They say there’s no place like home. So, when the plane touched down in my native Canada during a recent trip, the tears started to falling. We hadn’t even reached the gate! This year has been difficult. Overcome by loss, growth and change, I’ve learned to let go and absorb every minute of it. Not even travel anxiety couldn’t derail this pivotal moment in my life!
While in British Columbia, we were fortunate enough to get a tour of the Arc’teryx headquarters, Design Centre and Arc’One manufacturing facility. Then, along with guides like Paul McSorley and the incomparable Brette Harrington, we joined them in Squamish for some scrambling in the Tantalus Range. You know, normal everyday stuff, right?
The excursion would be a unique experience, but I wasn’t prepared for how much it would change me. How much I’d welcome the challenge to my anxiety and emotional turmoil. This trip came at the perfect time in my life. Thrill seeking on roller coasters has been challenging, but riding a helicopter through the Coast Mountains took me to another level.
Our Souls Need to Unplug
Two days before my flight, I traded in my iPhone for a Samsung. Immediately disoriented, there was no time for me to figure out how to use anything beyond the necessary features. Then, despite signing up for an international plan through my mobile provider, it was very clear that I’d only have limited connectivity while in Canada.
At first, this caused me some panic and even anxiety. As the days rolled on, though, I couldn’t help but notice that my shoulders hung a little looser and my brain felt clearer. In a city as beautiful as Vancouver, I was grateful for the lack of distraction.
Heading up through the Coast Mountains, I enjoyed a great conversation with my seatmate. Our phones tucked away, we chatted about food and even politics. Surrounded by nature and technologically untethered, I was present and calm instead of distracted and anxious. Rather than making memories through a screen, I saw everything through my own eyes.
When those majestic mountains came into view, I was so grateful that they weren’t competing with some device for my attention. Looking around the shuttle, it dawned on me that, for the outdoor enthusiasts at Arc’teryx, this was regular life. Something shifted inside me, and my outlook on life changed.
Settling Needs to Stop
Not so many years ago, my confidence was unshakable. When my whole life was ahead of me, it was easier to feel that way. After suffering a number of major health challenges, I went into survival mode. Now, whenever I face challenges, I know exactly what I need to do to get through them. Even my anxiety can’t derail my resolve.
After my grandmother passed away last year, I took on a lot of debt. I’ve also got six kids, five of whom still live at home. Most days, I’m just doing what I can to stay afloat. There’s no time for daydreaming when your goal is just being able to put food on the table. As we navigated the winding roads, I realized that, if I kept my eyes on the thickness of the forest, I’d miss the beauty of the mountains.
I’ve been in a rut recently. I need to stop settling. It’s not just about money or jobs, either. Am I truly happy where I live? Are my friendships fulfilling? Am I doing everything I can to get the most out of my life? Am I really living up to my full potential? No, I’m not. This trip gave me the nudge I needed to do something about it.
Being Scared Is Important
We’ve all heard a million sayings about coloring outside the lines and breaking out of our comfort zone, but how often do we deliberately take steps to do it? If there’s one thing I’ve learned this past year, it’s that you never feel more alive than when you’re a little scared. All of your senses sharpen and you have to live in the moment.
Listening to the safety speech before boarding the helicopter, my stomach was lurching. The thrill rides I’d been using to overcome grief and anxiety suddenly felt exceedingly safe. There are no whirling blades or whiteout conditions complicating a ride on a roller coaster, so stepping onto that helicopter felt like a personal triumph before the day had even really begun.
Landing at our hut in the Tantalus Range made me feel like I was living someone else’s adventurous life — only it was very much my own. We were flown up to the Jim Haberl Hut, which is named after one of the first two Canadians to climb K2, and were there just days shy of the 20th anniversary of his death in an Alaskan avalanche on April 29, 1999. He was 41 years old, the same age as I am right now.
Looking around the hut, as everyone geared up to scramble, I got caught up in fear and anxiety. In a room of fit bodies and experienced climbers, my padded midsection, prescription glasses and phone filled with pictures of babies and food threatened to expose me as a fraud. I was scared of so much in that moment that I can’t help but chuckle to myself looking back.
With Josh by my side, I felt more at ease. Still, I was also keenly aware of the fact that, if something went wrong, our little ones would lose both of their parents. I was scared of the crampons and pickaxes. Scared that my harness wouldn’t fit on my chubby thighs. Terrified of the germs lurking on the straps of a helmet worn by many people before me. And, yes, I was even scared the turkey sandwiches weren’t being refrigerated and that I’d make it down the mountain and then die of food poisoning.
Of course, all of those concerns took a backseat when we stepped outside and they pointed up to where we were going. When the fear and anxiety bubbled up, though, I thought about Jim Haberl. I thought about my childhood friend, Donnie Hynes, who passed away the week before. In that moment, rather than allowing terror to invade my body, I focused on why fear is so important.
When I’m scared, I know I’m growing. It means I’m trying something new. I could get hit by a car or eat a bad turkey sandwich and die. I’d rather go out pushing my boundaries and having an experience of a lifetime. So, holding my pickaxe in completely the wrong way, I followed the group up the side of a mountain.
Every Step Is an Accomplishment
I’d love to tell you that I blew past everyone, raced to the top like some alpine version of Rocky Balboa — but that did not happen. The wind was blowing hard, one of my crampons was loose and I could barely breathe. We had split up into groups and our guide, Ross, was so supportive and patient.
Every few feet, I’d step on the rope. When we’d get to a tougher spot, I’d have to climb over it on my hands and knees (Josh did too, so I didn’t feel so bad). Huffing and puffing, my right foot slipped and nausea hit me. I thought it was because I’d had too many carbs at breakfast but when I slipped again. Quickly, I recognized the source of my misery — my c-section scar. That twin birth had been a traumatic one, and my recovery from it has been difficult.
Suddenly, what was already an incredibly challenging feat for my body became blindingly painful. Even lifting that right leg to take a step was too much and it was so embarrassing for a moment. There was a professional skier in my group and I didn’t want to let her down. With very little in the actual climb left, I found a small perch and asked Ross to leave me behind. After a bit of back and forth, it was clear that I wasn’t going to budge. He promised to come back for me once he got the group up to the top.
This meant that we had to detach my harness from the rope so that everyone could move on without me. Sitting there, with the snow swirling around me, the wind picked up. I lost sight of the group in front of me. Carefully, I turned around and discovered that the hut had disappeared, too. For a few brief moments, it was just me in my bright blue Arc’teryx jacket untethered from the world and at the mercy of the Universe.
The wind carried away every trace of embarrassment, anxiety and fear. It was so peaceful. In 1998, when my body shut down and my heart was failing, they told me I’d die. Just walking around the block was difficult, but I kept putting one foot in front of the other. If my 20-year-old self, heavily medicated and desperately clinging to life, had seen me sitting on that mountain, she would have wept with joy. So, that’s what I did — until my tears nearly froze my eyes shut. Laughter failed similarly, but I tried some of that, too. Then, before long, my rescue team arrived.
Your Tribe Matters
Ross shepherded my original group back to the hut, while a team of four approached me on my perch. Leading the pack was guide extraordinaire, Paul McSorley, along with George Weetman (the Vice President of Brand and Digital Commerce!), Rebecca Bowman, Design Director, and Cooper Gill, the new Creative Director. For a brief moment, shame and anxiety nipped at the edges of my soul — until gratitude, humility and positivity filled me.
We couldn’t go back down the rocky terrain the way we came. Instead, we made our way across, down and then back up a steep part of the mountain. It was absolutely gorgeous! No one made me feel bad and when I needed another break; we all stopped and chatted as if we were old friends. Really, it was the most surreal experience and I’ll always be so thankful it was mine.
Back at the hut, the helicopter started shuttling groups down the mountain. Sadly, the wind had picked up and we had to cut the day short. As we packed up to leave, George noticed my laces had come undone and he tied them for me! Exhausted and ignoring my pain, I had to choke back tears of gratitude for the gesture. Despite his position in the company, there was no awkward hierarchy or social barrier. He was just George, helping out a friend.
On the ride back, I couldn’t help but reflect on my interactions over the previous few days. I’d sat in a regular break room, chowing down on normal lunch food while chatting with Arc’teryx president, Jon Hoerauf. He patiently listened as I overshared about roller coasters and scattering ashes. Not once did I feel like he didn’t care about what I was saying. He even closed the conversation with a hug!
At Arc’One, Training Coordinator Dave Gardiner and Shirley Chan, Director of Product Commercialization and Quality, gave us a tour. They proved that even after years with the same company, you can still be excited by your job. At the Design Centre and headquarters, I’d been blown away by Bill Burke’s passion for testing products and Drummond Lawson’s commitment to innovation (and his hair…that was one impressive mane on the Director of Sustainability!).
Everyone listened as I went on and on about how the Atom LT was the best jacket I’ve ever worn. At dinner, design managers Sarah Wallace and Edita Hadravska indulged me in a brainstorming session about how it could be turned into a jumpsuit or bunting bag. I’d never leave the house!
When it was time to pack for home in Idaho, tears welled up in my eyes and anxiety threatened to overcome me. Leaving was so much harder than I’d imagined, even though I knew it was going to be tough. Yes, it was great to be back in Canada. Plus, it’s always wonderful to be in “vacation mode.” Still, I miss being surrounded by people who are passionate about living their best lives.
When we step back and allow ourselves to feel fear, but move forward anyway, something magical happens. We grow stronger and better able to handle the challenges we face in life — even anxiety. It helps, of course, to be surrounded by the right kind of people. Our tribe truly matters and I hope to see my new friends again someday. If I don’t, I’ll just slip on my Atom jacket and let it bring back all those good memories. Thank you, Arc’teryx for an absolutely life-changing experience! I’ll never forget it!