I felt like shit.
It was 2am on New Year’s Eve, and I was slowly stumbling through the snow. I heard people yelling and cheering around me, but I could only will myself to focus on what was right in front of me. I could only lift one foot at a time, moving slowly, slowly.
Left foot, right foot. Left foot, right foot.
This went on for what felt like forever. At times, I would catch myself nearly dozing off. Suddenly, I would jolt myself awake, only to stare ahead into the darkness once again.
Left foot, right foot. Sip water. Breathe. My brain could only think in commands.
I know what you’re thinking: How sad, Drunk girl is lost on New Year’s Eve. Yet oddly enough, I hadn’t a sip of alcohol in the past week.
I was actually 19,000 feet away from the nearest bar — in the midst of climbing to the highest point in Africa, Mount Kilimanjaro.
A year prior, I spent New Year’s Eve like most normal 20-somethings: Clumsily clinking champagne glasses and not thinking for one second about my future.
The next day, as I groggily hunched over in my bed grasping for some Gatorade, I couldn’t escape the thought: “Another year is starting. I have to get my shit together.”
And as the day dwindled on, I didn’t make it much further than my bed —but, in my mind, I had mapped out the rest of my year.
I had to set some Big Goals. I had to do some crazy shit.
I was turning 24 this year for Christ’s sake — where was that million dollar book signing and oodles of success I had dreamed of by now? Why did it feel like life was passing by so quickly?
Once I started logging my New Years Goals, I realized that it was simple enough to think about my professional goals. I could easily map out my health goals. But, making sure that I was accomplishing something Adventurous? Something Fulfilling? Something Big?
Now, that was scary.
For the past two years, I had been twisting around this idea of climbing Mount Kilimanjaro in my mind, but it always seemed too Big, too Scary. I kept making excuses: I didn’t have the right gear. Once I had more experience. After I save some more money.
But on New Year’s Day, as I felt like I was watching time slip away (the start of another year?!) I thought, “Fuck it. I am climbing that mountain.”
Let me just say, climbing a mountain is not easy.
Climbing a mountain tests your physical strength. Climbing a mountain tests your stamina. Most importantly, climbing a mountain tests You — it forces you to ask yourself, Who are You, really?
It forces you to ask yourself: Who am I when I can’t shower in 7 days? Who am I when I am face-to-face with a rock wall? Who am I when I am tired and cold and sick?
Do I push forward or just give up?
Am I a quitter?
I asked myself that question the entire way up this mountain. Every day, every step, every time I almost lost my breath from the altitude, every time my backpack felt too heavy, I asked myself: Am I a quitter?
Because, there have been many times in my life I have just given up. There are many times I have thought that it’s not worth it. It’s too hard. I won’t make it.
Those times, I wasn’t able to push myself through the shitty moments to get to the Good.
And to be quite honest, I almost gave up on that mountain. I almost let myself stop pushing. I almost quit.
Because, about twenty minutes into our Summit Night hike, I felt both fearful and relieved at the same time: I witnessed the first person turn around.
I saw someone give up.
At that point, we had been on this trek for 5 days. That’s 5 days without a real shower, bathroom, or a bed. That’s 5 days of strenuous hiking through snow, hail, and what looks like Mars. That’s 5 days of physical and mental activity behind you.
And looking forward? We still had 6 hours of climbing uphill a literal mountain, over 19,000 feet above sea level.
That altitude can make you sick. Combine that with the fact it was midnight, and you could call anyone climbing that mountain crazy. Insane, in fact.
No wonder they were starting to turn around.
And, once I saw that woman Give Up, something dangerous started to happen. My bag became too heavy. My legs felt like lead. My stomach was churning. My head started to pound.
I was in a state of panic.
My mind started to do whatever it could to calm me down. Thoughts like, “It’s okay if you stop. You made it this far. Don’t worry! You don’t have to tell anyone,” started flooding in my head. My steps got slower. I contemplated telling my team that I couldn’t go any further.
But then, I remembered that my guide told us before we left, “You are not weak if you don’t feel well. This is a mental game. Tell us if you need help.”
I contemplated this new thought for a few more steps. Should I admit I need help? Or is it easier to just give up altogether?
I finally convinced myself that it was only the beginning — I had to try and make it to the first break at least. So, I started creating ‘small wins’ by breaking this Terrifying, Huge Mountain Climb into tiny, digestible bits.
I took a deep breath. I could make it to the first break. Step by step.
Left foot, right foot.
You are not a quitter.
Time on the mountain passes in weird ways.
One moment, you feel like everything’s in slow motion. Every step feels like it takes a century. Every breath feels precious.
Then, time seems to be running away from you. Maybe your mind retreats into mantras and thoughts. Maybe you block yourself out from where you really are.
I don’t know, but once I made it to that first break it seems like time disappeared.
The next thing I knew, we had reached Stella’s Point — the last break before the Summit. The final rest before I was an official Mountain Climber.
I had never felt a stronger sense of determination to finish something than at that point. Not when running a marathon, not in my last semester of college. Not ever.
I was going to do this thing. I was climbing that damn mountain.
As we continued our trek to our final destination, nothing could lessen the gleam in my eye — not the icicles forming on my eyelashes, or the wind taking away my breath. Each step I took pushed me further than the person I knew, and closer to the person I wanted to be.
“I am not a quitter,” I said with each step.
And then, I finally saw It. The sun was rising and the wind was howling and I didn’t give a fuck. I made it. I did it.
I just climbed a mountain.
Suddenly, I couldn’t control my emotions. The tiredness and weariness and sickness wiped away, because here I was. I was on top of the world — or Africa at least. I was laughing and crying and smiling and overwhelmed with love and pride all at the same time.
Never had I accomplished a Really Big Goal so clearly. Never had I went from No to Yes to Holy Shit I Did It in a shorter amount of time.
And, never did I imagine it would feel so good.
So, do the damn thing. Climb that damn mountain — whatever your Mountain may be.
Because it’s going to be shitty, trust me. It’s going to suck for a while, and you’re going to think you’ll never make it. You’re going to see people turn around. You’re going to want to turn around. To Give Up. To never see the good because it’s just too hard.
But please — just try. Keep asking yourself that question: Am I a quitter? And then, reassure yourself that you’re not.
Because, when you reach the top — there’s no feeling quite like it.