A Midlife Woman’s Guide to Courage, Strength, and Reinvention

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Fearless: A Midlife Woman's Guide to Courage, Strength, and Reinvention

An Excerpt

I’m at 17k feet of elevation, somewhere in the Himalayas. My feet feel like they have glass shards sticking through them. I’m freezing and exhausted. I’ve been hiking for twelve hours, carrying thirty pounds in a 40% reduced-oxygen atmosphere, which has wreaked havoc on my ability to reason.My clothes feel stuck to my skin from the hours of sweat. I have snot crusted to my nose and on my coat and gloves.

But I could care less about these things.

I have been climbing for twenty-eight miles. In one day. In high altitude.

I’m alone. And I’m still two miles from my destination for the night. It’s pitch black and all around me are local bandits passing by in open-air jeeps, hooting and cat calling, on the single-track path I am traveling.

Death, rape, theft… these all cross my mind as possibilities.

I have never been this scared in my entire fifty-two years. I can feel my heart surging in my chest from adrenaline. It is the only thing keeping me upright. Yet, I am at such a level of exhaustion that, if something horrible happened, I’m afraid I wouldn’t have the energy or even the will to fight back. I am at my breaking point.

But I carry on, feeling like an ant crossing a desert; every step taking me mere millimeters forward. After what feels like an eternity, I reach a “safe” destination, off the path with the jeeps. I stop moving and let my body drop  against a fence post for support. Here, I involuntarily break into a complete body-heaving sob. A lifetime of emotion pours out all at once. I have never experienced this level of physical and mental exhaustion before. It is not like me to break down, but I am literally there, on the edge of my mental cliff. Like a two-year-old at the end of a late-night ice-capades show, I want to just cry for someone to pick me up and carry me home. I want—no, I need—help.
But I know that help is not coming.

It isn’t as if I’m simply lost in a bad section of town, some place in the middle of civilization where a phone call, taxi cab, or helpful street vendor is going to solve the problem.

Phones don’t work at 17k feet. There are no towns, street lights, or people I can call on or reach out to. It is me and the mountain now. I need to find the will and the physical ability to continue on. ALL. BY. MY. SELF.

Every cell in my body wants to quit. But the reality of the situation is that I still have two miles to go before reaching my shelter for the night. So, instead, I do what I have learned to do over the past four years, which is to stop, refocus, and move forward. The crying ends and I focus on what has to be done. I need to keep moving or I very likely could die, here on a mountain in Nepal. Two miles doesn’t seem all that far in broad daylight, at sea level with friendly faces passing by. But two miles, in sub-20 degrees, in pitch black, alone, is another matter.

And so it goes.

Head-lamp lighting the way, I begin moving forward, one very slow step at a time. After another hour, I finally see lights in the distance, like an oasis in the middle of the desert, which suggests life and the end to this soul-testing day. The “oasis” is essentially a lean-to with no heat, hot water, or other creature comforts. But I have never been happier to push open the door to my unheated room, featuring one wooden, handmade cot with wool blanket. Bathrooms—or, rather outhouses—are down the path.

Today, there has been definite trauma to my body. This is the hardest physical thing I have ever done, above and beyond a full Ironman, climbing Kilimanjaro straight up the vertical route, and running an Ultra.

I am broken. For once, I fear I may not recover. It’s that level of sheer whole-body fatigue.

But somehow, at the core of my being, as I finally settle into my down-filled sleeping bag, I find a sense of pleasure with myself. Out of this intense pain I have found a new level of self-respect.

I am capable of more than I ever thought. And at age fifty-two.

This is a part of my midlife transformation.

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