I tried to catch my breath but couldn’t.  “I’m not sure I’ll make it to the top, if it’s already this hard to breath,” I said, embarrassed.

My friend Claire assured me that we could do an easier hike or just take our time.

“Well let’s keep going, I can always turn around if I need to.”  And with that we continued our march up my first mountain.

I wouldn’t have been able to even think about hiking up a mountain four years ago.  I’d had two knee injuries and after the weight started creeping on, I’d just sort of given up.  I’d put on an extra 80 pounds, which was a lot for my 5’2″ frame and I avoided stairs let alone mountains.

I’d reached a point in my life where I needed to take stock on how healthy I wanted to be in my later life.  Youth had begun to fade and my body felt the strain of the extra weight more than it had in my upper 30’s.  And so I reached out to a friend and health coach Chip to see about starting to invest in myself.

“What big goal do you have?” he’d asked.  “Do you want to run a marathon, hike Mt. Everest?  What can we work towards?”

“I just want to feel healthier,” I’d replied.  “I’d like to lose weight but I don’t want that to be the sole focus, I mainly want to feel strong.”

“Ok, we can definitely get you feeling stronger,” he’d replied.

After our first session, I realized why I’d been failing so miserably on my own.  I’d been thinking what I’d been putting into my body was food and it wasn’t.  We lived in a world with misleading packaging and convenience foods that made it easier and cheaper to eat unhealthy.  Chip taught me how to read the language of food and we created a good plan of attack that took into account what I enjoyed eating.  I started incorporating green shakes into my diet and having a Mise en Plus salad, French for “more”, every day.

I also learned to indulge without guilt.  Chip encouraged me to listen to my body and if I really wanted something, to have it.  But I was required to enjoy every bite.  If I wanted cheese, I got a really good cheese to share with friends, rather than wolfing down some crappy sliced and processed cheese.  I realized denying myself something I’d really wanted, had only made me replace that need with things that were far less filling.

Chip asked me when I’d last felt at my physical peak and I replied, “Back when I was dancing.”  I used to dance tap and jazz throughout my childhood and into high school.  I’d continued dancing a bit in college, though not as regularly.  Dancing had never felt like a workout.  Chip encouraged me to take a dance, Zumba or Werq class at the gym.  I was worried I wouldn’t be able to finish the hour and fifteen minute long class.  He assured me that everyone in the class was trying to survive just like me and so, I finally signed up for a class and discovered once again the joy of moving my body to music.

All of this was very present in my mind as I willed myself up this mountain.

Also on my mind was the knowledge that a few days ago, my friend and mentor Chip had passed away.  Completing this physical challenge seemed the best way I could honor his life.  I couldn’t give up.  I continued to trudge forward and slowly, breathing became easier.

I finally reached the summit and scrambled over a rocky overlook where I was rewarded with the best view of my life.  I felt strong and I took a moment to silently thank Chip.  But I was still sad that he was gone, that I couldn’t text him and share our accomplishment.

Later that week, I attended an outdoor festival with other close friends who’d come to Denver for the weekend.  We’d spent quite a bit of money and I had blown past my budget in the first day, mostly at the dispensary where I rediscovered my joy of eatables.

I was worried about having enough money to get to LA.  Work hadn’t been bringing in enough for me to support my contractors and have padding left over for unexpected expenses or splurges.  Plus housing was far pricier than I’d expected.

My girlfriends and I stopped to listen to a band and as I curled up on the grass, I let my mind noodle my finances, trying to factor in 3-4 weeks of paying for housing until I got to LA where I had a free place to stay.  Then a solution hit me.  If money became too tight, I could simply speed up some of those stops and head to LA more quickly.

In truth, we never know how long any journey will be.  We never know where the journey will take us and we certainly can’t predict who we’ll encounter along the way.  The only thing within our control is how we spend our time while we’re here and how we impact the lives of those we meet.

Chip made an impact on my life as well as so many others.  He’d spent his journey well and I didn’t need to say goodbye.  His lessons walked alongside me.  There was no point in worrying about my path.  I only needed to tread lovingly with those I encountered.  And with that realization, I felt an overwhelming sense of calm.

Of course it might have just been the second eatable kicking in but I’ll take the lesson regardless.

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