There is a popular 26 mile hike that crosses the Absaroka-Beartooth Wilderness in Montana that is fondly called “The Beaten Path.” It crosses the continental divide and supposedly has a number of breathtaking lakes and waterfalls and whatnot…you know, THE USUAL.
I’ve been wanting to do this hike as a trip ever since our disastrous practice trip to the Beartooths last year, but it takes a group or an insane amount of driving to pull it off. Claire had arranged with a friend to start the trail from either end, walking towards each other, meeting in the middle, switching car keys, and then finishing the trail opposite to where they started, thus preventing having to do a complicated and long car drop on either side of the enormous wilderness zone.
But when Claire’s hiking partner had to bail on her at the last minute, she invited me to go instead.
“An opportunity!” I said to myself. But this meant hiking 26 miles in bear-infested wilderness, navigating snowed-in trails on high mountain plateaus by myself. Immediately I entered into extreme research mode and began studying the map, observing grade, imagining myself out there, alone, slowly inching my little tiny self towards Denny lake to meet Claire for the night…getting just slightly off track and not actually making it….finding a mama bear….dyinggggg.
I was filled with such sick dread at the thought of doing this much-thought-about trip while looking at those maps that I couldn’t believe it. I absolutely did not want to do the trip without a partner.
“No, but you CAN do it, Molly. You KNOW you can. C’mon, PUSH YOURSELF. You want to be the type of person who can do those kind of extreme things, right?!?!?” the intense part of me started screaming. “You’ve climbed freaking Whitney while barfing the whole time, you walked up Half Dome in the pitch black DARK! You’ve gotten caught in the middle of thunderstorm in any number of dangerous places! You can handle it!”
And it’s true. I probably could do it. We go out into the mountains, and do the hike/bike/climb/whatever we do to push ourselves, to get a little scared, because that threshold beyond the comfort zone is where development occurs.
I had decided that I was just going to suck it up and make myself do the trip with my sister; to have faith in myself, to let go of fear. But I was still filled with the most horrible dread at the thought of doing the trail.
Then I started asking myself, “Where is the line between pushing yourself in a healthy way, and knowing when you’re beyond reasonable self-preservation?”
Am I supposed to always be pushing myself to become that person I want to be in the outdoors, or are there times when it’s more important to meet yourself where you are? Maybe your fear is your ally at times. Maybe I need to learn my edges and when I’m going to most benefit by pushing them, and when to simply let it be.
In the end, we did not head out to the Beaten Path. The universe was not on our side in any case. It seems that with these types of things there’s no easy rule or answer. It’s all about knowing and listening to yourself- something I’m still very much practicing.