We bumped along a rutted dirt road in a rented SUV, parking a quarter mile from the trailhead leading to the summit of Mount Democrat. The four of us hoisted backpacks stuffed with water, food, dry socks, and extra clothes onto our backs. The thin, 38-degree air nipped at exposed hands and faces. Winded by the walk from the car to the trailhead, even my more experienced friends worried that our less than 24 hours at altitude had not been enough time for our sea-level dwelling bodies to adjust. I bean to sweat, and not just from the exertion.

The way home

“That was so fun! I’ve got a new addiction!” my athlete friend exclaimed, tired but happy in the car on the way home. “Let’s do it again tomorrow.”

Fun, as you might imagine, was not how I would describe this adventure. Awesome? Yes. Fun? No. N.O. No way

But would I do it again? If I could rewind to that moment when the alarm went off at 4:30 a.m. to throw on clothes, grab our packs and trek up that mountain, would I? You bet your buttons I would. Here’s why: awesome lives at the intersection of fun and scary. One of my companions summed the whole experience up perfectly. He leaned back in his chair at dinner that night, shrimp taco in hand, “These are the kinds of experiences that give something back to you. They show you who you are in a whole new way.”

Humbled but not broken, I experienced both a new awareness of the strength of my will and the vulnerability of my body. My ego lost a bit of ground that day, but my essence — that part of me that connects to something greater — found wordless expression.

At the bottom of the mountain, my legs shaky, my face gritty with dust, I could still enjoy the beauty of the clean mountain stream pooling around me. I could laugh with my friends. Life flows. I flow. A real mountain and a metaphorical one are the same. We go up with a certain understanding of ourselves, and come back down changed.

Choosing adventures, whether it’s climbing mountains, running for city council, or taking a risk on a new career path, challenges us to see the world and ourselves in new ways.

And that, my friends, is awesome.

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