“I found my heart upon a mountain I did not know I could climb, and I wonder how many other pieces of myself are secreted away in places I judge I cannot go.” Laurel Bleadon Maffei
When I was told on a recent family vacation to the Caribbean that we had arrangements to spend the day hiking I was psyched. For me, nothing is more exhilarating than being out in nature (except perhaps a great wine festival). We were on the beautiful island of St. Lucia in the British Virgin Islands. The water sparkled in different shades of aqua and the greenery was lush and exotic. This hike was going to provide me with awesome instagram photos.
I dressed more to prevent bug bites and scrapped ankles than for the humidity donning a pair of old, rolled up cargo pants. I didn’t want the entirety of my vacation to be ruined with itching and scratching. I was proud of my forethought in packing.
About 30 minutes into our bus ride we passed a small sign pointing us in the direction of The Gros Piton Nature Trail. As we approached the site our driver, Lawrence, pointed to a large, lush mountain jutting out in the landscape ahead and said, “Today you will climb to the top of that mountain.”
Excuse me? I chuckled thinking Lawrence must be messing with us, teasing the silly American tourists. That mountain certainly was not the equivalent of a nature trail. Nature trails have wild flowers and butterflies and small woodland creatures.
This was a heavily vegetated volcanic mass rising up some 2500 feet to the sky. This looked like a habitat for monkeys, snakes and lizards. Nope, I was sure that sign said “nature trail.” I’m pretty gullible at times when it comes to sarcasm. I was sure this was one of those times.
(This picture is of Petit Piton, the smaller neighbor to Gros Piton)
As our van came to a stop I realized how wrong I was. We were about to hike this giant volcanic plug in 80+ degree weather with only liter bottle of water, a few snacks and three trail guides….and we had to PAY TO DO IT!
Our guides, Margaret and Damascus gave us brief description of what to expect and said we would come to three resting points along the trail marked by benches to sit and soak in the view. We were assured that the view at the top was so spectacular that it was well worth the effort.
I am a petite woman. Measuring in at 5′ 1″ and weighing about 105 lbs. I was the smallest (and oldest) in our bunch. My pride would not allow me to back out and I prayed that I had the endurance to make it to the top. As I was beginning to panic I remembered the words of my friend Karen.
Karen is a breast cancer survivor and a truly remarkable lady. In the process of her healing journey she took on the personal goal of going outside of her comfort zone whenever she could. She has run a 5K, jumped into a lake and zip-lined to name of few. Karen would tell me to go climb the freakin’ mountain and to stop doubting myself.
With copious amounts of bug spray applied we started up the trail, Margaret in the lead and me right behind her. Margaret has been hiking this mountain once a day, four days a week for the last eighteen years. She was swift on the roots and rocks and soon she was out of sight. It was clear that I should not be in the lead and let the teenagers pass. Keeping up at Margaret’s pace would surely have kept me from getting very far up the mountain.
The trail is combination of make-shift stairs made of roots and mud and huge boulders of smooth volcanic rock. At higher elevations there are primitive hand rails installed to help with balance and climbing. There were times that I could barely boost my short, little legs up to the next landing. Whatever bug spray I applied I had completely sweat off, my tank top was soaked and my “brilliant choice in pants” were now so stained with my own sweat that it looked as if I peed in my pants. Chalk one up for my Glamour “Don’t.”
This was our view from the first bench or 1/4 up the mountain.
By the time we arrived at the second bench my fifteen year old daughter was almost in tears. She was done. Although physically fit, she is by no means a nature girl. She didn’t want to hear my words of encouragement or a lecture on how accomplished she would feel when she got to the top. But as our guides noted that it was time for us to move on, she seemed refreshed and determined and I fed off her enthusiasm.
It must have been will power and adrenaline that made the second half seem easier for me. I was not about to let my kids see me quit and the closer we got to the top hikers on their way down encouraged us that the view was worth every aching muscle.
As the sky came closer and the trees parted, I was cautiously optimistic that I had actually reached the top. But when I realized there were no more rocks to climb, a sense of accomplishment washed over me and I soaked in the view and the breeze and the camaraderie only people who have climbed a mountain together share.
Although I felt empowered, I had yet to realize that my greatest accomplishment would be in coming down that mountain. The Gros Piton was not done with me yet. The lessons it was about to impart were etched in the slippery rocks and twisted tree roots that only laughed at me on the way up.
I will share that story next…