Life Mountain

Are you a patient person? Or do you zip around cars on wide streets to find yourself at a stop light and the person you just whipped around rolls up behind you? Or are you more like the person in the passed car who chuckles at the irony of the great equalizer we call traffic lights? Have you ever asked the question of yourself or others, why is everybody in such a hurry to be somewhere they are not?

I learned something about patience from a mountain I hiked up recently in Costa Rica. (Yes, that explains the regurgitation of others wit and wisdom in this newsletter these past weeks).

Cerro Chirripo is 12,280ft at the summit. From the top on a clear day you can see both oceans that caress the Eastern and Western coasts of this pristine Central America country. The trail starts at just under 5000ft elevation and winds 14.5 kms up through the cloud forest jungle. If you are lucky you can reach 11,000ft to the base camp lodge in the same day. If you are unlucky you sleep in the woods because there is nothing but trail between. Here’s the math, over 6000 ft elevation gain in just over 14 kms. Unprecedented and Unbelievable!

By comparison, I’ve had the honour of hiking the Rockies, Masada in Israel, the Appalachians, the Alps and of course the Himalaya (as you can tell from my keynote topic). This single day broke the barriers as it was without a doubt the most physically and psychologically demanding I have ever encountered. But we left at first light and made it in 10 hours, clothes sweat soaked and as the sun went down I pulled extra pair of socks on my hands. Success with no twisted ankles or appreciable muscle soreness, even the next day when we made the final ascent to the summit. So what’s the secret? Answer: Patience with a dash of perseverance.

The only way to physically endure the high altitude without embolisms and not tax your muscles to jelly or worse, throbbing with pain, is to walk at a pace of grace, stop to re-balance lost fluids and take long breathes to reduce the chances of altitude sickness. The best way to emotionally endure is to be blessed with a fabulous companion on the journey like my partner Andrea. We paused every 100 metres of ascent to acclimatize and restore the balance of our “drive and go” energy with rest and stillness and when we did we took notice of the incredible beauty and the vistas around us.

Here’s the metaphor in a question. Do you stop to re-balance your “drive to the prize” energy with stillness and calm? Do you skip timeout opportunities like break, lunch or a sit down meal with loved ones to balance off the crazy bustle of a busy day. The mountain top, whether that be a big project at work or the ultimate summit, death, will always be there so slow down, take it easy, call on patience and enjoy the ride.

For my partner and I it was only when we stopped to smell the bromilades (the jungle equivalent of roses) that we really embraced the beauty of the moment. From monkeys swishing from branch to branch high above to a butterfly that alighted on our backpack or the flock of parrots flying overhead. In sitting still enough we heard a rustle of a huge black beetle in the dry leaves at our feet. Sure the summit vista rocked but the true beauty is really the quality of journey along the way that is worth the celebration. And who you share the long of road of life with.

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