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July 2, 2018

Kara Headley: Life lessons

July 3, 2018

Kara Headley is a sophomore professional writing major in the College of Arts and Letters. The following is an excerpt from the blog Headley and her classmates kept while on the 2018 Education Abroad Program "Environmental Communication and International News in Peru.”

snow-capped mountain

“I’m almost there” became my mantra. Every time I said it, I knew it wasn’t true. Except for the last time.

I fell behind right at the beginning. I knew it was going to happen.

Over the previous three days I had been pretty sick; I had a bad knee and a recently sprained foot; I was having a hard time breathing because of the high altitude; and now I was headed out on a seven-hour hike with a group of people in significantly better shape than me. The hike began at 3,800 meters above sea level. I was headed to 4,600.

It seemed impossible. I watched my friends split apart as they kept up their pace and mine slowed. It felt impossible.

At first, I didn’t like hiking alone. There wasn’t anyone to supply me with any motivation or anyone to keep pushing me forward. I stopped to breathe, frowning. Alone.

"Well," I thought, "Guess I’ll just have to supply those things for myself."

That was when I said it for the first time. “I’m almost there,” I said to no one. “I can’t give up now.” Little did I know, the hardest was yet to come.

cowAt one point I took a snack break, and when I looked to my left, there sat a cow, watching me. When she noticed I saw her, she got up and trotted up to me. I stood still, not sure what she was up to.

Well, she took my cracker, right out of my hand. I had more in my other, and she stared at me, expecting me to hand them over. I started to walk away, but she followed. I put the crackers in my pocket and showed her my empty hands.

“See?” I said. “All gone.”

She cocked her head, then turned tail and went to sit back where she had been before. As soon as she couldn’t see me anymore, I finished my crackers. In hindsight, I should have shared. It would have been fun to have a cow buddy.

Throughout the hike, I passed strangers coming down the mountain. Sometimes we would say “hola.” Sometimes we would just nod. A few offered me encouraging words.

“Another hour and you’ll be there!”

“You’re through the worst of it!”

“The view is worth it!”

The nods were polite. The hellos and holas were nice. The words made me smile.

lagoon in the middle of mountainsThey say it’s not the destination; it’s the journey. But it’s both.

It’s telling yourself over and over that you can do it and that you’re almost there, even when you don’t really believe either of those things are true.

It’s when you squat down to tie your shoe and stand up too fast and see all white for a moment. It’s the thin oxygen forcing you to stop every minute to catch your breath.

It’s making up excuses for stopping, like taking a picture or wanting to look at a neat plant. It’s playing the same song over and over and over because it gives you motivation.

It’s when you round that last corner and you can see your destination, yet you still need to stop and breathe before you make that final stretch.

It’s seeing one of your groupmate’s drone in the sky in front of you and nearly crying tears of relief.

It’s when you see your group standing below, waving at the drone  — all of them having made it long before you, and the feeling of accomplishment that follows.

I might have been slow. Others may have doubted me. But I never thought that giving up was an option.

Speed doesn’t matter. Determination does.

What’s the point of only half climbing? It’s go big or go home.

woman holding an MSU flag on top of a mountainThe view from the top was beautiful, but it was nothing compared to the feeling of looking back at where I came from and knowing that, despite everything, I did it. I climbed and slipped and ran out of breath, but nothing could compare to the feeling of reaching that goal. Reaching the top.

I’m sore and tired now. But this is the best I’ve felt in a long time. Seven hours of hiking, most of it uphill, and now I know that as long as I put my mind to it, I can accomplish anything. I feel so light, so happy. I keep smiling. This has been one of my favorite things I have ever done, and I did it for myself. Not to prove to anyone what I could do, but to prove it to myself.

The song I played on repeat had the lyric,  “courage with a good attitude goes a long, long way.” I did it. By myself with no incentive other than I wanted to do it. I kept telling myself that I could do it. The only thing that could stop me would be me, and I was going to fight myself before I let that happen. Courage and a good attitude carried me up that mountain, and the feeling is indescribable.

I may have been the last one up the mountain, but I certainly was the first one back to the van. I forced myself in front of my classmates, thinking of the irony. Last one up, first one down. As I reached the van, I slumped, laying my head and arms on the hood. I could hear one of my friends cheering, glad to be done, glad to have done it. All I could think was "I'm not almost there, I am there."

Should I add “mountain climbing” as a special skill on my résumé now?

Reused with permission from the MSU Education Abroad Peru 2018 blog