As we turn another switchback and I tromp ungracefully along the path, my poles and occasionally my snowshoes punching into the deeper and fragile spring snow, I remark on the difficulty of the hike to my husband.

In response to my mild complaints, he say something simple, but it strikes me.

“You have to earn the experience.”

And isn’t that the truth.

I have an alter-ego. My husband and I call her “Adventure Holly.” It’s the part of me that I try to build up, the self I want to be, the one who, in my brain at least, is a bad-ass woman, who fearlessly rides motorcycles and drinks whiskey and runs mountain trails and ultramarathons and sleeps outside and travels to obscure places and eats crickets from a stall in Bangkok.

Our culture applauds the adventurous and the bold, but sometimes we can forget that it’s hard work to do these big, crazy things. It doesn’t always look like it. We see movie montages where the hero or heroine goes from novice to expert in a few frames, accompanied by an inspirational soundtrack, of course. We read memoirs and magazine articles, accounts of great feats, and while the author may share some of their struggle, it’s always written in the afterglow of the experience. And even when the author puts into words the depth of the struggle, it’s hard to understand it and feel it unless you’ve been there.

One of our purposes for uprooting our lives and moving to Montana is to put ourselves more often in this place of challenge.

We want to push our minds and bodies – and our lives – to new levels. We want to reconnect with the land and the wild. This, too, will be something we earn, re-accumulating knowledge and confidence over time as we brush the city cobwebs from our youthful remembrance of dirt and mountains.

 

So last week we went out snowshoeing, capturing the receding snow as spring wakes slowly in our valley.

We drove a few miles up a backcountry road. As the snow and ice on the path increased, we started to debate how far up we would try to drive. It was 7 miles to the trailhead, but we figured that the road would become impassible before that.

We were right. Just around a curve, we came across a woman and a dog in an SUV that had swerved off of the ice and into a snowbank. She was fine, waiting for friends with a tow rig and keeping warm in her car, but appreciated us taking a few moments to check on her anyway. Once we were satisfied she was safe and had help en route, we backtracked, parked, and strapped on our snowshoes.

A few miles uphill, my body has remembered this unique stride, the pickup and maneuver of the wide shoes around each other, the slightly different tweak and pull on the knees and the hips, the awkward gait that you settle into gradually.

Snowshoeing looks easy, but I’m still walking up a mountain. And it’s tiring.

I reflect on my admiration for those who climb the high peaks of the world, and realize that the difficulty factor of climbing a low-grade trail in 40 degree sunshine is only the palest sliver of the experience of summitting a Rainier or a Denali, or crossing Antarctica, as some of my heroes have done. Experiencing this slight reflection of what these treks must be like makes the stories of these adventures so much more real to me.

On this sunny day, earning it looks like stopping before the summit, realizing that neither of us is feeling the need or the drive to continue on that far. But we’ve still put in the work for an amazing experience, of sun on a snowy trail in the midst of a silent, ancient forest. We stop numerous times along the way to appreciate our surroundings, the view, the wind gently shifting through the trees. Then, we turn around, descend, and head to our favorite local spot for coffee and breakfast.