BEFORE the wrong turn…

On June 13, 2017, in the midst of my hardest “life-moment” to date, I had a grand idea. And like most of my “grand ideas,” I completely forgot about it. Let me explain:

Chris and I had taken a shortcut (read: wrong turn) during our “leisurely hike” in the Alps, and we suddenly found ourselves climbing a mountain (literally) that we had no business (or equipment, or experience, or stamina) to climb. We were scared and exhausted, but decided that going back down would be more dangerous than continuing to go up.So UP we went, ascending over 1000 vertical meters from the trail base to the peak. One misstep would have sent either of us straight off the side of the mountain.

Chris, who is in much better physical shape than I, tried to remain upbeat, but I could tell he was struggling, too. “Just look ahead, Heather,” he’d yell. “DO NOT turn around. You cannot look down!”

I doubted myself with every step. Most moments, it seemed impossible to keep going. I kept telling myself, “You’ve done harder things.” And then, I realized, “Nope. That’s a lie. This is the absolute hardest thing you’ve ever done.”

THE ROUTE: We hiked from the red dots to the top.

I paused for a moment to lean against a boulder and rest. Out of the corner of my eye, I saw something glistening brightly in the sunshine. A small, gold-flecked pebble. I slowly bent down, picked it up, and put it in my jacket pocket, thinking, (GRAND IDEA ALERT 👉) “I’m going to save this. Because if I get off this mountain, it will remind me of my strength.” I know that may sound dramatic, but I truly doubted my ability to persevere and remain surefooted.

Along the way, each time I stopped for a break, I picked up a new pebble. My little collection of triumph.

Well, when we reached the top of the mountain, we found that the trail to the climbing hut was blocked by a snowbank.  We had no idea which way to go, fearing that we’d fall down a crevasse if we went over the snow.

After all that work, and all that fear, there we were — standing on an Alpine peak, alone. No one knew where we’d been hiking. No one would be looking for us. We were so close, yet so far from where we needed to be. The feeling of defeat was gutting. Crushing.

Without a path, we would have to climb back down. No food, no water, down parts of straight rock, without any equipment. Going up was one thing– but going down was another. There was, simply, no way. We weren’t equipped. I finally broke down, heaving and sobbing, thinking of my kids. At that point, it wasn’t about me, or my anguish. It was about them.

And then, miraculously, in the middle of the Swiss Alps, I somehow found a cell signal. I called the emergency line, and a guide was dispatched to come find us. He guided us past the snow and up a small section of rock, back to the base.

In the midst of the panic and chaos, I completely forgot about my little pebbles, never giving them a second thought.

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Fast forward to this past Monday. Four months later. It was our first true “fall morning” of the season. There was a chill in the house, so I grabbed a fleece jacket off the hanger and started going about my day.

I was still wearing that jacket several hours later when a friend called. We started talking about a big goal I’d recently declared — a goal which, frankly, scares me. “I’m not sure if I can make it happen,” I said. “This is going to be hard. Like, the hardest thing I’ve ever done. I need laser focus.”

“You’ve done harder things,” she said.

At that very moment, for a reason I can’t explain, I happened to reach into my jacket pocket for the first time in four months. There they were. My three tiny rocks.

Video story here: https://www.facebook.com/heather.nianouris/videos/10154937440249039/

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