There I was, a year later, standing on top of a mountain somewhere on the coast of Maine. I had wanted to reflect on the past year while I was here; I had wanted this to springboard me into the coming year, but instead one single thought occupied my mind. Cold. As a word, as a feeling, as a state of being, cold ran through the synapses in my brain as fast as the wind that was freezing various articles of clothing to my head. Anyone who decides to be a part of the small greeting party that the sun is treated to when he peaks his head over the atlantic ocean for the first time in the new year, is crazy. Anyone who decides to go back and do it again, should probably see a therapist. Here’s how it all started.
In the few months before January 1st, 2013, it seemed like a grand idea. Let’s climb to the top of Cadillac Mountain on January 1st. Sure! Cadillac Mountain is the first piece of the United States that is touched by sunlight in a day, and on the first day of the new year, a year. The first sunlight of the new year. I’ll be the first to admit it has a romantic ring to it. With a 6 mile hike up a mountain in the pre-dawn hours, and tempuratures that are seldom in the double digits, it’s not something that everyone will want to do. It’s not something that everyone will be able to do. But the view and the symbolism of greeting the dawn are actually pretty incredible things. So, two days before 2013 began, some friends and I started making our way northward towards Acadia National Park, in Maine.
We started up the mountian for the first time at around 4 a.m., and we were treated to a full moon glistening off the snow that covered everything. Initiallly, everything was going well, until we realized that somehow or another, we had ended up taking a wrong turn and we’re in fact several miles from where we were supposed to be. With the celestial deadline fast approaching, we found a spot on the side of the mountain, settled in, and were the first people in the history of the world to ever watch the sunrise on Cadillac Mountain from that particular spot, probably. And that was going to be good enough. It really should have been good enough. It WAS after all, a beautiful sunrise. But, the fact that we missed the summit, nagged and nagged, and a year later, two days before the new year, we once again were headed north.
The second time we started up the mountain, it was 3:30 a.m. It was dark; the moon was new this year. There was just enough light to make out the whiter section of abyss in front of you that was the snow covered road, used on this morning as a foot trail. And it was about 5 degrees fairenheight. Which is cold. Not too cold. But still, really cold. We soon discovered just how far off course we had ended up the past year. 3 hours later, we rounded the final turn, and made our way out onto the lookout point frequented by tourists in the summer months, now frozen solid. As walked out onto the cliff, the first thing to strike my mind was the beauty of the place we had just arrived at. There was something about it, the frozen trees, frozen information signs, the snow, the dawn light beginning to illuminate everything, it brought my mind to the next thought that I thought up on the summit of Cadillac Mountain in the middle of winter. Why would anyone ever intentionally come here?
The next 30 or so minutes were, in fact, the coldest 30 or so minutes of my life. Anyone who’s either been cold or taken biology knows that, even when you are cold, you can usually muster up some heat to send to your fingers and toes from your chest. Your chest is where you keep all your important bits, like your heart, and lungs, and breasts, and other things that are generally considered nice to have when you’re alive. The first time you ever get REALLY cold, it’s weird because you mentally focus on your chest to create the illusion of warmth in your head, and there’s none there. And you think to yourself, oh so this is what hypothermia must be like, ah, how interesting. Standing there with nothing to do but pray that the earth turns faster, all my mind wanted to do was think about cold. I forced myself into focusing on little mundane tasks I created for myself, like moving my fingers at all, and just waited. And froze, and waited.
There’s something about mountain tops that draws a very low order, human, primal, even spiritual interest among people. The summit is not a place you get without sacrifice. It is an achievement that is made up of determination, physical strenght, mental will, and sometimes just shear stubborness against failure. Whether it’s a real mountain, or a metaphorical one, the same things are required. The thing about mountain tops that is sort of left out when we romanticise them, which we do a lot, is that climbing mountains is hard. Mountains suck. They’re big and daunting and tall and windy and cold and places where humans should just not exist, and, somehow, we do. Even at the top of a mountain the reward might be 30 or so minutes standing in minus 45 degree wind chill and not being able to feel your outer extremedies. But then, there’s always something, there’s always that one thing that makes the pain, or the no feeling at all, worth it. The sun comes up, there’s a breathtaking sunrise, and for a moment you no longer realize it’s cold. Or your body stops pumping blood to your hands and you just don’t feel anything. Either way, it’s nicer.
When the sun came up on January 1st, 2014, standing up on Cadillac Mountain, there were tears in my eyes. The tears were because the 30 mile-an-hour, minus 45 degree wind was trying to freeze them shut, but there were tears none the less. Moutains are hard. Climbing them is frustrating. It’s challenging, and demanding, and cold, and windy, and did I mention cold? Whatever your mountain is, and however cold you are, just rememeber that there will be a beautiful sunrise at the top. The next mountain may look even bigger, and scarier, and colder, and there is a sunrise at the top of that one too. And if you push, if you freeze, if you take another step when you don’t know how your moving, you’ll get back down and feel the wind burn on your face, smile the smile known by those who’ve accomplished something, and start thinking about what the next mountain will be. Happy new year, good luck with all your mountains. Thanks for reading.