To  my loyal followers: no, I did not die.  I have been in Survival Mode these past weeks. I am happy to say that I see the light at the end of the tunnel after a brief period of ill health, ill computers, and major writer’s block. I am ready to forge ahead.

I took a big leap toward “recovery” yesterday, when my wife suggested that we have an outing – take a drive – do something fun away from the house and the computers and the stress.  Of course, that sounded like a good idea, until my anxieties started kicking in: what if I got sick away from home?  Where would we be?  How would I cope? (The usual list that is just too long to include.)

Again, I had to kick myself in the butt to step out the front door, reminding myself that I was not allowed to back away from anything simply because of fear.  If something bad happened while away, well then I would just deal with it. The satisfaction of overcoming these fears and turning it into a good day is well worth what I have to endure.

We headed to the Adirondack Mountains to have a look at its glorious fall colors.  The leaves were near their peak.  I brought my camera with me. Taking pictures is a good way to combat anxiety, as it directs my mind away from my fears and places its focus on something I love (remember that in case you can do the same.)

The day was going well despite my battles with agoraphobia, motion sickness (nausea) and overall social anxieties. We had a nice lunch and good conversation. Still I was frustrated, as I had not been able to find a good spot for taking photographs. I had the feeling that I needed to be higher – a scenic overlook, perhaps – something where I could see the mountains. So we decided to drive further and scout around for such a place…and that is when the adventure happened.

We pulled the car into a small parking area where a dozen or so cars were parked at the base of a mountain.  We thought this to be a good place for photographs, but were puzzled as to why the cars were all empty – all but one. At the back of an SUV sat an old woman in a lawn chair. Her hair was white and she was frail of frame. As we approached, she looked up from her knitting, smiled and said hello to us. We asked her about the place and where all the people had gone.

“Oh they’re all up on Rocky Mountain,” she explained. “Quite some hike, but well worth it. If you wanna go, just follow the foot path; but take a walking stick.  It’s a treacherous climb and there’s bears.  You’ll need it.”

My wife and I looked at each other. We weren’t sure what to do.  We thanked the lady and started walking toward the start of the path.

“Way down’s even worse,” she said from a distance. I swear I heard her cackle as chills ran down my spine. The hair on my head was standing at attention – all three strands. My body was on full alert mode, telling me to get out of there as fast as possible.  The hike was probably beyond my physical capabilities.  We both knew it.  I wanted to be home, in bed, my head under the covers.  Then came the dreaded question.

“Well, what do you want to do?” my wife asked.  “Do you want to try?”

I had every opportunity to back out of it, but I didn’t. I said, “Sure, let’s try.”  I grabbed my camera, a bottle of water and a nice, sturdy walking stick, and we started. At first, the signs did not look good.

Certain Death

Don't Feed Bears

At the entrance to the path was a pole with a small box attached.  On the box were the words “Please register before you attempt the climb.”  I didn’t like the sound of that. I knew what it meant.  It meant that, in case you lost your ID, they had a way to identify your body after you got lost on the mountain. My mind raced off into a thousand and one Stephen King scenarios, none of them with happy endings. We tried writing out names in the “death log,” but the writing utensils were gone.  Again I heard cackling in the distance. We set foot into the thick woods and began.

The path wasn’t too narrow, but the footing was bad, and I was wearing sneakers – not the best thing to do on a hike. There were rocks and small boulders everywhere, interspersed with heavy tree roots and downed trees.  And the angle of ascent was fairly steep, probably about 45 degrees on average, sometimes worse.

Negative thoughts began to cloud my brain and I desperately tried positive self-talk and affirmation. It wasn’t working.  My heart was beating faster and faster and I was confused whether I was just exerting myself physically or having a panic attack – or worse. The further we traveled up the mountain, the worse the signs became.

Scary Path - Copy

Scary Path Skeleton

Soon – or not so soon – I lost track of time. I was disoriented. Looking for foot path markers meant taking my eyes of my footing, causing me to slip often and sending my heart racing. I could not stop the bad thoughts.  All I could hear was the warnings of an old woman.

Bear

And then it happened.  I had full-blown panic attack.  I stopped dead in my tracks, hoping that my wife would see me and stop, too, or else I would be lost.  I shut my eyes, held onto my walking stick with all my might, and fought the urges that were coursing through me: to scream, to cry, to pass out, to turn around. I kept my eyes shut and said some meditative words.  I told myself that I was not going to quit no matter what.  I opened my eyes, took a long drink of water, and told my wife, “Oh well, if I die out here, it’s a good place to go.”  Then we continued.

A while later, we passed people who were coming down the mountain. Soaked through my shirt and out of breath, I asked one man how much farther it was to the top.

“Oh you’re about half-way,” he chuckled.  “But if it will make you feel better, you’re three quarters of the way there.  Anyhow it’s worth it.  The view is awesome.”

I didn’t exactly appreciate his jokes, and I was hoping that he was mistaken about the distance as my knees were killing me.  I tried focusing on what he said about the view, and kept going.

A few minutes later, another couple passed us on their way down. I noticed that they were decidedly overweight and having a hard time finding safe footing.  I thought that if they could do it, so could I. As they passed me, they could see that I was struggling.  The woman looked at me and said,” Just wait ‘til you see the view from the top.  It’s worth it!”

I forged ahead as everyone passed me: young and old, pregnant women, babies in strollers, people in wheelchairs. I kept telling myself that it would be worth it. Then came the moment of truth.  My wife saw how difficult it was for me and asked me if I was sure I could continue. She asked me if I wanted to turn back.

“No.  I have to do this.  Besides, we must be over half-way by now. I would feel stupid going this far and not making it all the way.

And I did make it all the way! I have no idea how long it took.  It doesn’t matter. I made it to the top. I did take some pictures, but unfortunately the sun was shining at us, so they did not turn out so good.  I could have waited for good lighting, but that would have meant making the hike back down in the dark – not a smart idea.

I hope you have been able to read this to this point because now I will tell you what it all means – although I think you know.  It doesn’t matter if you can’t write for a week, or if you get sick, or if your life is filled with stress.  Just keep going. I never thought I would even try to hike up a small mountain, but I did it simply because I tried hard.  And guess what?

It was worth it!

Summitt             Summitt 2

Summitt Joe

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About Joe

Freelance designer and writer whose goal is to help others by writing about my experiences with fear and anxiety (agoraphobia), health struggles (cancer) and my wonderfully-happy life as a husband and stay-at-home dad. I want to empower everyone to have a happy life.

20 responses »

  1. Awesome!!!!!!!!! Thanks for sharing–

  2. Mike Weeden says:

    What a great story and lesson, Joe. Way to go! Love you, Joe.

  3. Good on you for making it the whole way! What a beautiful view! The death log is pretty scary, I’ve never seen one of those before.

    • Joe says:

      To be honest, they didn’t call it a “death log” per se — that was what I called it. But it was clear that it was used to keep track of the people who might get lost on the mountain.

      • Yeah, a death log sounds like it is out of a horror movie. It’s a good idea to have a way to keep track of everyone. My father and brother once got lost while walking in the mountains and no one knew where they were but they found their way back eventually.

        • Joe says:

          I am certainly glad to hear it. And even though they didn’t use a scary name for it, it was clear what it was, and that made the trip a little scarier — and we made sure we got back down while there was still light.

  4. A perfect Joe Abbate story – humor, suspense, flash fiction and a beautiful, heartfelt ending!
    Thanks, Joe!

  5. Colleen says:

    Never any doubt you’d make it.

    • Joe says:

      Thank you, Colleen. The only problem is now I have to somehow top that. 🙂

      Don’t worry. I’ll think of something. Gotta go soak my feet now. 🙂

  6. Thank you for writing this! It was a great read 🙂 Way to go! And great job pressing on and going on the hike!

  7. Rosemary says:

    What a good experience for you. You have overcome so much in the years I have known you and I am very proud of you. This was a good story and the pictures are great.
    You are such a good writer. Love you. Rosemary

  8. MCS Gal says:

    What an accomplishment or accomplishments – you got out of the house and you kept hiking until you got to the top. Getting to the top is worth it. Even if we don’t make it to the top, we can look back and see how far we have come. How was the trek down? I have been on those hikes that were 5 miles up and felt like they were 10 miles down.

    • Joe says:

      Mentally and emotionally, the trip down was easier because I felt like I had accomplished something and that part was done. It was harder on the knees going down because of the steep angle and difficulty stopping. That made for more impact. The only scary moment was when we lost sight of the markers and strayed off the path. Luckily, we did noticed the mistake right away and did not go too far.

  9. […] and I wanted to have my camera with me.  My wife, still awash in the afterglow of the “mountain-climbing” excursion said, “Let’s just go – anyplace. Let’s have an adventure.” I guess that’s […]

  10. becky6259 says:

    You have such a wonderful sense of humor! I laughed several places while reading your post, and at the same time I felt for you having to overcome the panic and fear. I’m glad it was worth the climb, and your pictures turned out great! Congrats on having a great adventure!

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