Tag-Archive for » challenge «

Tuesday, July 07th, 2015 | Author:

storyofjo Joanna O'Hanlon Mt Quandary Peak, CO

I wanted to climb another 14er. And I wanted to climb it alone.

Colorado calls mountains above 14,000 feet in elevation “14ers” and they have many of them in the state.

The previous fall I had climbed my first — Mt. Bierstadt, 14,060’ at the summit, 2840’ elevation gain from the trailhead, and a 7-ish mile trail. I say “ish” because Kate and I climbed it in the first weekend of Nov. 2013, and snow covered the entire mountain. There were many times where we had no idea where the trail was, let alone if we were near it.

A mountain that normally has thousands of hikers ascending and descending at a time in its summer days sat solitary and snow covered. We saw 6 other hikers on the mountain the entire day.

But we made it to the top, and back down again, despite very serious thoughts from Kate on how I was going to have to cut her frostbitten toes off. And despite the fact that my lips were literally blue by the time we got back to the car, and took about an hour of full-blast heat to get them to purple. All in all though, the trail was manageable for us (because we were in good shape to prepare for it), but the snow had made it difficult.

It had been a year since then and I’d wanted to hike another 14er, but had been told I shouldn’t go by myself. So I’d waited and tried to find times when Kate or someone else could go with me when there wasn’t snow on the roads and wasn’t too much snow on the mountains. But the season winded down and I still hadn’t gone, so I decided I wanted to go it alone.

I’d read “Wild” (which I would highly recommend, both the book and the movie) where she hikes the Pacific Crest Trail alone and it’s a soul journey for her as she works through her grief, through her brokkenness, and does hard things with her body as she processes the hard things of her heart. I’d thought about it and I really wanted that physical hardness to accompany the hard stuff I was wrestling through.

So I decided to climb Quandary Peak, 14,265’ summit, 3450’ elevation gain, and 6.75 mile trail. I thought, OK this mountain looks like it doesn’t have too much snow on it right now (which it didn’t for much of the trail, thankfully), and it looks like a similar kind of climb to Bierstadt, so I should be fine.

I knew I wasn’t in as great of shape as I had been. I’d been running much less since arriving in Colorado and I knew my lungs had still not really adjusted to exercising at the higher altitudes. But I had to have acclimated somewhat, right? And I’m a generally fit person. So I decided one night the next day was it. I packed myself some snacks, some warm clothes (which I didn’t need), and I went.

The parking lot had one other car in it, as it was again, one of, if not the last week of the season. That car had 2 hikers in it that I passed back and forth, leap frogging one another for the first mile or so, and then I said, “I’m gonna sit and take a break,” and they went on ahead. I wanted to be alone.

IMG_2717I saw one other hiker, a woman photographer who I passed about 2/3 of the way up the trail. She was distracted and hanging out photographing these beautiful mountain goats that were right there next to her. She stayed there the entire time it took me to summit and come back down.

Which was a long time. The last mile or so was extremely difficult. The trail up until that point had been fine, I’d even say easy. But the last mile is where you gain the majority of that elevation. Steep rocky step after steep rocky step led to me having to stop for breath every 15 or 20 steps. The last half mile was downright suffocating. That last bit felt like I was just going straight up. At that point I was stopping every 3-5 steps to bend over briefly trying to catch my breath. I hadn’t eaten since leaving the car and my plan was to eat my lunch at the summit, and then eat a snack on the way down.

This part being as difficult as it was, was taxing me though. Thoughts of “I don’t know if I can do this,” started to crawl into my brain as my throat began to feel swollen from all the wheezing I was doing. Soon I began to cough, and my throat went raw. Each breathe was laborious and painful. I finally compromised, I’d stop there where I was, near to the top, and I would eat my lunch there, take a bit of a break, and allow myself to get some energy to get the rest of the way up.

But when I opened my backpack and started rummaging around, I realized there was not a single ounce of food to be found. Before I had left the car I had taken my bag of food out to remove some of the excess warm layers I’d stored in the bag underneath the food. I knew I wouldn’t need those layers, but somehow I’d managed to accidentally not put the food back in.

I was most of the way up a mountain, exhausted, wheezing, starting to shake from hunger and low oxygen, and I didn’t have any food. And like I had set out to be — I was alone. No one was there to offer a part of a power bar or a stick of sugar-filled gum.

Despair and a bit of panic started to rise in my hurting throat. My raw, red nose ran as I was now in the snowy part of the mountain, and my head pounded from the cold. A single tear rolled down my cheek as I thought, “OK. I guess I’m not going to do this.”

I took a couple minutes sitting there on a snowy rock, watching a couple of mountain goats on a ridge farther down, and decided I’d at least take in the view before admitting defeat and beginning my shaky decent.

But somewhere in those moments, I started to think of the hard life journey I’d been on over the past 2 years. About the nights where breathing under the weight of grief was harder even than it was now. When I was alone for days on end, feeling shaky. Feeling dizzy. Feeling defeated. And I thought about the long, hard, arduous task of pulling myself out of the hole of brokenness and starting to rebuild. And how much of that — most of that — I had had to do alone.

And I looked up at the rest of that mountain, all the way to the summit, and I said out loud, “I have done harder things alone than this. I can handle a little mountain.”

Which was probably not wise. Emotionally, it was true. I had handled harder. But I may have been a little more driven than I ought to have been.

Either way though, I found a piece of sugarless gum and hoped maybe it would trick my mind into thinking that it was some sort of food and have it summon some energy. I took one treacherous step after another. By the end of the ascent I was taking a short pause after every single step to breathe. And then All of the sudden, I was there. At the top of the mountain. It was done.

It was also freezing, and my body was still wanting to shut down, so I only stayed a few moments. There was nowhere un-snowed-on to sit, so I crouched for a minute by the summit placard, I looked around at the 360 degree view, and let my breath finally, finally catch up with me, and then I did what you have to do in life — I got up, took another deep breath (as deep as I could) and I put one shaking step after another and started walking again.

The way down the mountain was much easier, but still not easy. I ended up rolling my ankle on a large rock and spraining it pretty badly about a half a mile down. That slowed me quite a bit.

By the time I had gotten back to the car, I was down at a warmer elevation and had been moving briskly enough that I was hot. I got to the car and stripped down to nothing and just sat there for a second. No one else was nearby and the one other car in the parking from earlier had left already. I took a drink of water. I ate a bite of salami. And then I redressed in fresh clothes I had brought along.

I was still shaking, but I felt good. My body had caught up to my heart, and together, they had proved that I somehow, deep down in the places you don’t want to have to summon strength, I have the strength to do hard things alone.

People may pass you or leap frog with you on the journey. They may even walk with you for a while. But there are some paths in life that you are forced to walk alone. It is those paths that reveal our deep guttural reserves of strength and resilience.

Should I have climbed that mountain alone? Maybe not. Was I in good enough shape and prepared for it? Definitely not.

Physically, nothing had changed, other than my throat being sore and having to cough often for a few days after. I walked with a slight limp for about a week. But it got my heart and my body back on the same, resilient page. It changed me. It reminded me that when I have to, I can climb the hard mountains of life, even if I have to do it alone.

Jo O'Hanlon storyofjo.com


If you’d like to support the Story Project (to cover travel expenses, costs of Stories for those who can’t afford it, etc.) you can do so below or contact me at storyofjoblog@gmail.com if you’d like to send a check. Thank you for your support! 

 To Donate to Stories By Jo: The Story Project click below


Jo O’Hanlon is an adventurer and storyteller. She tries to be honest about the ugly and hard parts of life, and the beautiful parts too. This blog is one of the places she shares her thoughts and stories.

Other places are

instagram: @jrolicious         twitter: @jrohanlon        storyofjoblog@gmail.com

Tuesday, May 19th, 2015 | Author:

_MG_7723

My brother sent me a post on facebook recently that I loved. It didn’t have any information on it, so it’s hard to verify if it’s true or not, but it said, “There are libraries around the world where you can check out a person as a living book and listen to their stories.”

If you’ve read almost anything I’ve written recently, you can guess how much I love this idea. But I noticed many comments on the post echoing a thought in the same key: Why go to a library to hear some stranger’s stories when we don’t even bother to talk to our neighbors or the people around us in restaurants?

While I understand the argument and the sentiment, I think the thing is, when we want to talk, we’re afraid that maybe other people don’t. Where we’d like to hear people’s stories, we’re not sure if the people around us are willing to tell their stories. Or maybe we want to tell our stories, but we’re not sure if the people around us would want to listen.

I have become more introverted as my years have increased in number, so while I am talkative many times, many other times I really do enjoy the solitude and aloneness that can come from traveling alone or dining alone in the company of only strangers. I think we’ve all probably been trapped on a plane next to someone who wanted to talk the whole way when we really just wanted to sleep, read, think, or whatever else it is you do on an airplane.

But aside from that, I think the majority of why we don’t talk, why we don’t share, why we don’t interact with those around us is fear. And that fear that is heavily supported by social conventions. Social conventions that say “Stay quiet.” That say it’s weird to say hello to a stranger standing in the same vicinity. That it’s inappropriate to reach out and interact with someone who has not invited you to do so.

There are of course times, and signs that those social conventions should be abided by (in my opinion). For example, you never need to talk to someone in the next stall over in the bathroom unless you need to embarrassingly ask them to pass you some TP. Or, when you’re at a cafe and you see someone with both of their headphones in, working away at something, it better be for a specific reason that you’re approaching them and asking them to disengage what they’re doing (like, “hey, I’m having a heart attack and my phone is dead, could you call 911 please?”). Not just for general chit chat.

But what I’ve found is that when I get over my fear, my social anxiety that our culture affirms that tells me to just stare at my phone instead of engaging the people around me, and when I finally venture out of myself into the world of others, I have found some beautiful interactions. I have found some beautiful people that are in my life now in large ways because I engaged them or visa versa who I otherwise would’ve just passed by.

The comments on the facebook post are right: we are surrounded by people with incredible stories that we don’t know on a regular basis, and we’ll continue to never know them unless we begin to interact.

I do it the cheating way: I ask people to tell me their stories so I can write it for them, which is an incredible blessing to get to sit in those spaces and hear those tales.

But before I was ever a writer, I was a toddler that would ask you who you were, where you lived, what did you believe.

Then I was the little girl who reached out to the middle aged woman struggling on the ice skating rink and asked if I could help her, and continued to skate with her for the next hour.

When I was very young it came naturally. But then adolescence hit and it was more uncomfortable to reach out. So it became a discipline instead of a natural disposition.

With this discipline, I was the middle school student who went to summer camp and met every single counselor there, and then continued to be friends with many of them for years later — up to and including one who opened a crossfit gym in my hometown when I was an adult and became my trainer.

And on and on.

Some of the dearest people I have in my life today are there because I thought, “What do I have to lose?” and I talked with them, reached out, interacting in non-extraordinary ways that sparks extraordinary friendships, adventures, and tales.

So, as I challenge myself regularly, I challenge you: Reach out. Interact. See what happens.

If you want to reach out by encouraging someone you know to have their story written (so you and others can read it and know it), contact me directly (info below), or have them look over the story project website and contact me for next steps.


If you’d like to support the Story Project (to cover travel expenses, costs of Stories for those who can’t afford it, etc.) you can do so below or contact me at storyofjoblog@gmail.com if you’d like to send a check. Thank you for your support! 

 To Donate to Stories By Jo: The Story Project click below


Jo O’Hanlon is an adventurer and storyteller. She tries to be honest about the ugly and hard parts of life, and the beautiful parts too. This blog is one of the places she shares her thoughts and stories.

Other places are

instagram: @jrolicious         twitter: @jrohanlon        storyofjoblog@gmail.com