Is There More To This Picture Than Meets The Eye
A reoccurring conversation that my Australian friend, Llew and I had on our cross-country-and-back road trip was whether social media (myself included) over-glamorizes travel. Do we only show the bright side of things by posting our best pics? What about all those hours of driving through desert wasteland or the entirety of South Dakota or Kansas? What about having to dig yourself out of the snow in the morning? Does the cost of gas and food along the way detract from the overall experience? And are those brief moments when you get to stop and enjoy what you drove through the night to see worth fighting to keep your eyes open as you progress slowly down the road through the fog, rain, snow, and sleet? He was pretty unsure. Before he flew over from Australia, Llew and I spent the summer being pen-pals via email. I would send him photos of my weekend adventures and he'd be jealous because they looked like such a good time. When here in person, he quickly realized that each photo I sent had a long story behind it that included hours of prep, driving, and then a grueling hike to the top of whatever mountain I'd chosen as my weekend conquest. He commented that if people knew what an effort it was and that as I snapped each photo I sat shivering in the cold, looking like an unshowered wreck, and smelling like a twice dead possum, then they might not be so eager to be in my wet, smelly shoes.
I could argue and say that the end always justifies the means and not be wrong, but at the end of the day, the end is not what I'm after. Sure, I always share the photos of the most scenic places, but these are not what drive me. The quote, "The journey is the destination" by Dan Eldon has always stuck with me. The first time I heard it, or rather, saw it printed on a Facebook photo, I knew I liked it, but I couldn't quite grasp it in its entirety. That came later, after a year of getting lost, breaking down, and finding myself in bad situations on mountains with no one around.
Those all sound like absolutely terrible ways to begin liking the journey, I'm aware. But, every misadventure I've had has evolved my mind, character, and skill set beyond measure. How I deal with problems when they come up has changed immensely since I moved to Seattle in 2014. Back then, I'd leave for a hike and my phone would drop signal and cause my GPS to glitch and I'd be lost, out of gas, and wanting to cry and go home. I never once allowed myself to take the easy way out, though, and I would just retrace my steps until I had signal and then start again.
Each time that I didn't back down or give up and just pushed myself beyond what I previously thought I was capable of handling, I grew. The first time that I ever did a solo overnight backpacking trip, literally everything went wrong. I ended up stomping down snow after dark next to a half-frozen lake so that I'd have somewhere to blindly set up my tent. There was zero phone service and no other living souls within miles. I not only survived this experience, but I had a blast. Yes, I was terrified—I've had a fear of the dark since I was a kid, and I climbed into the bed with my parents because of these fears until I was a tween. But, I prevailed against these terrors of the night by bringing out my Kindle and reading while Nym cuddled up close to me.
The next morning I woke up at sunrise and an early morning hiker was sitting on the snow bank near my tent. After brewing myself some coffee, I climbed up to join him. It was his first solo hike and I explained it was my first overnight trip. He admitted that he'd been wanting to start camping for a while now but had his reservations about being brave enough to do it alone. I told him the truth, "It's a bit terrifying when everything goes wrong and you know you have to save yourself, but in my opinion, it is worth it for the personal growth and because we live in such a beautiful place that should be explored to its absolute fullest."
Three months later, I was hiking at Gothic Basin and a solo guy with an overnight pack on his back passed me on the switchbacks. Then he turned around and said, "Hey, I think I know you. Were you the girl camping at Blanca Lake this May?" I told him I was. He smiled widely and said, "You inspired me to start doing overnight trips by myself. After meeting you and hearing your story, I went home, bought a tent, did research, and have been spending every Saturday night since, under the stars."
Learning that not only was my first solo camping experience an inspiration to me but also to this random hiker, blew me away. As someone who has tended toward a negative outlook on life for so long, it was truly beautiful to know that by seeing the positives in a bad situation instead of just dwelling on how awful the little things were, I had inspired someone to find a new passion in life.
Finally, the full impact of the quote hit me. I realized how much I'd been changed by my journeys, my misadventures. It dawned on me like the sun as it rises and its rays slowly creep across the land, illuminating even the darkest shadows. I was a different person now than I used to be. Gone was the Mary that let every minor flaw in a day ruin her mood, the Mary that constantly explained she wasn't a pessimist, but a realist, and the Mary who was afraid of new challenges because failure was not an option she liked to consider. In her place stood a woman who needed no one, who let nothing get her down, and who can now walk into any situation with the confidence that she can rise to whatever life throws her way.
We are not the measurement of the photos from our highlight reel but the sum of all our experiences both good and bad. A behind-the-scenes look at my life is not at all glamorous and most people would quickly change their minds about wanting to be in my shoes if they realized how many miles I tread through the muddy trenches of life to get to those picture-perfect high points. But it is the journey, and not the destination that I long for because I know the truth of what I would have become if I'd never taken that first, hard step. When people ask me how I'm doing, I respond, "Fantastic," without a moment's hesitation, and I'm never lying. Two years ago I would've given an audible sigh and said, "I'm okay, I guess."
This is not to say that I don't have negative moments, I struggle with my weight every single day, but I have learned the invaluable skill of embracing what others deem as negative and using it to create a better, stronger version of myself. It is the difference in being able to look at yourself in the mirror and think "I'm on a journey to becoming the best I can be mentally, physically, and professionally," instead of only seeing that your cheeks look fatter than ever and you've gained a new roll on your stomach. If you are giving life your all, then you cannot fail because every time you do, you rise from the ashes with a new strength of character that will not be so easily defeated in the next battle.
I encourage you to look at my pictures with new eyes. Don't just be envious or inspired by the beautiful places I'm seeing, look deeper at the motivation it took to get there. I am writing my own story and every day I have to make the choice to try to live an extraordinary existence and not to be satisfied by a mediocre or routine life. I cannot afford to let the fear or dread of the journey alter my fate by intimidating me into staying home, and neither can you. Live a life full of misadventures and when you're 80 years old you'll have more stories to tell than any child will have the patience to listen to. You will reach that final end knowing that the journey has made it entirely worth it.
Each photo in this gallery represents a completely different story for me than you can see just by glancing at the scenery. The caption is what you are seeing, but read the description to see what each photo means to me.