One of the Most Frequently Asked Questions I get is this: “Is it hard to leave your family behind and/or walk the G’WA treks on your website?” Women love the idea of dropping everything and jetting to the other side of the world to climb Moroccan mountains or watch a Guatemalan volcano explode in the early dawn sky. They’ll watch the videos and revel in the romance of it all. But they’re hesitant to buy the ticket and take the ride themselves.
And I don’t blame them one bit.
Challenging yourself by stepping out of your comfort zone is, by definition, uncomfortable. That’s the whole point – otherwise, we wouldn’t undergo any change. I’ll let you in on a little secret about why it’s so hard in a minute that might put things in perspective.
I’ll share a story from my own life that may sound familiar.
You’re Doing What Now?
Most of my friends and family literally laughed when I told them back in 2009 that I was going to climb mountains in Bolivia. The laughter wasn’t hurtful – they thought I was joking. After all, at the time I was so not that girl. No, I was the girl with no clue how to inflate my self-inflating Thermarest. And those crampons that I bought for mountaineering? Even the Amazon bots suspected they’d never see the light of day outside the box they shipped in.
But I knew I needed something totally outside of my normal everyday drudgery. Hiking up a 6,500-metre mountain on the other side of the equator seemed as good a “something” as anything. (And the fact that everyone laughed at the thought was a good sign I was on the right track!) I was a young mom who was quickly getting disillusioned with the whole rat race and the pace of life it demanded.
I was looking for a way to regain my sanity before it was lost forever.
Discovering Mount Sammy-Jammy
So, I set my sights on Bolivia and Mount Sajama (pretty close to one of my nicknames, Sammy-Jammy, don’t you think?). I’m sure I looked like an alpine tourist with my newly minted ice axe blinding in the sun and those infamous crampons, which were as surprised as anyone at the prospect of actually tasting glaciers. Booking the trip, getting on the plane, and getting shipped off to some of the “baby” mountains was terrifying enough for a newbie like me.
But I think the moment I really started to question my choices was when we had to fling ourselves at an ice wall with only an ice axe to catch the fall. Yes, this was training for the very real possibility that we could go sliding down a glacier and tumbling into an abyss, in which case our ice axe skills were the only thing between us and oblivion. I can tell you, I tasted ice a few times myself!
Other training included walking the knife-edge precipice on Pequeño Alpamayo and perching on an ice ledge, while my guide Osvaldo left to rescue another climber. It didn’t help that, of course, Type-A Sam had watched hours of YouTube climbing videos and documentaries before the expedition including several about the deadly 1996 Everest Disaster in which knife edges and ice ledges figured prominently. My own rookie climbing was punctuated with both adrenaline and anxiety. This wasn’t just getting outside of my comfort zone! In fact, you could say the needle pointed closer to “Holy-Shit-I’m-Not-Doing-This!”
But when I summitted Pequeño Alpamayo with my fellow – and much more experienced – climbers, I cried like a five-year-old who had finally learned how to ride a bike.
We’re Not Done Yet!
Was it hard???? Fucking right it was hard.
But I was buoyed by the encouragement of my climbing group. Spurred by my curiosity of “what if I COULD actually do this?” Along with the reality that we’d passed the point of no return. After all, this wasn’t the end of the trek. I still had the main objective: Mount Sajama. Despite the missteps and panic attacks, I felt ready and was determined to push on – for myself as well as for the rest of the group.
If this was a Hallmark movie, it would end with me atop Mount Sammy-Jammy with my arms outstretched in the morning light, maybe a flag in hand, and a look of pure joy beaming from my frozen face. However, as often happens, real life doesn’t go to script. My quest to reach the top of Sajama ended short of the summit. After all I’d been through, my body was spent, and the last 500 metres – the hardest 500 metres – simply wasn’t physically possible for me to finish no matter how determined I was.
I didn’t care.
I’d battled altitude sickness. Overcame my fear of heights. Learned to trust in others and felt more fully alive than I’d ever felt in my whole little life. I pushed past the limits I had put on myself, doing something that no one ever thought I could or would do (including me).
Since then I’ve attempted and “failed” to summit dozens of other mountains. I didn’t care then, either. Okay, a couple of them stung in the moment. But ultimately, it was never about the summit. Along the way I’ve grown as a woman, I’ve seen stars beyond comparison, tasted adventure (and glaciers), seen sunrises and sunsets impossible to describe, and worked through physical suffering that has made me the tough cookie I am today.
All because I took that first step outside my comfort zone.
No Ice Axes Needed for Your Trek…!
I can assure you, none of the SWTW treks I have planned for you will have you hanging off of ice ledges or relying upon axes and crampons to save you from oblivion. I have searched out treks that anyone in moderate-to-good shape can accomplish without any special equipment except a good pair of hikers and a sturdy set of walking sticks.
But the experience will be similar. The inner journey is always as important as the outer one, and perhaps more so. It’s difficult to describe the elation you’ll feel as you climb over mountain trails and get up close to Volcan Acatenango as it erupts. You’ll end up seeing things and doing things that you’ll see and do perhaps once in a lifetime – if ever.
Most importantly, you’ll grow in ways that you never thought possible. Every woman I’ve travelled with has had some sort of life epiphany or solved some conundrum in her life along the way. They don’t always tell me the details – and that’s okay. As long as they know the details, that’s all that matters.
Of course, you have to decide to do it. Often, it’s our own fears that are stopping us.
The Only Thing to Fear is Fear Itself – Your Fear
Here’s that little secret I teased earlier: the hardest part of the whole thing is getting past your own fears and anxieties and what-ifs. The external barriers are easy to get around, as we’ll see in a moment. It’s your own internally created barriers that are much harder to overcome.
And that’s true of any limitations we put on ourselves. Until we stop believing in those artificial barriers and start believing in ourselves, we’ll never take that first step.
What road blocks do you see in your way?
- Work? Chances are, you can book the time off if you ask – especially in this post-COVID world when many companies and organizations are much more understanding of mental health.
- Family? I’ve learned that families are much more resilient than we give them credit for. They are quite capable of surviving two weeks without me. Besides, there is often a bevy of family and friends who would be more than glad to help out if needed.
- Pets? Ditto the above.
- Your own guilt? This one is something you will battle. But you’ll have to trust me on this, you are worth the fight.
Again, that secret: the biggest road block to your own happiness is usually you. If you’re anxious about stepping outside of your comfort zone, you’ll find a million reasons not to do it. But if it’s something you desperately want, you can always find that one way to make it happen.
So what’s your Mount Sammy-Jammy? What mountain do you need to climb or trail you need to trek or volcano you need to witness to get yourself closer to you?
Guatemala would be a great starting place. Read all about the Guatemala G’WA here to get all the fine details of what, where, and when. You can also send me a quick message detailing what your questions and concerns are. Then, we can set up a time to talk either via Zoom or phone (or email if you like, but I find that’s less effective to have a full and nuanced conversation…)
So. Is it hard? Yes – maybe one of the hardest things you’ll ever do.
But is it worth it? Yes. A million times yes.Find out more about your Guatemalan adventure here!