lunch, we took pictures. We made it.
The hike down was incredibly beautiful. As I said earlier, we chose to take the long way down, as it was rumored to be gorgeous and rain seemed relatively far off. Even with our breathing breaks, we were making good time. Mindy didn’t need her music on the way down, and I didn’t need Ed Sheeran. We talked and laughed and descended almost effortlessly, it seemed.
However, somewhere beyond the river and the bright green trees and the wildflowers, it did start to feel like we’d been out there a long time. And the clouds were gathering. We hiked faster, and Mindy started to struggle even more. We were 2 miles away from the car, having to hike uphill once again. Thunder came. We all just sort of accepted that we were going to get rained on. It’s ok…we were well prepared. But Mindy really wanted to beat the rain. She began to lead, well ahead of the rest of us. I know the feeling…”The car’s GOT to be just around the corner!” But she was pushing herself really hard. Her breathing breaks became sit-down breathing breaks. But if you can sprint-hike, that’s what she was doing in-between. She was fueled with purpose now, and she knew she could do it.
We made it to the car the very second that the clouds broke and began to pour! We threw our gear in the car and jumped in as the deluge came down, thanking God that He’d brought us back just in the nick of time.
Francesca pulled out her phone and showed us how far we’d gone.
Mindy screamed! She jumped out of the car, closed the door, stood in the rain and screamed! I laughed so hard…not just at her hilarious reaction, but with joy. Mindy, reveling in the fact that she’d accomplished something so much greater than she’d believed she could, was a sight I’ll never forget. It was the best.
And I love that Francesca had known all along. She’d known how long the hike would be, how difficult, how strenuous. And she’d controlled the information Mindy received because she also knew Mindy would doubt herself. Had Francesca told her that she was in for 19 miles, Mindy likely would not have joined us, and she’d have missed out on an incredible personal triumph. We’d have missed out too.
After this experience, I’ve thought about the “music” that fuels our days. I’m not necessarily talking about the songs that get stuck in our heads, but the thoughts that drive our mental state each day. As I’ve experienced while running, and as I observed that day on Wheeler Peak, our thoughts are the driving force behind our daily climbs. Are we purposeful…strategic…about the songs that drive our days? Or do we offer our minds up to whatever might end up getting stuck in there and potentially fall victim to a soundtrack that will sabotage and ruin our efforts?
What does the soundtrack of your day usually sound like?
“I’m a failure”
“I’m a victim”
“I can’t do this”
“I’m all alone”
“God has good plans for me”
“I was created for a purpose.”
“I can do all things through Christ, who gives me strength”
“I’m never alone. God has promised to never leave me nor forsake me.”
Many days, I fall victim to the bad songs. And they do get stuck in there, don’t they? I’ve found that just as I was purposeful about preparing my mind to run, I must be purposeful about preparing my mind for each day. The bad songs are playing everywhere we look, and they often play when we’re all alone. Flooding our minds with the truth each day from God’s own mind is the only way to combat them.
Mindy was fueled for this hike by Francesca’s belief in her ability to accomplish it. Her own thoughts informed her wrongly that she was too weak to do it. It was Francesca’s right thoughts that allowed Mindy the opportunity and the strength to climb on, climb high, and climb far…beyond what she believed her ability to be. We, too, must be fueled by Another’s thoughts of us. Left on our own, we will always think wrongly of ourselves…either by arrogance or self-abasement or doubt or worry. As Mindy did with Francesca, let God’s thoughts of you determine what you will do. Let the truth from His word tell you who you are. If you can’t believe you are loved, that your life has purpose, that you are able to climb the hill before you, that you will ever get through this season of life, go listen to God for awhile. And remember that He goes with you, like Francesca went with Mindy, every step of the way.
Self-talk eventually gets old. I don’t believe myself…I’ve been wrong too many times. God-talk, by contrast, never ceases to be true, and it will never change. It doesn’t change when you fail. It doesn’t change when you disappoint yourself. It doesn’t change with what others say about you. It is reliable and controlled. We are given exactly what we need to know…no more, no less. This is the answer to our worry-filled days. God-talk…better yet, God-song…is the soundtrack we all need to climb the hills of life, to provide strength when we get weary, to bring us scream-in-the-rain victory at the end of it all.
What’s playing in your mind today? If it sounds something like “Blue” from Eiffel 65 (the undisputed worst song in history), open up your Bible app and let God play something Ed Sheeran’s not talented enough to create. It’ll change everything.
“The Lord your God is in your midst, the mighty warrior who saves. He will take great delight in you; in His love He will no longer rebuke you, but will rejoice over you with singing” – Zephaniah 3:17
–Mindy, the Mountain Slayer