Getting to the Summit

13 07 2011

We honor those who achieve. There are no awards for stopping and smelling roses.

flowers on the trail

On a busy trail, as on a busy highway, folks motor along at different speeds. The fit ones, with serious gear and natural tan, excuse themselves politely and breeze by with an enviable sure-footed strength. Even in a group ostensibly traveling together there will be those who are impatient to get to the next outlook, while others stand panting, leaning on their poles, bent over to ease the weight of the pack.

Sometimes it isn’t a matter of fitness at all, but of attitude.  One hiker’s goal is to get to that summit.  Well, that’s what you’re there for, isn’t it?  Get to the top, maybe seize a photo op, then head on down, musing on which peak to conquer next.

Meanwhile, a hiker like me is sitting on a ledge eating trail mix, meditating on a winter wren singing.  It’s a tiny little bird, but it has this wonderful tripping, tumbling, burbling song that goes on and on, phrase after phrase, until it finally runs out of breath.  Then it collects itself and launches into another long soliloquy.  I wonder if it suffers the same syndrome as some small dogs, who seem determined to make as much noise as possible to make up for their size.

I do admire the fit ones, the determined ones, who accomplish things.  They climb a mountain in the morning and go home to shower, half a day still open for them to read their email and make a few calls, and get that paperwork ready for tomorrow.  They get ahead.  They have drive and energy, and are destined for great things.  Or at least they will blow through the list of peaks to bag a lot faster than I will.

The AMC huts are a bit like the conventions.  The dilettantes with their little day packs mingle with the pros.  It’s clear who is who.  The big dogs talk about gear; they talk about market trends.  They’ve hiked the AT; they’ve had a string of acclaimed novels.  They’ve done Mt. Denali; they’ve won a Hugo.

I’m an experienced hiker, an experienced writer.  I know to pack a headlamp even on a day hike, and gloves and a fleece even in August.  I know how to write a query and a synopsis, and don’t take offense at rejections (or argue with them).  I proofread scrupulously; I study trail maps.  I check out a publication before submitting to it; I check the weather before setting out on a hike.  I’ve made some difficult summits; I’ve gotten published.

I don’t think I’ll ever hike the Appalachian Trail or Mt. Denali.  I doubt I’ll get much beyond the White Mountains (although Mt. Washington, in spite of its undistinguished altitude, has killed nearly as many people as Denali).  It’s all in one’s choices, one’s attitude, one’s abilities.  The sacrifices one is willing to make, the risks one is willing to take.

We honor those who achieve.  There are no awards for stopping and smelling roses.  But then, stopping for roses, sitting on ledges, listening to wrens, are themselves the reward.

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2 responses

13 07 2011
Carol

As a hiker and a writer, this really resonates! Thanks.

13 07 2011
Trisha

What a perfect post, Justine! 🙂 That’s how I hike, too… we should make a date to hike and chat writing… two great things that taste great together. I love finding hidden blueberry bushes or seeing a tiny bunch of Indian ghost pipes or stopping to catch site of some animal or bird. And I’d also be that writer who would write until the day she died even if she never got published.

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