When things have gotten truly hard, and I mean mentally and physically exhausting to the point where it seems like there’s nothing else in the world but this one task or this one set of tasks that I have to complete, usually one has a choice: You can push through all the struggle and suffer whatever physical and emotional consequences there will be at the end, or you can quit and suffer those consequences.
Yesterday I experienced, perhaps for the first time, a time when I truly felt it’d be better for me to quit and to accept the consequences, but quitting was actually not an option. I couldn’t turn around and go home because I was on a bike and I was exhausted beyond any memory of exhaustion I’d ever experienced.
Yesterday my wonderful team of 6 (counting me) VT/NH Climate Leaders biked 37miles from Peterborough, NH to Brattleboro, VT. The day before we had biked 47 miles from Lowell, MA to Peterborough, NH. Between Lowell and Peterborough was Temple Hill, which we were warned about and which was considered horrible by all. One member even referred to it as a “wall”. However, this was merely a hill when pitted against a mountain. Honestly, I don’t even remember what Temple Hill looked like now. All I can think of is forcing myself up a hill with all my might and being proud of myself, but still having not recovered, then while struggling against my gears and chugging water because just taking sips wasn’t doing it, I looked up at the tallest, steepest, most horrible hill I had ever seen and feeling everything in my body that could express despair break down at the same time.
It was a little after noon and was blazing hot. We were on a main road so there was absolutely no shade. I was dehydrated and I was tired. It took all my energy to cross a road by the bottom of the hill and at that point I could barely breathe. I was coughing, I was crying uncontrollably, lower lip quivering and all, and my lungs weren’t accepting any of the oxygen I put in them. The impossibleness of that mountain combined with the elements of the day had overtaken me.
One of my wonderful teammates stayed with me and encouraged me to take a break, since my sense of hopelessness was fighting with my desire to keep up with the team, which forced me to a stand-still. I was so tired. I told him that. I was so tired, I was laughing and crying. By the time I had rested enough to start walking up the mountain again with my bike, I only got to the other end of the guard-rail before I had to stop again.
It truly felt hopeless for a little bit. I wanted to stop. I didn’t want to do this anymore. It felt like I was dying, and the part that made me laugh was that I actually could not stop. I was on a bike and I had to get up that hill and keep biking so that I could get to Brattleboro and sleep. There was literally nothing I could do but go on, and it was probably the hardest thing I’ve had to do.
If someone doesn’t want to write a paper for college, then they don’t, or they write half of it and they get a poor grade and they deal with it and tell themselves that grades are a social construct and don’t mean anything. When I was volunteering with FEMAcorps I was barely doing anything but mindless, menial tasks and it was emotionally tiring in the negative, non-character building sort of way so I quit that to go on to do better things, like Climate Summer.
Going up that hill I knew I couldn’t quit. I couldn’t quit because I was on a bicycle and I had no way of not being on a bicycle, but there were other reasons. I couldn’t quit because I still consider myself a Team Leader, an opportunity I cherish and wish to take seriously since people are counting on me: my team, and the people that offered me the position. And then there’s the fact that I’m doing this for the Climate. I’m bicycling up hills that are trying to kill me so that I can gather people to be stewards of the Earth with me; to put the life of future generations over short-term economic gain. I knew that would mean more to me than wanting to not have to struggle up a hill anymore.
And a little time, understanding, some kind words, and a little help got me up that hill. It took several people. I urge others, if they ever find someone struggling up a hill, you don’t have to carry them; a moment to rest, reorganize, regroup, and rehydrate may be all they need a long with some encouragement, and a little laughter. I know there are going to be many more mountains like that one in Vermont and New Hampshire, and probably a few in my life. And all I can hope is that I’ll have a few others there to support me while I catch my breath, and take another step up.