The summit of Mount Monadnock was our goal on a sunny summer day. Friday night we camped at Monadnock State Park at the foot of this popular mountain. Monadnock is said to be the world’s third most climbed mountain, behind Japan’s Mount Fuji and China’s Mount Tai. I was under the misconception that this mountain is hiked by so many because it is easy. Noooooo, it is hiked by many because it is a challenging hike. The trails have amazing rock faces that must be scaled and natural rock staircases that make your legs burn as you climb them. The top of the mountain is all rock so there are views in every direction.
Saturday morning we got up, made a big breakfast, put on our hiking boots, packed water, trail mix, and lunch. When all was packed and ready we drove to the park entrance at the foot of the mountain. The plan was to hike the “white dot” trail up the mountain and the “white cross” trail down. Mount Monadnock has an elevation of 3166 feet. The “white dot” trail is 1.9 miles long. We estimated the hike would take us between 4 and 5 hours with a break at the top for lunch.
My son Stephen and I were at the beginning of the hike—at the place in a hike where muscles are not yet warmed up and no rhythm has been found. As we walked up the trail a woman approached us. She was coming down the mountain at the end of her hike—her journey.
“Are you having a good day?” Stephen asked the hiker.
“Yes, I enjoyed my hike throughly.” she answered. Then she asked “How about you, how’s your hike going?”
“Okay.” Pause. “I’m a bit tired.” Stephen confessed.
“Remember, take one step at a time and pace yourself.” the hiker advised.
Stephen and I waved goodbye to the wise hiker and continued up the trail. As we hiked our muscles warmed up and we each found our own pace, our individual rhythm. Stephen went to the front of our group. I took the sweep position at the back of the pack.
For the rest of the day Stephen quoted that hiker. When he got tired, when one of his cousins or sister felt discouraged or when he came to a challenging part in the trail, he could be heard repeating the words of the encouraging hiker. “Take one step at a time and pace yourself.”
Stephen is the youngest member of our family. He is 7 years old. This means he is often the slowest and the one who needs help. On this day, during this hike Stephen went to the front of the group and stayed there the entire day. I could hear him saying, “I’m in front, I’m going to be the first one to summit the mountain. As we approached the top of the mountain, Stephen gained steam and reach the summit, as predicted, first.
At the summit there were high-fives, words of congratulation, and pictures. Pictures of the view we had earned and pictures of the hikers who successfully hiked Mount Monadnock. Stephen stands tall and proud in these pictures. His sense of accomplishment visible on his face and in his stature.
On the way down the mountain, Stephen talked to other hikers. He proudly mentioned to many that he was the first one in our group to reach the top. He discussed equipment with fellow hikers, for he was now a hiker himself. “How do you like your Camelback hydration system?” And he offered words of encouragement, “Take one step at a time and pace yourself.” The same words he heard earlier that day.
Stephen’s first hiking experience was a success and some of the credit for that success goes to the hiker who took the time to see him. To really see this little boy at the beginning of a big challenge. She took the time, a moment, to give him a gift. A tool? Knowledge? Shared experience? What do you call it? That instant when one person passes something on to another and changes their life for ever. Stephen walked away from that mountain different—more confident, not last, successful, and a hiker. Thank you wise hiker,wherever you are, for being a part of my son’s first hike.