“You are you wherever you go.” – My friend, Tim Armacost
One of my favorite parts of travel is how it brings out some of my best qualities: resilience, curiosity, spontaneity, organization, humor, and enthusiasm. But along with physical bags, travel also insists that I schlep along some of my less-desirable “emotional baggage”: judgment, irritation, impatience, insecurity and self-doubt. It’s natural, of course. Why would a change of scenery equate to a change of personality? I like to think that my travel self is an expression of my best self, but alas, that’s not always the case. Take, for example, my hike up Mount Manganui.
Dominating the skyline of seaside Tauranga, New Zealand, Mt. Manganui (also called Mauao) is an impressive sight: a steep, rocky outcropping covered with green grass and the inevitable New Zealand sheep. I’ve been keen to climb this mountain since my friends on the FB “Traveling New Zealand” forum insisted that the spectacular views from the top were “not to be missed.” The rub: I’m getting over an unpredictable hip/glute injury, plus I’m 20 pounds overweight and in not-particularly-good aerobic shape. Add in my people-pleasing tendencies and you can see why I go into this hike, accompanied by my very-fit partner, Donica, with a fair bit of trepidation. “What if my body gives out during the hike and I can’t make it to the top? What if, like a cripple, I need Donica to help me down the mountain? How disappointed will she be? What if the climb is just too hard and I have to give up? How humiliating! I’m an athletic person for gawd’s sake! Or at least, I used to be. Now I’m 60 years old, overweight, with a nagging injury. Is this the beginning of the end?” Talk about emotional baggage, huh?
Endeavoring to keep my gremlins at bay, I begin the 2-hour, four-mile, 850 foot climb up Manganui. As my online friends had suggested, the hike IS quite spectacular, with stunning, 360-degree views of the Bay of Plenty. It’s also, as I’d feared, a pretty hard trek, straight up the mountain with an annoying number of steep, dusty stair cases all along the way. On this hot, humid afternoon, I’m sweating. I’m breathing hard. I’m nursing my sore leg. I’m trying to read Donica’s micro expressions. “Is she okay with us walking so slow?” As much as I hate to admit it, this is me. Or at least, a side of me – the one with the monkey mind who is struggling mentally and physically to get up this darn mountain. But there’s another side of me in play as well. The resilient Dave who has done this kind of thing before. The one who climbed Mount Fuji, trekked half way around the Anapurnas in Nepal, completed a full, trail marathon. The one who knows he has the grit to do any challenge before him, because he’s done it before.
Apart from a stitch in my side, I end up making it up AND down that darn Mt. Manganui — pleased with my effort, delighted that my leg injury didn’t flare up, and content in the knowledge that I’m not yet “over the hill.” More importantly, I proved to myself that the positive, gritty, can-do-it mind I packed on this trip is more powerful than the worrying, negative, defeatist brain that I also toted along with me to New Zealand. Conquering Manganui was a signification feat, but in the end, overcoming my mental challenges was the bigger mountain to climb, and the more satisfying. I am me wherever I go.
(It’s no fun when your monkey mind asserts itself, spewing out negative self messages in an effort to convince you that you’re “less than”. One of the best ways to counter it is to recall all your achievements in the past. “You were resilient in the past. You found a way to solve problems. You overcame your negative thoughts and feelings then. Since you obviously have all that in you, chances are good you can do the same today. Be bold, be optimistic. Trust in your experience. Trust yourself.”)