Kim Devitt | Lessons from the Mountain
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Lessons from the Mountain

05 Dec Lessons from the Mountain

Competitor Gym 60-Day Health Challenge Essay Submission

“What would you do if you knew you could not fail?”

As children, we were told there would be ups and downs in life. Successes and setbacks. Happiness and sorrow. Peaks and valleys.

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I recently traveled to the other side of the world on a once in a lifetime family trip to Australia and New Zealand. I had the opportunity to explore two amazing countries, form new friendships, and contemplate my life’s journey along the way.

One of the most memorable adventures of my trip was a hiking journey along the Routeburn Track, a  32-km alpine trail traversing the Southern Alps. The hike to the top of Humboldt Mountain became a metaphor for my 60-Day Challenge. Anticipation builds before the launch of any new endeavor. Once initiated, there are peaks and valleys at every turn.

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My stepdad Phil, often described as a logical and rational man by those who know him, made the executive decision to ignore all warnings of possible catastrophic weather conditions. That’s right – we were advised of impending storms and intentionally proceeded along the trail.

Surprisingly, the inclement weather on the mountain didn’t find us until dusk. On our hike, we passed the most beautiful cascading waterfalls I’ve ever laid eyes upon. We navigated across rickety suspension bridges and creeks with natural stepping-stones.

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We paused to catch our breath in the valleys, knowing a steep hill would meet us again around the corner. We drank water, a lot of it, which we kept easily accessible on the heavy backpacks we carried to the top. 

The landscape changed as we continued. Soon, the forests were replaced with fields. As our elevation increased, so too did the wind. We felt as though we could be knocked over at any moment.

We made it to the top, though. Well, it wasn’t the very top, but it was the highest point in which we could safely approach. It felt victorious!

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As we began our descent down the mountain, we stumbled upon the huts which would become our shelter for the night. Routeburn Flats Hut, which I quickly renamed Pizza Hut, became our safe haven.

We laid out our sleeping bags, made a fire, and began to prepare dinner (mmmm… buttered chicken). There were 10 total bunk beds in the hut and all had been previously reserved. Not surprisingly, only about half were occupied that evening. I presume the others heeded the safety warnings and wisely stayed home.

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After dinner, the rain began to fall. Sheltered in our hut, we pulled out the playing cards for a friendly game of Gin Rummy and invited our new German friends to play with us. Soon, it became too dark to continue playing and we all headed to bed.

At about 1 AM, I was abruptly awoken by the booming thunder outside. Sideways rain pounded our wooden hut while bursts of lightning flashed through the valley.

To be honest, it was a very beautiful sight. I probably would have enjoyed it more if I hadn’t been trapped… in a hut… without electricity… on a mountain… in New Zealand.

The rain kept me awake for hours, but I was finally able to drift back to sleep. It wasn’t until the next morning, though, when we faced our greatest challenge.

The brutal storm had made the road from the mountain back to Queenstown virtually impassable. Fallen power lines had knocked out power to nearly all neighboring communities and the trail itself had been deemed too dangerous to pass.

So, we waited. And waited. And waited.

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A park ranger arrived to let us know that we should get comfortable, as it could be days before the roads were cleared. The Routeburn Track had experienced its worst storm of the year, so we were told to stay put until it was safe for us to proceed. I pleaded with him to share a message with my mom, who had (wisely) chosen to bypass the hike altogether and stay back in Queenstown. Without cell service, the ranger had to use his radio to contact the Department of Conservation (DOC), where a representative was able to send an e-mail (below) to my mom. 

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At the same time, other hikers had begun their descent down the mountain – without knowledge of road closures. They, too, waited patiently in our hut with us… until suddenly they disappeared again.

I asked the park ranger where the group was heading. Those individuals had paid extra for the guided tour, he explained. Their trip included insurance and they were being flown back to Queenstown via HELICOPTER. 

Food was becoming scarce, as we had shared our only remaining leftovers with our new friends the night before. Fortunately, what happened next was nothing short of a miracle.

There had been much damage, but the roads had been cleared for passing. We were free to go – nearly 48 hours earlier than had been predicted.

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A journey of a thousand miles begins with a single step. Much like my hike to the top of Humboldt Mountain, the 60-Day Health Challenge provided many obstacles and victories, setbacks and triumphs, peaks and valleys. Still, I pressed on. I’m so glad that I made it to the top of the mountain.

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When an individual unleashes his or her potential, the possibilities become endless. Through this 60-Day challenge, I have learned to overcome some of my fears and embrace the challenges along the way. It wasn’t easy, but it was worth it.

While I may not have won first place, I was able to challenge myself in new and difficult ways. For that, I am grateful. I now understand the journey is far more meaningful and enlightening than the ultimate goal.

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