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  • Writer's pictureMichelle Buyer

#76: To Hike or not to Hike? To share or not to Share?

Updated: Feb 5, 2023

Since I was a child, I wondered what it would be like to be in a cloud. Who hasn’t? I’d look out the airplane window and wish that I could just hop across the sky as if the clouds were trampolines. I always love going outside when it’s foggy, to see what it feels like and ask myself if I’m in a cloud. I refused to believe my dad when he told me that clouds are water vapor, so you can’t actually feel it or jump across. Unfortunately, I can now confirm that my dad was right as usual. (You can tell him I said that, he already knows I think he’s always right.)

When my friend and I started the 3,000 ft, 9.6-mile hike on the (legal) side of Stairway to Heaven, we thought it would be a challenging 5-hour hike with a gorgeous view and a rope or two. We didn’t know that we’d hike 7.5 hours through mud and red clay, cross over water 8 times, or climb 4 ropes to get further into the clouds… and hear the dogs barking while a wild boar screams in the “distance.”

I’m not one to back down from a physical challenge. If we’re close enough friends and you tease me about a challenge, I’ll likely do it to prove that I can. However, I’m adamant that I won’t purposely do anything dangerous. The point is to continue to challenge myself. I see no value in chasing an adrenaline rush through recklessness or unnecessary risk. That’s why I called “safety” 300 ft from the top of the mountain yesterday. I sat down in the mud while my friend finished the hike.

Although Stairway to Heaven is the longest hike I’ve done in miles, it wasn’t the most physically challenging. I can name at least 5 hikes in Seattle that were far more difficult, but at no point on any of these other hikes did I fear for my life. We had good visibility of the ground (mud) in front of us on the way up, but we couldn’t see how far up we had climbed. I knew was that we were hiking on a ridge, which meant that you didn’t want to fall on either side of the 24-inch path. We alternated between crossing ridges and rock climbing in the mud. The steeper hills had a set of ropes to hoist yourself up. I wasn’t particularly thrilled trusting random ropes, but I had no choice. Grabbing onto the rock wasn’t a safe bet, because there was no way to tell the difference between solid rock and half0dried, unstable clay. After 4ish ropes (13 ropes if you count the areas that had 3-4 ropes together), I quickly began to question if this was a good idea.

My friend kept telling me that we were almost there, and that there wouldn’t be more ropes, so I kept climbing the more stable parts, until one giant mud hill when I decided that enough was enough. I found a stable patch of mud tucked into the ridge to plop myself down. I shouted up to my friend, I’m calling safety, meaning that I was done hiking out further. As much as I hate that I couldn’t finish what I started, it wasn’t worth it. This was one of those occasions where quitting was the correct answer, and I stand by that.

My friend continued (and completed) the hike while I waited in the mud for the next 45 minutes. There are plenty of things in life that are far more dangerous than what I’m describing, but I hope I never find out. I was petrified of how we would get down the mountain without falling off. It’s much easier to find the next foothold to pull yourself up than to find a foothold behind you to prevent –or catch a fall. Naturally, I proceeded to have a true panic attack for the next 45 minutes. Honestly, I think it was my second panic attack of the week. I joke about how I cry all the time, because it’s how I release stress (when I’m alone), but a real panic attack is extremely unlike me. On the bright side, I achieved another one of my childhood fantasies: finding clay in nature. I played with it like it was silly putty and then threw some off the mountain just to see how far I’d have to fall. It was a bit difficult to wipe my nose with clay and mud-covered hands… but that didn’t stop me from any of it. No matter how good of physical shape I’m in, I’ll never compete with nature. I’m a mortal human compared to the massive mountains, strong currents and freezing temperatures. I know better than to think I can win. In that moment, I understood that no matter what, I will never be enough compared to nature. Then I cried harder because I thought about the fact that Oreo’s won’t solve that problem.

As I was hyperventilating about the Oreos, I thought about nearly everything all at once. When I thought about people, I thought about those understand me and my goals best, which is my family, hands down. The other person surprised me. Maybe I was clinging to comfort, but I guess it doesn’t really matter. I’m not lonely by ANY means – I have amazing friends and family whom I love spending time with. However, I still have my moments when I feel like no one understands. (Who doesn’t) It’s been a long time since I felt THAT alone. Unfortunately, the feeling has yet to subside since yesterday.

The answer to what I’d rather be doing was extremely clear to me: I want to work at my job. Of course, I was also upset about how lost I feel in my day to day, since there are still so many parts of my role that I wish I could immediately learn, and I never feel like my work is good enough. Nonetheless, this is a familiar struggle. It’s not life or death. I have responsibility and I can make a real impact on such a massive, fascinating business. I might change my mind later, but I’d rather be losing my mind at my desk than on a mountain. The mud was still fun, though.

There was one project that I wished I could work on more than anything. Even though I don’t always know how to go about the next step, I’m confident that I’m the subject matter expert and that I have the resources to figure it out. It’s the best kind of challenge. I can work independently to solve it. None of my questions are dumb because I’m the ‘expert.’ By the time we got down the mountain a few hours later, I felt like I hadn’t done anything for the day because I didn’t lift weights and I had only worked a few hours in the morning. It’s obvious that I need to find a way to draw the line for myself, because otherwise I’ll never overcome this trap. Maybe I need to set a bar for success days in advance, and not allow myself to be upset or continue working each day. There’s always room to raise the bar for the next day.

Naturally, I spent most of today working, and I couldn’t have felt better about it. (It helps to get unexpected good news about work, too 😊) I said that I wouldn’t let work get in the way of plans during time off, and I stand by that. I won’t agree to a meeting that interferes with plans. I didn’t work today because I needed to get something done to advance the company. I worked today for myself. More than anything else in the world, that’s how I wanted to spend my time to feel grounded. My mind couldn’t handle another new adventure today, but that doesn’t mean I won’t be back on a (much safer) mountain tomorrow with a new perspective. People say that I’m going to look back on life or my time somewhere and regret the extra hours I spent working. I have no idea how I’ll feel when that time comes, but I do know that I make decisions based on what I want and what’s best for me right now and in the future. There’s nothing else I can do other than acknowledge that there’s always a chance I’m wrong.

When I tell you this story and the thoughts that come with it (or anything similar) in person, I’m going to make a joke out of it. What else can I do? I don’t want to make anyone uncomfortable or put my issues onto anyone else. I’ll make an out of context joke at first for shock value and the humor that comes with it, but I do my best not to exaggerate and to represent whatever I’m saying accurately, even if it makes me look like an asshat. I’m not trying to hide, and especially not trying to be dramatic. I’m completely serious about how I felt yesterday and about wishing I was working, just as much as I’m serious when I attempt to downplay how I feel so that I don’t scare anyone. Ever since I learned how to ‘feel my feelings,’ life has been an emotional roller coaster that I can’t stop.

I’ll always share deep thoughts and stories like this here (for my own benefit, haha) but I get closer to closing myself off to friends each time I share and am met with silence, blank stares or funny looks. It makes me feel worse than if I kept things to myself. I know that’s not entirely fair - I shouldn’t expect any sort of response, because most people don’t want to share that level of detail or may not know how to react. Maybe they don’t want to hear about it? Or haven’t thought about it? Or think that my complaints are invalid and petty? If so, I’d love to hear it constructively. I do my best not to ask unless I can tell someone wants me to or offers information, in which case I’ll ask follow-up questions to the extent that’s appropriate. I genuinely want to understand and learn about people so that I can understand life better and become an all-around better person for them and society. Regardless, I wind up feeling worse when people look at me like I’m unhinged. I know I have a lot to work through, but isn’t that the point of talking about it? Would people rather I make boring small talk all the time and pretend life is great? For the record, there is very much a time for that. If I shut off, it feels like I’m being sour grapes and it’s hard to hold back, but if I speak, then I’m too much.

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