Cairn Basin

(This was first written as a letter for a client.)

My in-laws and teenage nieces were visiting from Virginia and joined us for a hike on Mt. Hood. After winding up Lolo Pass, we arrive at the trailhead for Cairn Basin.  The first mile ascends through fir trees and across volcanic rock slides while Mt. Hood looms above. Bear grass and trillium are in bloom. People are happy.

We climb up. A lot. We’re in forest ravished by fire. All the trees are black, charred, many are fallen. There is no shade, and the sun is blaring. I suggest lunch. My husband, Scott, wants us to eat in “the meadow”, which he believes is just ahead. It will be the perfect spot.

Time passes. It’s now 2 pm. I insist that if the kids don’t eat, they’ll start melting. I’m already melting. My mother-in-law is maxed out.

Salami sandwiches are devoured as we sit on fallen trees in a burned forest. It’s funny, actually. There are M&Ms – so the kids are content. His mother has her family around – so she’s delighted. His Dad is keeping pace with Scott – so he’s thrilled. Meanwhile, Scott and I are having a philosophical debate on perseverance and team dynamics.

Scott wants to keep going, as we’re not at “the end of our hike.” His Dad agrees, and the kids are game for more. I put in a plea for the group to stay together, but am overridden. His mom is done, so I accompany her downhill.

Ten minutes later, Rohnan and Grandpa catch us. In 10 more, my nieces come bounding down the trail, talking a mile a minute, walking so quickly that it is impossible to keep their pace.

Scott and Sellah arrive at the car 20 minutes after the rest of us. She’s nearly in tears, unable to keep up with her idolized cousins. Her back hurts. Her feet are blistered; she is not a happy camper. Scott, he talks about the beautiful plateau they reached, covered by “small delicate flowers.” (He’s trying to be positive, but he doesn’t give a rat’s ass about mountain flora).

In the van, he speaks honestly. “That sucked. Dead trees, no summit, too long a drive, too much elevation. I have a vision in my head of what I want for everybody and I don’t consider the details to get there. I want a big payoff. I don’t worry about the risk – I just want to hit that 10/10. I’ve done it before, I know how to push a group, and sometimes I lose reason. I’m sorry.”

He overestimated. He didn’t factor in 6-year-olds, heat, time. He saw his goal clearly, but he plowed right over my hesitations. Me, I wanted the sure bet. I wanted the group to stick together. For this hike, I didn’t care about pushing our limit – I just wanted us to have fun being together and get some exercise. Maybe that would have been accomplished on an easier trail, or maybe people would have been bored. Or it would have been a 6/10.

Over the past 15 years, Scott and I have spent hours in the back country together. I like to stop to snap photos, soak in the view, sit on a rock for a break. I don’t feel much pressure to “get there,” wherever there is, unless it’s getting dark or I’ve been skiing in the snow all day. I try to savor the journey; he’s often focused on destination.

It is also fair to say that I would never have made it to our favorite fire lookouts or had the most epic camping site ever, if Scott didn’t keep persuading, “Ten more minutes, Lor,” or “Let’s just get to the top of this ridge.” I have cursed him. I have envisioned great suffering in order to put my own in perspective. And the ratio of times it has been worth the extra effort, digging deep, and pushing on has far outweighed the times it hasn’t.

The Aim High Visionary
The Aim High Visionary

Your team can put in extra mileage, add more elevation. They can stomach a few more days of freeze-dried food on the trail before they come into town for a cheeseburger that will = ecstasy. How will you keep them motivated?

You’ve seen the view from the summit. You know how spectacular it is, and you want more of it — not just for you, but for them too. You’re worn and weathered, you’ve clocked in more miles. Maybe you’re even like one of those trail runners, a diehard who runs 30 miles around Mt. Hood in one day because it’s fun. When that’s your idea of fun, people write you off as crazy. It’s impossible to keep up with that. Maybe part of us admires the discipline, envies the ability, but mainly we look at Iron Men and triathletes and think, “Those people are nuts.” Or adrenaline junkies. (People might say that about you.)

It’s not enough for you to want it. Convince them they want it too – that’s what Vision is.

That’s my story. If you need something more linear, I’ll comply.

Jumping from boulder to boulder and never falling, with a heavy pack, is easier than it sounds; you just can’t fall when you get into the rhythm of the dance.
― Jack KerouacThe Dharma Bums

Here’s to finding the rhythm for your team, Lori

(If success is measured in signed purchase orders, he and his team bagged the summit).

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