As I walk up the mountain, I keep beating myself up about the icebreaker. I’m doing something I’ve never imagined I could do — climbing a mountain — and all I can think about is the fact that when it was my turn to say what my goal was as my fellow climbers and I got to know each other last night, I couldn’t answer. I’m climbing a mountain yet I was so afraid of failure, I couldn’t answer the ice breaker question.
The more I think about it, the faster I walk, taking my anger out on the rocks beneath my feet. I try to remember how I came to be climbing this mountain.
Stopping by the Right Way Foundation a couple weeks earlier, I heard about the opportunity of a lifetime. Fostering Media Connections’ (FMC) annual Foster Youth Questival gives youth and adult supporters the chance to climb Mt. Shasta to advocate for improving the foster care system. I accepted without hesitation and soon found myself on the 10-hour drive from Los Angeles, where I live.
Now, on the first stretch of our journey toward the summit, we hike for two hours and reach the first campsite. My friend Latrice and I find a chess board in the lodge near our tent site so we stay up playing for hours. By the time we realize what time it is, the stars have brightly taken over the skies like an amazing night sky night light! We both just stand amazed at the wonderful sight, intrigued by its beauty. We try to snatch a selfie but the sky is too well-lit to be captured.
The next morning we set out for Lake Helen, about five hours away. We head out strong, pushing and motivating each other not to give up! Before we’ve gone far, I make a wrong step and a rock comes flying up at my shin! Maybe it was the adrenaline or my mind moving in slow motion, but for a few moments everything is frozen and I have time to avoid it. Yet for some reason I don’t, and before I know it the huge rock breaks on my shin.
With adrenaline rushing, I don’t feel anything so I keep walking. Soon I am about 20 minutes further, not realizing how far ahead of my group I am. Latrice reaches me and gives me a look that says she can tell something’s wrong so I go faster like everything’s fine. But the pain becomes unbearable. I fall to the ground as the group catches up. Kevin, our group leader, comes over to check out my leg.
He says we are about 2,000 feet from 50-50, the first place we are aiming to get to today, and another 1,500 feet from Lake Helen so he suggests we turn back in case my injury is serious. I sit with tears in my eyes thinking back to my childhood and remember that I have always been a failure to everyone around me. I was tortured everywhere I went — school, the park, even home. Kevin continues to strongly suggest we head down, and I just sit there with tears in my eyes and calmly tell him I refuse to fail again.
So, we wrap my leg and I push as hard as I can to 50-50, which takes us about an hour and a half. When we reach 50-50 my leg is throbbing so much that the pain reaches through my entire body. Kevin looks at me with concern, and I assure him I can make it to Lake Helen. Everyone is motivating me to keep going, but the snow is all slushy and I’m slipping and falling with nearly every step, feeling the pain more with each push!
After two hours, I finally reach Lake Helen, my body screaming in agony. I see someone out of breath sitting in the snow. It’s Latrice. Despite my pain I rush to her, telling her to give me her bag so we can finish this part together! She says, “But your leg — you should be resting it. You shouldn’t be out here taking care of me!” I look in her eyes and say, “What’s family for?”
For a second I can see a tear come to her eyes as she gives me her bag. I use the last of my strength to make it to camp with both of our packs.
The next morning Latrice and I start down the mountain, sliding in the snow and helping each other through the cold and pain. After an hour of slipping and falling we finally reach 50-50 again, where we take a two-minute break and keep moving to the steep trail that leads to the last base camp.
We reach it and refill our bottles with amazingly cold water and relax for a second. We agree to keep pushing through the last two miles leading to the truck to take us back to the cabin. We push hard and fast and make it to the end to find Elizabeth from FMC waiting for us! She told us she would be there, and she was!
Elizabeth greets us with food and first aid for my leg. We explain our journey to her on the way back to the cabin, and for the first time in my life I hear not one but two people tell me, “I’m proud of you!”
Hearing those words from Latrice and Elizabeth warms my heart, and for the first time in my life I am proud of myself!