Tiffany, Cristina and Gabriella at the summit of Mont Tremblant August 2010.
Recently, I was reminded of a family adventure we took about two and a half years ago. What came to mind was just how much we all learned by taking on a challenge as a family that none of us had ever taken on individually.
Back in August 2010, we set out on an 8 hour drive from Richmond Hill, Ontario to Mont Tremblant in the Laurentian Mountains of Quebec. Our intention was a weekend of relaxation and fun with friends. Two other families were meeting us there so we knew there would be lots of pool time, restaurant group meals, riding the gondolas, go-cart races, late nights, great conversations and company for adults and kids alike!
Lesson One: HAVE A GOAL
The weekend started out to be just what we had thought it would and everyone was having a blast. Now, I must say, my husband and I have never been the type of couple that could just sit in a chair, relax and get a tan and as it turns out, neither are our children. So by the second day we decided that we wanted to climb Mont Tremblant.
Lesson Two: BE PREPARED
At the time, our girls were aged 6, 8 and 11 years old. We tried to enlist the other families to take the journey with us but they gracefully declined. So, off we went determined to conquer the mountain with one bottle of water and 2 granola bars in hand, wearing flip flops to take the "strenuous Path C" climb 6.5 kms upwards to reach the summit at 875 meters / 2871 feet. The map suggested that it would take about 2+ hours.
Lesson Three: BE AWARE OF YOUR SURROUNDINGS
At first, all was going easy. By the time we were about an hour in, the sun was beating down on us and we were very thirsty, winded and sweaty. Trying to travel light, we only brought 1 bottle of water thinking this would be a breeze. We were all grabbing for the water like we'd been in the dessert for 6 hours on our first stop. Of course, our girls got to drink and we took only a sip to wet our mouths. As we finished drinking our precious water, we saw a couple come walking down the path. We smiled, said hello and asked about their journey on the mountain. "There are bears on the mountain, be careful" were the last words they spoke as they rushed on. At first we thought they were joking but then we realized they were sincere. They hadn't encountered a bear themselves but told us that a friend had encountered a bear on the mountain recently. Great! Now we had 3 "goldilocks" scared about the 1 bear that we could encounter on the mountain. Okay, okay, I was scared too!
Lesson Four: STAY FOCUSED ON THE GOAL
Onward we travelled and as we did, each daughter took turns whining, complaining and stopping. "my legs are tired", "I need to rest", "I don't want to do this anymore". I tried to keep everything positive and worked hard at painting the most powerful image of what it will feel like when we "conquer the mountain". There were certain points on the trail where it was necessary for us to create a human chain to help each other over, under or around obstacles.
Lesson Five: WHEN THE GOING GET'S TOUGH, KEEP GOING
Then it happened! About 2 hours in, our middle daughter got her ankle twisted under a tree root. OUCH. Then the youngest daughter tripped and hurt herself and decided she couldn't go "one more step". Well, we did what any parents would do, we each grabbed a child and tossed them onto our backs and continued the most vertical climb EVER for another 30 minutes while giving piggy backs. As the girls were on our backs, we were getting very tired and hurting in places we didn't know we could hurt. As we whined and complained, our daughters started to speak words of encouragement and they told us to imagine what it will be like when we "conquer the mountain".
Lesson Six: HAVE FAITH TO BLAZE YOUR OWN TRAIL
Two and a half hours in and we just wanted to get to the top! As we passed a clearing, we saw tall grass and open space. We put the girls down and investigated. It looked like we could almost see the top of the mountain, the air was definitely thicker now! "Okay Pita family" I said "We are going to blaze our own trail to the top". There was no resistance from anyone. We all agreed that we wanted this journey to be complete. As we started walking up the open space, there were no markings, no trail, no foot path and not even disturbed grass. We had to have faith that by walking almost completely vertical (truly) we would somehow reach the goal of the summit.
Lesson Seven: THE HARDEST PART IS USUALLY JUST BEFORE YOU SUCCEED
The vertical "created" path was the hardest part of our journey. The girls could barely make it up the tall grass and uneasy terrain with bugs, burrs, mud and ragweed (which our middle child is extremely allergic to). Every single one of us needed to help each other at this point with our bodies and our words. We were fully exposed now to the mid-day sun bearing down on us with no mercy near the top of the mountain, exhausted and with no water!
Lesson Eight: THE SWEETEST SUCCESS IS SHARED
The most beautiful sight ever was seen at 3 hours into our climb, we all saw the summit! We saw people on the lookout, fluffy clouds sailing across the sky and a beautiful golden sun that looked close enough to reach out and touch. The adrenaline, determination and euphoria we all felt at that moment was equal to that of an Olympic athlete realizing they are about to win a gold metal. We started running for the top holding hands all five of us. As we raced towards the finish line I began to cry, tears of joy, tears of the proudest wife and mother in the world, tears of exhaustion, tears of accomplishment from a woman who was able to share in the sweetest success with her family.
As we got a few steps away from the summit I yelled "stop" and said "let's take this moment in and cross at the same time" and we all casually crossed the line to the summit and embraced each other, holding each other up and all crying. People were looking at us like we had just escaped from captivity in the Congo or perhaps a nut house but we didn't care.
Lesson Nine: HAVE GRATITUDE
We turned back to see how far we had climbed, how vertical that last part of the climb actually was and to praise and thank each other for a job well done with sincere gratitude. Alone, none of us would have even wanted to take this challenge on but as a team, we made it through and each one of us was integral.
Lesson Ten: KNOW YOUR LIMITS
It's amazing that after 3 hours of climbing and 10 minutes of rest at the top, our minds had switched to "I can do anything" and we even contemplated walking back down the mountain. But, even though the mind was exhilarated, our bodies were tired and we had to recognize our limits. We accomplished something amazing together just climbing up...and that was enough.
I'm looking forward to a new adventure this year with my family. Our girls still talk about "climbing a mountain" with great enthusiasm and pride. My hope is that they will have an entire book of adventures to draw lessons from by the time they have their own children.
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