No one would accuse me of being athletic. I come from a family of jocks and I was the one holed up with a book while everyone else was out skiing or playing tennis or enjoying a hike on the beach. But as I get older, I realize that staying physically active is more important than ever and I am trying to push myself to do some things that don't come naturally to me.
Last week, I traveled with my friend Dana to the moors of West Yorkshire in England. We're both big fans of the Bronte sisters (authors of Jane Eyre and Wuthering Heights) and wanted to see the landscape that spawned these masterpieces of English literature. My goal was only to see the parsonage in the village of Haworth where the sisters grew up but Dana had a bigger dream - to hike miles across the moors and find Top Withens, an abandoned farmhouse that is rumored to be the setting for Wuthering Heights.
Dana is an experienced hiker. In her early 20s, she trekked in the Himalayas. She has climbed Machu Picchu in Peru and a whole bunch of other places I've never even heard of. She's always ready for any physical challenge. I, on the other hand, generally find the morning hike from my house to the subway to be quite sufficient and I have come to think of myself as a person who doesn't do the outdoor thing.
But I recently read a great book, Wild by Cheryl Strayed. It's the story of her hike on the Pacific Crest Trail in California. Strayed embarked on this challenge without adequate preparation and endured a lot of pain along the way (especially in her feet because of ill-fitting boots). But she reached her goal in spite of all the hardship. One line stuck with me: "Fear, to a great extent, is born of a story we tell ourselves, and so I chose to tell myself a different story from the one women are told." Instead of saying "I can't do this," she said, "I can."
That line was in my head when Dana suggested we head off into the moors to find Top Withens. Normally, this is the kind of thing I tell myself that I definitely can't do, but instead I decided that maybe I could do it. And I did - despite the fact that it was one of the rainiest days in years, the trail was nonexistent in places and neither Dana nor I were wearing proper gear for a hike across the wet and muddy moors.
At one point, another hiker we met told us that we would never make it across a stream a few yards away because the water was rushing so fast down the hill. When we got to the stream, I could see what he meant. It was more like a small river than a stream and the other side didn't appear to offer a safe landing place - just a muddy hill that stuck straight up about five feet from the water. The old me would have turned around and given up. But this was the new me so I studied the water and the hill and then took one leap across. I ended up on the hands and knees in the mud. The old me would have been scared but I was just happy I had made it.
By the end of the hike, I had climbed more hills, crossed pastures full of sheep and cows (did I mention that I am not much of an animal person?) and my jeans were so waterlogged that it felt like I was carrying 20-pound weights on each leg.
But I was feeling pretty good. I had done it, thanks to Dana and my new positive attitude. Later, at a nearby pub for dinner, the locals laughed when we told them we had made the hike in such bad weather. They thought we were crazy and maybe we were. But I think this is a good kind of craziness to have as you get older.
I have some more vacation time left and I'm thinking...Machu Picchu. Why not?