I always seem to have revelations while I am backpacking. No matter how well I think I know myself, the trail always seems to teach me something new.
On my recent trip, we were coming toward the end of a hard 17 mile day and the only thing that stood between us and the campsite was about 700 feet of climbing. Having done 3000 foot climbs earlier in the trip, we thought it wouldn’t be so hard. But we have since learned from reading our version of the map that it can be difficult to gauge distance accurately. It turned out that the 700 feet was over a very small distance and was thus very steep.
And so there we were toiling up the side of this steep mountain. As much as I write about loving backpacking and about the pain being worth it in the end, I wanted to die. I thought we might never reach the top of this climb while simultaneously thinking that if I had to climb one more foot I might vomit.
And then something happened. I asked myself if I was the kind of person who hiked up steep mountains and I thought about it for a while. I thought about growing up as a mostly nonathletic, uncoordinated person and I thought maybe I was not a person who hiked up steep mountains. But then I remembered all of the mountains I had climbed in the Boy Scouts. I thought about the half marathon I had trained for and completed. I thought about hiking the Smokey Mountains which had seemed such an impossibly hard feat.
And then I thought about performing a concerto from memory in front of hundreds of people which to this day seems like a dream that could have never happened. I thought about auditioning for doctoral programs and being accepted into a couple of them.
I thought about all of the things that had seemed so not-Philip at one point in my life that had eventually turned into defining parts of who I am. And in that moment, the definition of who I am opened up to include hiking ridiculously steep mountains. I had known that I was capable of doing such things for a while but I had never consciously opened up to the possibility. I had to remember. I had to go through that dark, disparaging, nauseated attitude about hiking and come out on the other side of it in order to remember.
This example may seem frivolous but I think it boils down to what finding yourself is all about (the wilderness tends to do that: make you realize bigger truths through the lens of simple things). Defining who you are isn’t about pinning it down, it is about opening up to it. A definition isn’t about setting a limit on something, it is about trying to understand the vastness that constitutes an identity.
You can open up to the fact that something is not in your wheelhouse too. I am not a great pianist, I have opened up to that fact. But I didn’t close myself off to piano playing; I accepted that my fingers are a little too fat and my ability to read chords is a little too slow. I have some friends who are afraid of heights. Some of them have closed themselves off from heights because they refuse to go on roller coasters or climb tall structures. However, some of them have tried their best to enjoy these things but cannot and so have opened themselves up to the fact that they can’t handle heights.
I hope to continue to open up to new things (whether they be things I am good at or things I am bad at) and hiking and music will give me ample opportunity to do just that.