Search
  • Leslie Merrell

How Far?

This is not one of those inspirational stories about the woman who overcame great challenges in order to hike to the top of a 14,446 foot peak.

No. This is the story of a woman, a city girl (me), who does Pilates twice a week because, she "can lay down for 90% of [her] workout." We're talking a girl who really hates to sweat, does pretty much no cardio, hates bugs, and has a 3 degree temperature comfort zone (68-71 degrees, thank you very much).

A story of how one of her very dearest friends invited her to her destination birthday celebration (YAY!!) which would entail a very long hike, up a very steep 14,446 foot mountain (...wait,...wha???). To hike this mountain, the party would all have to get up at 4 am and start hiking in the dark. Seriously, 4 am?! Is that even legal?? And, you may not be aware, but it is actually impossible to hike a tall mountain peak without sweating. And, ... AND, there is no way to get to the top while laying down for 90% of the time. Don’t even get me started on bathroom accommodations along these trails. Honestly, who does this stuff for fun??

So, really, this story is about that city girl's brain drama surrounding this event. As soon as I read the invitation, my brain pointed out to me that there was NO WAY that my body could be prepared to hike that mountain in six weeks. It would take so much time, effort, pain and sweat to even get close. Ugh! And my brain offered that maybe there's something wrong with me that I don't enjoy strenuous physical activity. And, that it's likely that I am a terrible person for not being excited to go do this with my friend.

My brain offered that my very dear friend was, quite possibly, testing how much I love and value her.

I took this huge problem to my coaching session. I explained how I DON'T WANT TO DO THIS STUPID HIKE! When my coach offered that I don't have to do it, I explained that I DO have to do it, because she's my dear friend, AND it's her birthday. As my session progressed, my coach helped me to realize that it was actually possible to NOT do the hike AND still be a good person, even a good friend. It was also becoming clear that I could choose to hike as much or as little as I wanted, and it would have no bearing on my worth as a human being. Therefore, if I did the hike, it would be because I chose to do it. I also accepted that it was possible that she invited me because she did love and value me, and wanted to spend her birthday with me.

So, ... did I want to go? Yes, I wanted to go ... on the trip, and stay at the condo with everyone, and eat, and laugh, and play. But, I didn't want to go on the hike. I was dreading the hike. I was praying that it was all a big practical joke, and that when we got to the condo, she'd say, "I can't believe you all fell for that!" And then the eating, laughing, and playing could commence.

I took this dread to my next coaching session. After explaining that I was choosing to go, but totally dreading the hike, she asked, "what's the problem with feeling dread?" Um,...it feels awful. No one wants to feel dread! Then she asked, "have you just sat with the dread?" Let me just insert here, that through my training, I understand (intellectually) that emotions are just harmless energy vibrations in my body, and that feelings aren't fatal. However, in the day-to-day application of this knowledge in my own life, I often fall short. I have many years, even decades, of practice avoiding and resisting uncomfortable emotions. It's a hard habit to break and requires intentionality. So, the answer was a definitive "no. No I haven't just sat with the dread." She challenged me to do so.

I took her up on the challenge that afternoon. I just sat with the dread. For me, this looks like taking some time to pay attention to what I am actually feeling in my body. One of my mentors explained it like this, "go in, notice, narrate". So, I went in, meaning into my body, and I noticed that dread felt very heavy, and blobbish (totally a word), and sluggish, and gray. It felt like it was dragging me downward, and backward. And, I narrated, "this is dread. This is what dread feels like for me." It only took a few minutes, and then I went on with my day, better recognizing and understanding what was going on inside.

The next day was the day to pack up and head for the condo which would serve as base-camp. I was ready to acknowledge dread, and let him come along for the trip. But he had changed. I think overnight he mated with anxiety and I was now feeling their offspring: anxie-dread. There was still some of the heaviness from the dread, and

there was the rapidly beating heart of anxiety, but now there was intermittent shooting of red, crackling energy, through the center of me, from my head to my pelvis. Can you tell that I did the "go in, notice, narrate"? I found that anxie-dread, while uncomfortable, didn't actually kill me, so, I let it come along as well.

The women, the condo, the conversation, the food, and the laughter was all that I hoped for. The next day, we got up at 4 o'freaking clock in the morning, threw on our clothes, grabbed our water and snacks, and headed off. And, yes, anxie-dread was with me. But, somehow, since I had acknowledged it, and paid it some attention, it didn't have so much power anymore.

So, this is the part, where in other stories I might tell you how I heroically managed to press on to the very top. But, this is not other stories. I had decided, beforehand, that I would go as far as I wanted, and then go back. Because of the work I had done with my coach, and the physical training I had done with my husband, I was able to genuinely enjoy the setting and the conversation, and even the hike. I s.l.o.w.l.y. made it to within about one mile from the top before I turned back. When I looked at the 2000+ feet of elevation gain in that last mile, I decided I was genuinely quite happy with, and proud of myself for, how far I had come -- both on and off the mountain.


We all have our mountains, whether literal or figurative. Whatever your mountain, your brain is going to point out the obstacles, whether real or imagined. That’s it’s job. It’s trying to protect you. But, if you are dreading your mountain, and maybe screaming inside (or out loud), “I DON’T WANT TO HIKE THIS STUPID MOUNTAIN” may I highly recommend getting a life coach. (Ooo, ooo, ME! Pick me!!) Your coach will act as a trail guide, showing how those obstacles ARE the trail, and how you always have the power to choose whether or not to hike, and how far you’ll go.