I’ve been asked many times in my life which one I would choose: The mountains or the ocean?
I always say, “Without a doubt, the mountains.”
Mountain life presents a constant opportunity for challenge. You choose the route and the difficulty. And there’s great reward beyond an awe-inspiring view. The reward is a primal sense of accomplishment. You made it! You’re stronger than you thought you were!
Mountains build confidence and break it down too.
Sea life is different.
I always thought sea life was for lazy people. I thought, “How can one just sit there on these sandy lawn chairs all laid out in the sun for… all day?”
I did not find it attractive. I wanted challenge. I wanted a reward.
And then there was the day on the island of Crete in Greece. I was alone and filled with anxiety. I thought, “How can I be stressed with a view like this?” Clear blue waters lapped the shoreline. Pebble rocks rolled with the waves in and out. In and out. The pebbles rolled over one another making a sound similar to that of a rainstick instrument.
I was thinking about life back in the States.
Stressed about work. Slight anxiety about moving back to Minnesota. Maybe I chose to stay in Greece too long? What if I never ever want to stop traveling? What if my idea of success as a writer never comes to fruition? What does that even mean to me?
Not all of my anxiety stemmed from thoughts about the States.
Some of it was very present, like the fact that I had my huge backpacking pack with me and all my things were splayed across two beach chairs. The problem is that I was sitting outside of a hotel that I was not staying at. I was sure I'd get kicked out and have to gather all my stuff and keep on trekking down the beach like a real bum.
I decided to leave all my thoughts behind and walk towards the sea.
The pebbles continued to roll and lap wave after wave. Ever so slightly changing the shoreline. I stepped into the rising waves. They were getting incrementally larger. Higher. I knelt down in the water and picked up a handful of colorful rocks. All of them polished and without blemish. Perfect.
The waves smacked my chest and I rocked back on my heels with every surge.
It made me smile a shy smile. The way one smiles at a crush.
The Aegean Sea was flirting with me! The waves rolled me back and forth. I allowed it to happen with little resistance. I didn’t see the massive wave rolling in before it was right in front of me. It crashed down on top of me and knocked me over. On the shoreline. I got caught up in the wave and then it let me go.
I laid on the shoreline, now on my side, and belly laughed. I laughed and laughed as if nobody else was on that beach. As if nothing else mattered in the world besides this one moment.
A true feeling of joy.
The mountains cannot do that.
The mountains do not flirt with my spirit, pull me in for a moment of embrace and then gently let me go with a kiss of exuberance.
I've spent four years in the mountains challenging myself. Lacing up my hiking boots and trotting over sharp rocks on knife ridges. Trekking with a heavy pack and burning legs. Pushing myself. Reaching my edge and then pushing myself a little bit past it – just to see what I'm really made of.
Each week in Greece was symbolic of a massage after every challenge I required of my physical body in Idaho. One week in Greece for each year in Idaho. Ying and Yang.
Soon after I returned to the beach chairs that I was poaching, Megan comes strolling down the beach clearly without a care in the world. I decided I should relax and have a beer. I had one stashed in my backpack. There was just one problem - I didn't have a beer opener.
"Megan, do you have an opener?" I asked, holding up my beer.
"No, but I've got an idea..." she said.
She grabbed my Greek beer and walked over to the very sign stating whose chairs we were poaching and placed the top against the metal. She whacked it twice on either side and the top popped off.
"Here you go," she said. "I'm gonna go swim!"
We eventually got kicked out of these spots. But until then, we owned those spots.
And all of this has made me change my mind about the originally stated question.
Am I a mountains or an ocean person?
Why must I choose just one?
I want both. I am both.