Mountain Man Willy’s Untimely Advice

Since moving to Los Angeles, I’ve found little as post-hectic-week-medicinal as hiking in the mountains. The mighty peaks surrounding the 12 million-plus people can make the endless traffic, big-city sounds and life’s stress seem insignificant. While I enjoy gazing at them from afar, there’s nothing like venturing up into them. And that’s exactly what I was hoping for a couple of weeks ago—a hefty dose of respite, peace and escape.

Unlike my husband, I’m no climber. So when he suggested we venture up Mount Baldy, the highest peak in the San Gabriel Mountains, I made sure to ask the necessary question: “Can I handle it?”

“Sure,” he said. “It’s more like a long walk than a climb. But it’ll probably be cold and snowy.” I could handle cold, I reminded him; I spent the first 18 years of my life in Minne-snow-da. So we loaded two packs up with winter gear and headed out. Cool, I thought. A pack! I’m going to look like a real climber! Little did I know what that “look” entailed.

Within minutes of donning the pack, I questioned the identity of the 12-year-old child clinging to me piggyback-style, resisting my every move. My heart thudded wildly and my upper-body begged to go back in time and master pull-ups. I can do this, I told myself. Focus. Maybe I’d adjust in time. But every step felt more brutal. Rather than escape stressors, I had new ones. I fought the urge to chuck my pack down the mountain as my inner-pep talk grew silent.

“How are you doing?” Hubby asked as we neared a small clearing.

“Okay,” I said, as in still breathing. In gasps.This pack is heavier than I thought it would be. Makes things…” *gasp* “rather…” *gasp* “…difficult.”

“Yeah,” he said. “Mountain Man Willy told me once that he can take professional athletes out here and they’re fine. But put packs on them and they fall over.” (Did he seriously just say… ) “Your pack is only like 10 pounds, though.”

He turned to look at me, camera phone at the ready. Me? Not so camera ready.

Grrr… “One person’s 10 pounds is another’s 10,000,” I said.

“Is it really that bad?”

“Do the words ‘are we there yet’ mean anything to you?” I dropped the pack on ground in weary surrender.

We locked eyes and burst out laughing. Then he did what any chivalrous mountaineer would do:

Free of the zillion ton—okay, ten pound—cling-on, I felt as light as air. I could’ve run the rest of the way, singing! We took turns with the pack from there on out, laughing repeatedly over my debacle. To my husband’s credit, he had no idea the pack would affect me as it did, and I was honored by his faith in my abilities.

It struck me as we hiked on how easily we can feel paralyzed by the emotional loads we carry—toxic relationships, difficult-to-break habits, jobs we loathe, insecurities we’ve yet to overcome. If we never release these burdens, we’ll never learn what we’re truly capable of. How can we thrive if we’re too busy surviving? This has definitely been the case for me. The only time I felt purposeless and creatively-blocked, I was at my lowest point emotionally. Once I made the difficult decision to face and set free the burdens I carried, the whole world seemed to open up. I don’t know about you, but a wide-open world full of possibilities—intimidating risks and all—seems far better than trudging through murky waters when in our hearts, we know there’s more. We may not learn these lessons as soon as we’d like, but what matters is that we learn them.

What burdens have you carried? Are any holding you back now? 

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50 Comments

  1. I think a wonderful part of getting older is having the will and strength and courage to let go of emotional burdens that hinder us…and eliminating the “toxic” people in our life that add to those burdens. And to decide to make your dream come true instead of treading stagnant waters.

    I have experienced this a lot since turning 40 – and its very freeing! Especially to use the word NO to people. Kudos to your husband for having that faith in you! 🙂

    Reply
    • Beautifully said, Donna. Many of us have far more freedom, courage and control—the ability to make those tough decisions—than we realize. May many follow in your age-embracing footsteps!

      Reply
  2. August, sounds like you have a great guy there. Now, girl, it’s not just the weight of the pack, it is the semi-restricted movement, the shift in center of gravity, and different balance that messed you up. All that adds up to over a 50 lb. pack. If you practice wearing a pack the other challenges disappear then you’re back to the 10lbs.
    Letting go of old issues, burdens, etc. is indeed freeing and opens the way to a happier life.
    Great post, August.

    Reply
    • Ah, practice. Now there’s a useful concept! 😉 Thanks for making more sense out of my pack struggle, Prudence—more lessons that apply to climbing and to life.

      Reply
  3. I love this post August. I have been with you on every step of this climb. 🙂
    Of course everyone of us does have burdens – some of them I had been able to leave behind – a couple others are still carried by me – hindring me to follow my plans and do what I love to do most.

    Reply
  4. mgmillerbooks

     /  April 9, 2012

    Just what I expected from you, more useful insight. You truly do inspire me, August.

    Reply
  5. Shannon Esposito

     /  April 9, 2012

    The part that really struck me here is that when you finally dropped the pack, you both laughed. Wow. There’s a lesson there. I can imagine myself plopping down on the ground beside it and feeling like a complete failure. In honor of your brave hike I’m going to try and laugh at myself more this week 🙂

    Reply
  6. I refer to my husband as the “pack mule” when we go on vacation. It is actually a compliment, because he can carry such a load. And I’m sure he feels quite manly doing it. Now I also have a teenage son, so I may be free of heavy loads for quite some time. 🙂 (Yes, maybe that’s sexist, but in my defense, I do cook all of their stinkin’ meals!)

    Reply
  7. Excellent post. Very insightful. It’s so very true. I’ve experienced the same thing. I was smiling and nodding as I read your post. Oh – And my husband never gives me a pack to carry when we hike. LOL

    Reply
  8. Beautiful, beautiful post, August. Just what I needed today. 🙂

    Reply
  9. I think many people never give up those burdens, August. Congratulations on doing so.

    Reply
  10. Ha! I’m no climber either…I feel your pain in that 10+ pound weight 🙂

    Embracing that world of possibilities has gotten both easier and harder as I’ve gotten older. The older I become, the easier to let go of the fears holding me back, yet harder as responsibilities added burdens, or perhaps limits is a better word. It’s almost like that line from It’s a Wonderful Life…’youth is wasted on the young.’

    Your last line is so true ~ “We may not learn these lessons as soon as we’d like, but what matters is that we learn them.” Brilliant post August!

    Reply
    • Such an honest response, Raelyn. I bet many can relate to the ups and downs of maturity. Hopefully with a little creativity, we can find ways to circumvent the limitations—”escalators” up the mountains. 😉 Thanks for the fabulous support!

      Reply
  11. By the way, it’s posts like these, honest and insightful that led me to give you the very insightful blogger award. Congratulations, August

    Reply
  12. Another wonderful post. I’m in awe that you and your husband were able to laugh, come up with a solution, and continue to enjoy the rest of your day. Good for you for being honest! And I guess honesty is what we all need when we’re examining which burdens we need to let go of.

    Reply
  13. Catherine Johnson

     /  April 9, 2012

    That pack does look heavy, good on you, August! Burdens aren’t usually as easy to drop off as a backpack but acknowledging burdens is a good first step.

    Reply
  14. Karen McFarland

     /  April 9, 2012

    LOL August! That pack would’ve weighed me down too! But who said chivalry was dead? What a guy, your husband. You know, there’s not too many of them out there like that. He’s a keeper! But to get rid of the burdens. Hmm. That’s not always as easy as handing over a backpack. Great metaphor though. Where did you get that picture of L. A. with the mountains? Love that? 🙂

    Reply
    • Have to agree with you there, Karen! I lucked out big time.

      The photo is a camera phone shot from a hike in Griffith Park. Even minimal photography skills can work wonders when you have prime scenery. 😉 With Pinterest being all the rage, I’ve decided to use more of my own shots and less stock. (So yes, this one’s quite pinnable. LOL)

      Reply
  15. Great read. How does that song go? Lay my burdens down… anyway, acknowledgment is a start. I love the mountains!

    Reply
  16. This is great August. I agree with Donna G. about age and wisdom and letting go. For me that means dropping one thing out of the pack at a time I guess! 🙂

    Reply
  17. Hi August,

    I was in bits for about ten years dealing with some serious family issues, but let them go one day – forgave those who needed it and life has never been better – it’s not perfect, but it’s better 🙂

    Thanks for a great post – as always 🙂

    Reply
  18. Looks like a challenge! My husband and I went on a bike ride the other day and we got home after 3 and half hours. He turned to me and said, “That was a pretty long bike ride!” Hahaha!
    I am old enough now that I try not to let anyone hold me back. I try to keep my load light and blow off the cling-on Debbie Downers that would love for me to sit down and rethink my goals and question myself…but that ain’t happenin’!

    Reply
  19. Running from Hell with El

     /  April 9, 2012

    Ah, I identify with the hiking and climbing bit here because I run marathons. And your man is a good one! As far as the connection you made to setting down burdens–yes, for sure it is efficacious when we set down whatever is weighing us down.

    Reply
  20. Sooo good! I love to hike. Climb … not so much … and definitely not with a pack. Loved your husband’s response and the laughter of both of you. That’s the way to do it!
    I learned to let go a long time ago through completely uncontrollable cirumcustances. When you have been to the bottom of the well, there’s only one way to go. Not a day goes by that I don’t remind myself the operative words are onward and upward! You embody that. Thanks!

    Reply
  21. inkspeare

     /  April 9, 2012

    Oh, I needed this, thank you so much 🙂

    Reply
  22. Kourtney Heintz

     /  April 9, 2012

    I love how you and your husband shared the load and finished the hike. That is such a beautiful analogy. My friends and family have helped me so much in my low moments. Unburdening myself to them helped me to achieve so much. I couldn’t have gotten my book in the Amazon contest without their continual belief in my writing and their constant pep talks.

    Reply
  23. Stacy S. Jensen

     /  April 9, 2012

    I might have abandoned the pack. Bravo your hubby helped and you were able to enjoy the rest of the hike. The photos are beautiful. Sometimes, I think I hold onto words, but try to let them go so I can move forward.

    Reply
  24. I had a similar experience once while running a marathon. At mile 22 I couldn’t handle the weight of my, probably less than one pound, dry fit t-shirt. I literally took it off my waist and threw it on the ground. Luckily, my friend who was running with me picked it up and tied it on with hers. It seemed ridiculous later, but in that moment I literally couldn’t carry it.

    Reply
  25. Beautifully said August 🙂 It’s amazing the freedom we feel when we unload those burdens that weigh us down. I’ve definitely had my share. I check in on a daily basis to see what needs to be unloaded. A lot of times, it’s just emotional ties to things in the past. But that can very well taint our reality of now.

    Btw, LOVED hiking in those mountains. Fryman was my regular hike but always loved venturing outside the city as well 🙂 Amazing how it can feel completely desolate in such a large city when you find the right spot.

    Reply
  26. Emotional burdens are unfortunately much harder to drop than physical packs, aren’t they? But, like the 10 pound pack, it helps when someone is there to share the burden.

    Reply
  27. fivereflections

     /  April 9, 2012

    i felt like i was hiking along beside you guys!

    David in Maine USA

    Reply
  28. My Hub would have done the same thing! 🙂 Letting go is one of the greatest gifts you can give yourself. Well done, August! Letting go of emotional baggage, toxic ideas or relationships, old habits frees you up and leaves more space for you to grow into the person you were meant to be!

    Reply
  29. Simply a lovely post, August!

    Reply
  30. gingercalem

     /  April 10, 2012

    This brings back memories of a ‘hike’ my husband and I took many years ago in Switzerland. Gorgeous but harder the higher we went. Long nap was needed late that afternoon!

    Loved the analogy of shedding our burdens to find out what we’re capable of accomplishing. Awesome!

    Reply
  31. Truly brilliant post, August! Freeing up our burdens to just be, absolutely.
    Karen

    Reply
  32. What a sweet husband! He carried your load for you. That’s what good husband’s do; they share the burden.

    Looks like a great day for a hike. I’m glad you got to experience that.

    Patricia Rickrode
    w/a Jansen Schmidt

    Reply
  33. This is a great post, August, and shows that testing ourselves physically morphs into the ability to test ourselves emotionally.

    Loved the picture of you and your backpack. 🙂 We’ve done a lot of hiking in the Rocky Mountains of Alberta and nothing ever prepares me for the sheer torture of the climb. But once we get to the top and look out over the other mountain tops and the valleys below, it’s pure heaven.

    Reply
  34. Pack or no pack, I can feel the burdens shifting just imagining a walk in the mountains. It’s amazing what a breath of fresh air and a vast view can provide sitting atop such a solid foundation. Thank you, marvellous post.

    Reply
  35. Reetta Raitanen

     /  April 11, 2012

    Beautiful story. Having someone to share our burdens with makes life so much lighter. Your husband is really sweet. And I admire your bravery for facing your issues and letting them go.

    Reply
  36. Hi August. Glad you had the time up there to think so clearly. First time I went to LA it was so smoggy I didn’t see the mountains for three days 🙂 I love being on mountains, skiing, walking and just for the amazing views. They are a great place to see burdens for what they are … which makes me wonder why I’m living in the “flat lands” of Texas! (I love it really)

    Cheers!

    Reply
  37. Very inspiring! I think it’s the way we perceive our burdens that can hold us back. I try to look at the positive side of things when I feel low. It helps, not always, but it does make a difference and like you backpack, the load feels lighter.

    Reply
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