The Wrong Mountain

This past weekend, I took an extended backpacking trip that I’ve been planning for some time. I made all the arrangements, carefully planned my route, even pre-scheduled a few posts here on The Opportunity Machine (gasp, I know). I planned everything down to the last, most minute detail.


A few things to remember about me. Even though I take these trips often and don’t consider myself a novice, I’m still what my father would call a “city-slicker.” I’m self-taught in the ways of the woods, I don’t have any formal training or even real skill. I’ve read a lot of books, watched a lot of videos, and gotten a lot of real-world practice – but that leaves plenty of room to mess up.

In particular, this time I was headed to a totally new area that I’d never camped in before. Knowing in advance that cell service was likely to be non-existent, I bought a genuine paper map and marked out my route in advance. At this point it’s important to note that reading a paper map isn’t like, an automatic thing that everyone can do without any practice or prior experience. But hey, how hard could it be, right?


So anyway, up I go! This is terrain that’s very different from the relatively easy foothills of central Pennsylvania where I typically go, This was in Virginia, where some very real mountains (by east-of-the-Mississippi standards, anyway) exist. And I was going to climb one. Then, from that point, I had a whole route planned through the rest of the backcountry and on to my destination.

The climb was hard. Really hard. It wasn’t just an “uphill hike.” At various points I was genuinely climbing, which I hadn’t really expected but was very excited about. The trek was arduous and difficult, but deeply satisfying. It started to rain – but it rains in PA too, and I was prepared for that. Higher and higher I went, until at long last I reached the top. With a great shout of triumph I dropped my gear and settled in to eat something and check my bearings for the next leg.

It was completely overcast due to the rain, and the trek was hardly a straight line, so I had to reorient myself a bit at the top. And at first, I couldn’t make sense of my location – something wasn’t quite lining up on the map, shouldn’t there be a path headed this way? And why was my compass saying that I’d just come from north, instead of south? And then, with dawning horror, I realized that I

had climbed

the wrong




As is my way, I laughed for probably thirty minutes straight. What else is there to do, at the peak of the wrong mountain?

So, I ate my lunch, packed up my gear, and picked a new route. From there, I saw beautiful waterfalls, wonderful wildlife, and incredible sights of all kinds. Over the next day and a half the weather brightened and I found myself exploring all manner of gorgeous trails. If it had been the trip I’d planned, it would have been a flawless trip.

Which means, of course, that it was a flawless trip. Sure, I learned that I’m rubbish at reading maps. But so what? This was the purest example of “it’s not the destination, it’s the journey.” There wasn’t anywhere specific I was really trying to be, just a walkabout that I really wanted to take. I feel absolutely fantastic, like a new man. I got everything I wanted from the experience: challenge, adventure, distance, spiritual solace, and emotional cleansing.

It turns out, you can’t really climb the wrong mountain, because there is no wrong mountain. There is only the climb, and the view from the top.

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