Life Lessons from a Challenging Hike on Lake Superior


Day 3: “What do I have to prove?

The next day was sunny and brilliant blue. “We’ve been through the worst,” Connie said.

But as we crossed another rocky beach and climbed a steeper, more entrenched trail and sailed over another field of boulders, my body ached, and I was tired and more than a little scared. I am 59 years old, I thought. What am I trying to prove? And to whom?

The answer came back with surprising clarity: Nothing. I don’t have to prove anything to anyone. I don’t have to do this.

We came out of the woods on top of a cliff; I took off my bag and sat down.

I had a lot of therapy. I don’t know why it took an impossible hike on an impossible trail to finally show me that the answer I had been looking for all my life was to sit and rest. I had had my share of Me Too experiences; I had learned to defend myself at work, in my friendships, in my marriage, with my children. I paraded at the 2017 Women’s March. I taught my daughters to say no without explanation or excuse. I knew Mary Oliver’s poem “Wild Geese” by heart, and I knew I didn’t have to be wise or walk a hundred miles on my knees repenting. I just had to let the sweet beast in my body love what she loves.

Only my body was a tough animal, refined by hours of training camps and long hikes. And I never paid attention to learning to assert myself in what was the most difficult and meaningful relationship of my life: the one I had with myself.

I told Connie I was done and started to cry. It was primal, part exhaustion, part fear, but more so – a deep, inexpressible relief that I was finally able to let go. I had pushed myself until I found the absolute limit of what I could do, and I was tired, and wanted to go to the cabin and take a long hot shower and rest. And then I wanted to go home and rest a little more.

“We’re not injured,” Connie said. “A rescue will cost money.”

“I think my family would rather pay for my rescue than my funeral.”

“The best way to get over your fear of something is to do it,” she said. “You can do it.”

“I don’t want to,” I say. These are the truest words I have ever said.

We got our bags and dogs back and headed back to where we had camped the night before. I sent our GPS coordinates and a message on our satellite communication device to our friend Sarah. The next day, the Ontario Provincial Police arrived in a small boat. We waded through the cold, rocky lake and loaded our gear, dogs and ourselves onto the boat, where two nice officers gave us big warm coats and guided us on a rough 25 mile walk on the lake. , to the calm turquoise bay where they had launched, where a road awaited them.

The rescue was free; all in one working day for the Ontario Provincial Police. I’m at home; Connie and I are still friends. I often think of a line from a poem by Derek Walcott that says, “The time will come when you will greet each other with joy as you arrive at your own door, in your own mirror, and everyone will smile at the welcome of the other. I wish I had smiled at this woman a long time ago. I smile at him now every day.


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