2020… what a crazy year this has been. If you had asked me near the end of 2019, I would not have been able to predict the way the world has changed. 2019 and the life we knew before the pandemic seems like a lifetime ago. So much has changed.
The year 2020 has been rough for me, as I’m sure it has been for everyone. So many questions are floating around in my head; anxiety has taken hold and won’t let go. The pandemic, coupled with all of the social unrest and divide, left me grasping for a different perspective. Not all is as bad and fragmented as it seems, right?
Stat Staff Professionals’ owner and CEO, David Theobald (Dave to me), fosters a caring culture for all of the employees. Part of that culture is simply checking in and hanging out with fellow co-workers, especially in these troubled times. It’s that caring culture that recently intertwined with one of my favorite hobbies.
Act 1: Hiking
Hiking is a hobby that my wife and I share a common interest in and have been doing every weekend for years. Hiking has become more of a habit for us than a hobby. Hiking is something that has always been there to not only improve our physical health but our mental health as well. When you are in the woods climbing a mountain, smelling nature, hearing the sounds… you often forget about the world’s problems. You often get “lost” in the sensory overload that surrounds you. To me, this is what hiking is all about.
Act 2: Adirondack 46er
The Adirondack 46er Challenge has been on my bucket list for a while now. Unfortunately, my wife’s bucket list is different than mine in that, despite her love for hiking, she has no interest in this endeavor. When Dave asked me to join him, I said “yes” without even a second thought. My wife was relieved because she always said, “You can certainly do it, just not alone… I’d be sick with worry. It’s fine going with Dave, though. He is a nurse, after all!” There was my seal of approval. Gearing up for the challenge, I was prepared to get “lost” in nature and enjoy some good conversation while keeping away from others and forgetting about world problems for a bit.
Act 3: Perspective
The day of the hike started like any other; coffee, the drive to the destination, good conversation on the way. We arrive at the trailhead prepared to climb to the top of Cascade and Porter mountains. The plan was to knock off the first two of the challenge for me, and the 24th/25th for Dave. We start, and on the way up, we encounter a few other groups either going up or down. We put our masks on as we pass, toss them a wave and continue our way to the top. Social distancing has become the norm, and the days of going out and meeting new people seems like a thing of the past. It almost seems forbidden to mingle with others in any capacity, distanced or not. It’s a bummer really... One group we passed hit a point of confusion on the trail, but Dave had the map pulled up and guided them in the right direction, along with ourselves.
Act 4: Perspective Change
As I said before, hiking has always been something my wife and I did to escape reality for a few hours and be one with nature’s beauty. I was not prepared to be making friends on this trip, especially not with everything going on. The world seems so divided, and people seem so distant; at least that’s what the past six or seven months had me believing. The world seemed so grim. Hiking was my escape, something I did to get lost for a few hours… not be found.
We crested Cascade Mountain and hung around at the top for just a few moments. We found ourselves sitting in the middle of a cloud (literally) and it was super windy, much too chilly to enjoy for long. We decided to head down, and find the branch off to Porter Mountain to continue the journey and check off the second peak of the day. Off we go.
A few minutes later (could be longer; time melted away), we were at the top of Porter Mountain, or so we thought. There were three other groups at the same point we were, all of us “admiring” the clouded view we had. One group of two fathers and their daughters (stopping to hike on their way to college drop off), a group of two younger gentlemen, and the third, a visitor from Austria here for school. After a few moments of “naw, I don’t think this is it,” we all decided to embark further down the trail. All the while, Dave kept telling the group, “the clouds will clear for us, I can feel it.”
Finally, we made it to Porter Mountain. Sadly, the view was still obscured by clouds, but at least we were not in the “wind tunnel” and could enjoy the summit. Here, all four groups chatted and shared the experience atop the mountain. After some time, Dave and I said our goodbyes to the others and attempted to make our exit. It was at that time the clouds cleared, for just a moment, to give us all a peek into the valley below. “I told you! Mother nature came through for us today!” Dave said, having willed it upon us on the way up. This struck up the conversation once again, but when we decided to head down, our four groups became two. The fathers and daughters stayed at the top to soak up some more quality time, and the rest of us headed down the mountain as one. Before I continue, don’t fret… The beauty of hiking is that you can stay properly distanced and safe.
Excessive detail aside, our new group chit chatted as we descended the mountain. For an hour and a half or more, our new group talked about life, health, inspiration, and everything in-between. Amazingly, we had LOTS in common. By the time we got to the bottom of the mountain, we were exchanging contact details and elbow bumping each other “goodbye” (COVID safe alternative to handshakes).
For the first time since the pandemic started, I didn’t feel isolated. I didn’t feel like I was living on an island, population: my wife, pets, and I. I was reminded of what it meant to be human. What it was like to be a friend. What it was like to MAKE friends. I was reminded that despite the pandemic, despite the apparent societal “divide,” camaraderie still exists. People care. Dave and I care. With all that’s going on, the news reports, etc. this perspective is sometimes hidden in the clouds. It surely was for me.
The theme that carries us through the 46er journey (Dave, Michael, and now myself) is the challenge. This time is no different. The only difference is the actual challenge. This one was internal. Although I know I’m not the only one who feels/felt the way I do, this challenge was mine. I’ve lost sight of what makes humans great. It’s the caring. It’s the similarities. It’s understanding and the things we can learn through the differences we have. All of these things were concealed in my clouded mind, begging for that moment of clarity like we had that day atop Porter Mountain. Even if just for a moment we were able to see the valleys below in all their beauty, it was enough for us, for me, to know the beauty is still there.
Dylan joined David on one of his hikes on his journey to complete the Stat Staff Professionals 46er Educational Challenge. Follow David’s progress towards 46 peaks here.