I stood on the peak of the mountain, taking in the sunset. I’d lost count of how many peaks I’d crested. Sometimes I’d reach the top, triumphant and ready to take a beaming selfie. Other times I’d slog along, sweaty and urging myself to just make it to the top before collapsing, only to discover the peak was just one in a long line up. Dejected.
Hiking Italy’s Dolomite Mountains wasn’t something I’ve always dreamed of doing. In fact, when the book Wild came out, I instantly rejected it, since I wasn’t in the least interested in reading about some chick hiking in the wilderness. But just like I changed my attitude about the book (which is now one of my favorites), I changed my mind about trekking when my friend Debbie asked if I would go on this trip with her.
When I told my ex about the trip, he said something I haven’t forgotten: “you can’t not do it.”
Whether this was my dream trip or not, I had to do it.
A German man we met on our trek quoted John Muir, and while I wouldn’t have gotten it when I said yes to the trip, I already felt the pull:
“The mountains are calling, and I must go.”
Reflections on the Experience
Now that the journey, the breathtaking experience, the magical adventure, is over, I’m looking back on the things I learned. I hope to keep these lessons close to me moving forward in the coming months of my divorce, as well as the rest of my life.
1. I Am Stronger Than I Could Have Imagined
My biggest fear in the year we’ve been planning this trip was that I would fail. I’ve never been super sporty, and I’d convinced myself that I wasn’t “real” hiker. I trained for about 9 months, increasing lengths and difficulty of hikes in San Diego.
The hike was hard. (Mom, excuse my French) In fact, it was fucking hard. Definitely the hardest physical thing I’ve ever done. But I did it. I still want to burst into tears over how proud I am of myself. Every day, when I thought I couldn’t keep going. One. More. Fucking. Step… I would.
I would think about how I was in labor with my son for 22 hours. How I (and if you’ve birthed a baby, you can relate) just didn’t think I could push anymore as he emerged from my body. And how I thought to myself then, 12 years ago, “just one more push.”
That became my mantra on the trail.
One. More. Push. One. More. Push.
I knew if I was able to achieve the impossible by bringing a child into this world, I certainly could conquer this goddamn step. And the next, and the next.
And so I found my inner strength. No longer will I talk myself down from knowing my power and my capabilities.
2. My Divorce Prepared Me for this Journey
Over the past few months, I’ve been telling friends that my trip to Italy would be my Eat, Pray, Love experience (another favorite book). I looked to the hike to give me time and space to think about the transitions in my life. I hoped the hike would make me stronger to return home and deal with whatever was next.
But I realized, probably on some 90-degree mountain trail, that the divorce had actually prepared me for the trip. That dealing with upheaval, anger, sadness, and then the logistics of moving on had, again, made me strong.
I didn’t need any hike to help me heal. I was already healing! That revelation was Oprah-worthy.
3. Friends are All Around
Debbie is naturally more outgoing than I am, but I quickly removed my shy mask when I saw what opportunities we had to connect with others. We met a couple from Chino, California, early in the hike. We mingled with a group of Austrians who called themselves (in German, of course) the Red Wine Hiking Club. We clinked glasses and shouted “prost!” with a group of Austrian cyclists. We roomed with a German woman.
It was amazing to learn about other people’s journeys. What led them to the trail. The experiences they’d had. We had everything – and yet nothing – in common, simply by being a part of this adventure. I may never speak to any of them again, but I feel lucky to have met so many amazing people.
4. I Am Fortunate
Whenever I’d feel like complaining, about the smell emanating from my clothes, the clouds rolling in, whatever, I’d look around and realize: relatively few people see what I got to see. Sure, millions of people hike the Dolomites. But we’re a small portion of the entire world.
And the beauty of the mountains, the valleys, the sunsets, the fields…I cannot portray it in words or photos. You have to experience it yourself. If I could bottle it up and give you some, I would.
So I am grateful to have seen a corner of the world that not everyone sees. The magnificence of the sun hitting the distant mountains surrounding Nuvolau are etched into my mind’s eye. My thousands of photos will serve as reminders, if not accurate portrayals, of the mystical world I was a part of, if only for a moment.
People ask me if I’d go back, if I’d hike it again. At this point, my answer is no. I got what I needed from it. Besides, there’s so many other places I need to see!