Growing up I would consider myself a bit of a ‘scared-y cat’. Not in everyday life, no, that’s when I would force strangers to watch me sing and dance while I stood on the mantle of the fireplace belting my heart out into my Fisher-Price microphone/tape recorder... My poor parents.
I was scared for the weird things. I didn’t want to go to sleep away camp. I didn’t want to rollerblade downhill. I didn’t want to go to a different high school than my sister. And I still don’t know what I want to be when I grow up, yet I was somehow forced to pick in grade 11 – I picked a major in Kinesiology, not knowing why, because I did nothing with it.
Every so often there were glimpses of bravery. I tried out for the cheerleading team a second time and made it, after not making it the first because “I didn’t look like a cheerleader.” I recalled my days performing on the mantle to give me confidence for live television and radio interviews at my first ‘real’ job.
Each of those sparks lit the way for the fire that started in 2011 when I decided to move to Calgary on a whim.
I received a mixed reaction of “you couldn’t do that” and “why are you doing that?” as I told friends and family. It only added fuel to the fire. I needed to prove that the girl who couldn’t go to sleep away camp could move 3,500 kilometres away, and thrive.
There was satisfaction in my growing independence. I learned to go to restaurants alone; I learned how to make new friends; I learned how to face my fears. It’s not that they were nonexistent now. My anxiety still loved to tell me how I shouldn’t go places by myself, or that I’ll eventually fail and have to move back to Toronto with my tail between my legs.
As the years passed, I also learned how to quiet that voice. I joined a burlesque dance troupe. I went to fitness classes alone. I joined a hiking group full of strangers. Each of these experiences gained me a new friend and a new confidence in being solo.
It also introduced me to my new love: the Rocky Mountains.
Being from the “center of the universe” AKA Toronto, I was familiar with lakes and beaches. The incline known as the Hamilton Mountain in Southwestern Ontario is a speed bump in comparison to the Rockies.
I didn’t dread exercising when I put my hiking boots on. I could stay out for hours, tackling inclines all while my legs and bum burned. I felt free and accomplished - and I curated a killer Instagram page of my adventures while I was at it.
I collected loops and waterfalls and scenic trails, but I still hadn’t done a summit. I hadn’t stood at the top, as far as one could go.
That ‘scared-y cat’ poked her head out from her safe hiding spot: I wasn’t in good enough shape, I wouldn’t be able to do it, and it would be too hard and too technical for me.
This all changed on September 24, 2015; my birthday. With my sister visiting, I decided it would be the perfect time to finally get a peak. Modest, and in reach, we settled on Big Beehive high above Lake Louise. I love this hike because it offers many beautiful pit stops along the way. Starting at the famous Fairmont Chateau Lake Louise, the climb takes you to Mirror Lake and Lake Agnes before continuing up to the Big Beehive. You can stop and turn around at any of these spots and consider your outing a success, or even detour to check out Little Beehive.
With all of those landmarks checked off already, I only had my sights set on the top. Chatting and breathing heavily, we trekked up and around to the back of Lake Agnes. Only six long switchbacks separated me from my goal.
I had attempted this climb three weeks earlier, but fresh snow and a poor choice in footwear stopped me halfway up the second switchback. Fear took over when my feet began to slip a little. Nope, I couldn’t do it. I had to turn back. But that day it was 18 degrees and sunny – not a snowflake in sight.
We started the ascent, turning onto the third switchback; I already felt accomplished knowing I had gone further than I had. More heavy breathing and another quick break to rest the legs and lungs, and then we arrived. The place where the trail ends and you can’t go any further.
I stood there and smiled; I was proud of myself. Looking down at the glorious crayon-coloured lake, I would have probably cried if I weren’t a bit dehydrated. Here I was 30 years old and taking (many) steps to grow and get out of my comfort zone.
Hiking has taught me a great life lesson about not comparing myself to others. On the trails, I can go my own speed. I may be passed or I may pass people, but it doesn’t matter who gets there first because we all accomplish rewarding, brave things.