"Opportunities are usually disguised as hard work, so most people don't recognize them." ~Ann Landers
I climbed a mountain.
Mount Monadnock in New Hampshire.
It was just a few weeks after I started my extended term Social Studies position. I was happy to get out of the classroom for the day, but I was also looking forward to getting to know the 7th and 8th-graders more.
I should explain that I grew up in Queens, New York and then Long Island, New York. It’s pretty flat there.
I’d been on hikes before.
But I didn’t really understand what climbing a REAL MOUNTAIN entails.
Apparently, there are two sides to this mountain. There’s an easy side and a hard side.
We climbed on the hard side. (Of course.)
The mountain is 3,165 feet, which may not seem bad until you consider the rocks one must grab onto, the slippery spots, and the leaps one must make in order to reach the top.
We all began at the bottom in a bunch. Most of the teachers had climbed it before; some many, many times. I was told it would be best if I hung back a little so I could stay with the students who were slower and might not make it to the summit.
It began with a steady incline that seemed to last FOREVER. Soon I was sweating under my layers and my breath became labored. (Am I really this out of shape? Was I supposed to train for this?) My small backpack couldn’t hold my extra jackets, so I tied them around my waist.
I wasn’t the only one unprepared for the exertion. Soon students were taking water and breathing breaks on the side. I was afraid to drink water since I knew it would be hours before we made it back down and I’d be able to pee.
At some point, the climb became steeper and trickier to navigate. One student was afraid of heights and began to panic. It was great to see a few other students encouraging him and helping him find footholds. More experienced climbers spoke of a tree line, which meant we’d be nearing the summit. After 1 ½ hours, I began to call it “The fabled tree line”.
But after a couple of hours, we reached it. Then it was nearly all rock. Lots and lots of smooth, steep, scary rocks. Teamwork got us through it. Just when I thought I’d actually make it to the top, some students below said a student was throwing up somewhere below.
I only knew of one other teacher behind me who was older, so I didn’t know how far she’d be able to go. I headed back down. As I passed other students, they told me how the vomiting student was doing. Then I reached a group that said the other teacher was with him, so I turned around and headed back up.
When I made it past where I’d been before, another student smacked her head. I turned around and made sure she was okay.
This was more dangerous than I’d imagined. The ranger had told us if someone got injured, it would take seven hours to get back down the mountain. First, they’d have to get 17 rangers to group. Then they’d have to climb to reach the hurt person. And then they’d have to make the long and careful descent, carrying the victim on a stretcher.
This happens a few times a month.
What would we do if that happened to one of us?
At some point, the rocks became flatter and I could see our middle school at the very top. I looked at the time. It was nearly noon. If I were going to make it, they’d probably be ready to head back down. I stopped with some students and had a sandwich before climbing again.
(Around this time, “See Me, Feel Me” by The Who played in my head. Remember when Tommy climbs the mountain at the end of the movie?)
When I was about 30-minutes away, I saw the middle school descend from the summit. The rest of us did too. It was harder going down than climbing up. Gravity was pulling us this way, the spots of frost had defrosted so the leaves were slippery, and we were tired. My legs became jelly.
Finally, four hours from when we began, we made it to the bottom. One girl sprained her ankle, but was able to continue. Another shredded the back of her pants sliding down rocks. But we survived.
I thought, If I’m at this school next year, I’ll have to run up and down bleachers to get in shape before the big climb. It surprised me to be thinking about next year, when I fought to get through each day.
It’s funny to reflect on that trip now. I barely knew the students and they barely knew me. But after our experiences on that mountain, we knew one another better.
You’d think if I could climb a mountain, teaching 7th and 8th-graders would be a cinch. But there are still many days when I wonder what I have gotten myself into and doubt the path I’ve chosen. I still have so much to learn.
I still feel like I’m climbing a mountain. I haven’t reached the tree line, let alone the summit. But I’m striving to get there.
“Ain’t no mountain high enough
Ain’t no valley low enough
Ain’t no river wild enough
To keep me from you”
- Ashford, Nikolas; Simpson, Valerie. “Ain’t No Mountain High Enough” Diana Ross