last may, shaun & i traveled to greece for our tenth anniversary, & while we were there, we climbed mount olympus. all 2,913 meters of it. i’ve wanted to see greece since i was a kid, & climbing mount olympus has been on my “bucket list” ever since i’ve known shaun. he lived in greece for a summer in 2001 & climbed it then. we spent two days scaling its heights, & it is without a doubt the hardest thing physically that i’ve ever done except giving birth. granted, i was pregnant at the time [& didn’t know it] which may have affected my breathing capacity! there were so many times i was sure i wouldn’t make it any further. i had a walking stick i picked up at the front end of the climb. it became my bestest friend, & i would not have made it without it. nor would i have made it without shaun’s companionship & encouragement. i kept reciting verses about perseverance to myself, which marginally helped, too. i focused on the end goal — being able to tell the story, making it to the summit & being able to say i did it. when we made it to the refuge on day one after a grueling seven hours, it was the most beautiful sight — the promise of food & REST. i slept 12 hours that night. the second part of the climb is much more rugged & steep than the first half, plus it’s colder & very windy. it’s no hike; it’s a climb. and the term “trail” should be understood as loosely applied here. i was skeptical even getting started on day two, but one step at a time & 3 hours later, we made it to the top.
there’s more to the story of our adventure than i have time to tell right now, but it was full of jokes [some that weren’t funny at the time!], making friends from faraway places, & seeing amazing sights that are only enjoyed by those who take the climb & make it to the top.
there are lots of proverbial mountains in this life we can climb — the career ladder, various summits seeking happiness or the meaning of life, even many “hills to die on.” so many of life’s experiences can be related to the perseverance needed when mountain climbing & the rewards found at the peak.
but no matter what situation we’re talking about, there are some lessons i learned on mount olympus that i want to share.
1. you’re going to need support. something or someone to lean on. i had my walking stick. i even named it “phil” [derivative from the greek word for friend]. having that “third leg” made all the different in my being able to go as far as we did. i used it like an extension of my body, & several times it kept me from falling. in any mountain climb, we risk falling & failure. this can cause us to give up before we reach our goal. but if we have some support, even if we still fall a few times, we are able to get back up & keep going.
2. you’re going to need encouragement. this can come from the same source as your support, or it might come from something or someone else. regardless, you need to hear “just keep swimming” regularly, no matter how annoying it may get! you need to hear “you can do it” & “you’re doing great.” even if you firmly believe otherwise, encouragement can keep you going despite your inner thoughts. [word of advice: if/when that encourager gets annoying, let them keep saying/doing their thing. you need it whether you want it in the moment or not.]
3. focus on the end goal. when you want to give up in the moment, perseverance is often achieved by remembering why you’re climbing this mountain in the first place. i had wanted to climb mount olympus for over ten years. and greece isn’t just around the corner for me, so this might be a once-in-a-lifetime chance for me. i may not get another go at it. i wanted to get that picture on the peak, to be able to say i did it, to have a good story, to know the thrill of adventure. sometimes i had to focus on this so intently that i missed the scenery where i was. but i wouldn’t have seen most of it anyway had i given up & turned back.
4. take time to rest. climbing a mountain is not a quick walk in the park. you’re going to need to take breaks along the way. there were times the climb was so arduous, i sat down every five minutes to catch my breath. when we neared the summit, we would pick a point of rocks a couple dozen yards in front of us to reach before our next break. and the most anticipated respite was at the refuge after climbing more than half the height on day one. there are no words for the relief & excitement that flooded my body & soul when we finally glimpsed it. i even gained a small burst of energy as we climbed the steps up to the lodge. at the end of day one, i was sore all over & exhausted. surprisingly, i felt completely revived the next morning, not sore at all! [i cannot say the same after day two. i didn’t walk right for two days after mount olympus! but it was completely worth it.]
5. enjoy the top. we reached the top around 10:00 a.m. the second day. we had a flight to athens back in thessaloniki to catch. a two & a half hour drive, plus time to return the rental car & get through security. the climbed down took us five hours. we gulped down our lunch at the refuge halfway. we sped down the curvy roads back to thessaloniki [which caused me to get carsick]. we repacked our suitcases in the parking lot of the airport. we had only time to change t-shirts in the bathrooms to feel semi-human again. but i wouldn’t change any of that because we enjoyed the top. we took our time to feel the wind whipping around us [so strong we didn’t get our good camera out] & to soak up the view, all 360 degrees of it. we relished the triumphant feeling of “making it.” we took pictures. we just sat & were. so take time to enjoy it when you reach your goal, too. relish the achievement, feel the gratitude in your heart, make mental pictures & imprints to carry with your forever.
i say all this as advice for all the mountains in life that we climb. but here’s my parting advice: going back up to the quote up top — choose the mountains you want to climb wisely. make sure you have support & encouragement along the way. make sure rest is available. and make sure the end goal is something really worth it, something you want, something good. there are hills worth “dying on” & there are plenty that are merely mountains-in-the-making molehills. make sure you know the difference. before you start climbing.