Discuss an accomplishment, event, or realization that sparked a period of personal growth and a new understanding of yourself or others.
I wake up on a cool Colorado morning and look out the window at the mountain ridges. Today is the “Elk Hike,” a ten-year tradition in my family and part of our week-long summer trip to Colorado. What began as a suggestion for one family outing has become an annual event and a marker of my growth throughout the years.
I roll out of bed, and less than an hour later I find myself with my mom, dad, two uncles, younger sister, and three younger cousins at the base of the mountain — all of us equipped with backpacks and water bottles. As the aspen trees flutter around us, I feel nervous. I open up the map that will guide us; usually one of my parents or my uncles takes the lead and directs us, but this year it is my turn.
The trail I will be navigating is a thirteen-mile hike that loops around the mountain up to Beaver Lake and back home. It is not an easy hike and I can already hear my youngest cousin voicing her signature complaint — “You’re killin’me!” — as I lead the group at a brisk pace through the first part of the hike. The challenge is part of the fun and so her complaint simply makes everyone laugh.
As we make our way up and across the mountain, I settle into the easy rhythm of leading us along a familiar trail, and look forward to the crystal blue lake that awaits us at the highest point on the mountain. As we near the crest, I fall back to walk this rocky and steep part of the hike with my sister and my two girl cousins. We breathe heavily and don’t talk much as we press on. I know we can do it because we’ve seen each other through more difficult times than hikes, including the messy and complicated divorce of my cousins’ parents.
We reach the top together. Looking out, I can see no point higher than me. I feel lighter than air and very proud, having led us all to the top of the mountain. After enjoying the quiet beauty of the lake, we slowly gather ourselves and then start back down the trail.
The trek back down is much shorter and easier. I feel content as I reflect on the day and the tradition that I’ve come to love. A hike that used to be difficult for me is now easily managed, and I have enough confidence to lead it. It, like the other traditions that anchor my life, fills me with a sense of belonging to both a place and a group and gives me a regular opportunity to note how I’ve changed and grown over time. I wouldn’t miss the Elk Hike any more than I would miss an opportunity to cheer at a football game or celebrate Christmas or Mardi Gras.With another hike completed I feel a sense of connectedness and anticipation for the many more to come.