Things You Learn When You’re Lost On a Big, Fat Mountain

Today’s post is a bit different. It’s a somewhat intense tale. Get ready. And please don’t judge me.

It begins after a good dose of  “you can do it Deirdre!” pep talks, when I signed up for a race/hike up a big, fat mountain in the big, dry, lunar-landscaped desert known as Anza Borrego.

That morning, we were raring to go as the race began.


[Note: I’m the little one in the middle]

Now, a bit of background. Villager Peak is 15 miles round trip. With the exception of some pink ribbons laid out along the way, there’s no trail. And on the list of recommended supplies? Pliers to pull out all those cactus needles.

15 miles up nearly 6,000 feet of elevation. The most I’ve ever done in a race before was a 10k. And that was on flat land. And that was hard.

Nevertheless, I was excited. I was prepared and had a great partner (who I needed, as a sense of direction is not my strength, and silence can be my enemy).

In order to stay relatively succinct, let’s just observe the straight-up facts:

The Way Up

  1. The trip up to Villager was tough, but also lovely. For 7.5 miles my partner and I carefully made our way through the cacti and up the ridge.
  2. We reached the top wearing big smiles, taking time to celebrate over bananas and PB&J’s.
  3. The pep talks came next, as enthusiastic folks told us to just keep going up to Rabbit Peak, the higher option, which came out to 22 miles total.
  4. My partner, recognizing the vast difference between 15 and 22 miles (and another thousand feet in elevation), declined. I, however, decided to go ahead, sure that I could catch my buddy who was said to be “just over the next hump”.
  5. He was not over the next hump.
  6. I completed the hike up alone. I could go up quickly right after I could buy firearms & tactical equipment to hunt.
  7. When I reached the top of Rabbit Peak I was ecstatic. I had made it! The hardest part was behind me!
  8. The hardest part was not behind me.
  9. I didn’t know this yet. I was too busy celebrating and posing.

blog - celebrate

The Way Down

  1. I was in the last group to hike back down.
  2. I soon realized that all of that celebrating was a bad idea. It was getting late.
  3. Our small group began to spread out. One athlete named Shae broke into a trail run ahead of me.
  4. I decided I should run, too. So I did, leaving the rest of the group – including the woman with the two-way radio – behind. Soon I was alone. I had not packed a flashlight.
  5. Dusk came. I took a weary selfie with it.

blog - dusk

  1. As the sky grew darker and the pink ribbons less obvious, I convinced myself I’d be fine. I was close to the finish line after all.
  2. I was not close to the finish line.
  3. Night fell. Hard. All at once the color of black tar snapped into the place where the sky had been. No moon. No people. No ribbons. I was lost. In this:IMG_4834
  4. I. Freaked. Out.
  5. But then…up ahead, down the ridge and across the plain I saw a tiny light. I could just make out Shae’s flashlight as she sprinted along.
  6. SHAEEEEEEEEEE!” I bellowed. Shae heard me and waited patiently until I caught her. We were together, but still lost.
  7. I was terrified. Shae was not worried in the least.
  8. A few minutes later a big, beautiful flashlight came racing toward us through the blowing sand. The guy holding it was there to guide us on our mile-long run out of there. Which he did.
  9. I now love him. Even though he’s somewhat scary.

blog - saved

The Lessons

All told, I was on the mountain for 12 hours. Once I got down and decompressed, the life lessons from this tale came quickly. Here are a few:

  1. There’s a time to go it on your own. Hiking up to Rabbit Peak alone taught me what I can do, so I actually am thinking about getting some best hiking boots for Kilimanjaro. It also taught me that I actually do have a sense of direction, and that sometimes the greatest beauty in life lies in its silence.
  2. There’s a time when staying with others is the way to go. Though some in the group were slower than me, sticking with them instead of running ahead was clearly the better move. Sometimes you just need some freakin’ patience.
  3. Even in the darkest moments, someone will be there. I had not one, but two flashlight-related moments of relief. And that’s because the people around me wouldn’t leave me hanging. I also had people who believed in me from the start, who pushed me to do something I didn’t think I could do. And that’s precious. Make sure you’ve got those people in your life, too. And then cherish and nurture the heck out of them.
  4. Life is about taking risks, but doing so with a clear head. Explore new things, be thoughtful, and enjoy the ride. And pack a flashlight.
  5. Write a blog. That way when ridiculous things happen to you, at least you’ll have a topic for your next post.

This week…

Take a risk…carefully.

Enjoy yourself. Enjoy the silence. Enjoy others.

Love life’s adventures.

And recognize that sometimes the greatest lessons come when you get lost along the way.

Now go do good…and do it well.

20 thoughts on “Things You Learn When You’re Lost On a Big, Fat Mountain

  1. CraigB says:

    Deirdre, sounds pretty scary indeed. After this past weekend I can sure relate to lesson #3 above. Thanks for the reminder.

    1. rick jackson says:

      I’ve done a lot of climbing and can relate to everything in your blog. We’re not accustomed to being totally alone in the wild and it can be scary. But it can be life affirming too. As you say, the key is to be prepared. If you are, there is nothing like the voice of Mother Nature. Amost as good as silencing all the other voices in your life – most of all your own.

      1. Deirdre Maloney says:

        Thanks fellas! It’s true – nothing quite as lonely, nothing quite as powerful as that silence. In the end…awesome!

  2. Jeff Coon says:

    I understand the urge to get off the dang mountain! Glad you didn’t get too turned around. Next year the bad ass division! 😉

    1. Deirdre Maloney says:

      Ha! Nice try Jeff…ask me when the cactus scratches heal. 🙂

  3. Daniel Lewis says:

    I was one of the volunteers at the top (headed out as you summited). Good job finishing and keeping your head. Just reading the stats about that mountain doesn’t do it justice, it’s a special place!

    1. Deirdre Maloney says:

      I remember you well Daniel…thanks for your kind words. And you’re right – “special” is teh word for this mountain. 🙂

  4. Wow! What an adventure! Thank you for sharing it and the lessons you learned along the way. I learned a long time ago in the Smokey Mountains to always bring a flashlight — my day hike turned into a pitch-black night of wandering for me and my friend, until we finally stumbled (literally) onto the road. We landed two miles from the car, but at least we found our way. So glad you did too!

    Here’s a great book that offers more excellent lessons about being in the Great Outdoors: “Deep Survival: Who Lives, Who Dies, and Why”
    by Laurence Gonzales

    1. Deirdre Maloney says:

      Love your story, Jenna…thanks for sharing! And thanks for the suggested book. Will look it up for sure…

  5. Patty says:

    Wow Deirdre! Thank you for sharing such a compelling adventure and congratulations to you for your endurance and patience. And yes silence can be wonderful thing especially in our busy world.

  6. Deirdre Maloney says:

    🙂 Thanks Patty. I think I need to take that lesson on silence and use it off the mountain as well. Appreciate your comment!

  7. Rick O. says:

    Oh my …

    I feel inspired, and warned. I pledge to do something this weekend just a little scary to stretch myself. Maybe it will even lead to a blog post.

    1. Deirdre Maloney says:

      Do it Rick! Just don’t do it on a huge mountain when you’re not prepared. Perhaps split the difference somehow. 🙂

  8. Michele Silverthorn says:

    You are amazing! And such an inspiration!

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