Now what? After the big climb/hike/adventure

In August, I climbed Mount Rainier. I'd trained for months, the climb was fantastic, the group of women I climbed with was wonderful, the whole experience was a lot of fun. I was so happy I nearly cried walking across the crater to that summit marker (seriously, and I'm no crier).

To top it off, thanks to family and friends I raised more than $6,600 for Big City Mountaineers. Next summer eight under-served urban kids will go on their first weeklong backcountry backpacking or paddling trips thanks to my supporters (thank you, everybody!).

The climb was an all-around success.

This blog is not about that climb though. It's about after the climb. It's about after your goal has been reached (or has passed you by), whether that's completing the thru-hike, the peak bagging list, the long-awaited backpacking trip, or the adventure race.

It's about what comes next.

Even in my post-climb buzz it took me less than two hours after descending to say to my husband, "now what?" I was still eating my celebratory slice of pizza.

Now I know that if I had not summited Rainier after my mental and physical investment, the tone of my "now what?" period would be very different.

I also realize that such navel gazing is probably a sign of a pretty good life and one for which I'm thankful. There are people with real problems in the world. People asking, will I keep my job? Not, what mountain shall I climb next? Asking, can I pay the rent? Not, what trail should I hike? Asking, will he get better? Not, how many days can I ski this winter?

So, I'm not complaining. I'm just wondering. Now what?

I can, and still do, hike and run most days. I just ran a local 5K. In a few short months I'll be skiing. But my calendar is surprisingly empty in what seems like years.

For me, there's a significant difference between being active and being active and driven in pursuit of a goal, whether that goal is to climb all the peaks on a list, run a certain race or distance, climb a certain mountain, hike a new trail, or hike every trail. I get out even more when it's a priority.

I am Type A through and through, and before the smell-the-flowers folks tell me to just chill out, I'll add, that I don't think that's a bad thing either, or a better thing. It just is.

I like my lists. I like my training logs and plans. I like my goals. And I also really like achieving them.

That doesn't mean I don't enjoy the experience. We all just get out there a little differently.

Hike your own hike, right? Climb your own climb.

I started this blog thinking I'd offer or solicit some advice or tips from others in their own "now what?" period. But I don't think that's necessary.

Motivations are internal. Whatever gets you out there and to the peaks and places that give you meaning is what matters.

I have many ideas flitting through my head for my next big adventure. One hasn't settled yet. But it will.


102 reviewer rep
2,993 forum posts
September 15, 2010 at 6:52 a.m. (EDT)

I was going to suggest the next objective should be taking time to smell the flowers, but apparently you have been there and done that:)

Rainer, and the other PNW volcanoes, were my stepping stones to the bigger Alaskan peaks and beyond. I was young then, full of testosterone, and approached climbing as a physical and spiritual discipline, similar to a martial art. My life was uncomplicated; I had no spouse to widow or children to orphan. It is amazing what one can do, but at some point the objective risks must be reconciled. Eventually my list started to include going to funerals of mountaineering companions who met their fate on adventures similar to the ones we once enjoyed together. I decided to focus more on a challenge they failed to accomplish, and prioritize the goal of living to a ripe old age on my list. Thus the wanna-do gonzo peaks were stricken from my to-do list. And that is the main dilemma with these action lists; you reach a point where luck, age, money, or obligations top you out. And then what?

I am old now, and have little need to prove something to myself or anyone else. Over the years I also came to realize a lot of what used to populate my to-do list was there in part because I was preoccupied with personal development, versus personal experience. What is the point in achieving Zen mastery if you don’t experience the flower?

I do my outdoor stuff nowadays out of love for the experience of just being there. If I were to suggest things to put on your list I would include the A winter ski trk in the Sierras, hiking the Olympic Rain Forest, boating the coast line of southern British Columbia, anything involving Zion Canyon or the Na Pali Coast, all of which are very sublime, and can be as easy or difficult a challenge as you desire.

Alicia MacLeay (Alicia)
848 reviewer rep
3,901 forum posts
September 21, 2010 at 8:51 p.m. (EDT)

Thanks for the thoughts, Ed. You raise some good and important points.

As a parent, my goals and objectives have changed dramatically over the last years. I think it's important to find a balance between doing the things that challenge and fulfill you, but at an acceptable and responsible risk level.

No, I can't give an easy answer of what that is for anyone else, but I tend to fall on the cautious side myself.

Lots of interesting food for thought....

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