By Ann M. Lorenc, GCU Alum — English
This past November I traveled to Scotland in order to attend the Post Graduate Open Day at the University of Glasgow and to delve into family research in the week leading up to the event. Having the opportunity to spend a full week in Edinburgh made me very excited as it had always been only a travel check point with merely a day to spend exploring on my past trips. I set an additional goal for my trip: climbing to the top of Arthur’s Seat, one of the top ten things to see in Edinburgh according to all my research.
Fortune smiled on me my second day in Edinburgh when I awoke to nearly clear skies and the prediction that the weather was likely to hold with mild winds throughout the day. In addition, cars are not usually allowed on Sundays in Holyrood Park where Arthur’s Seat is located so I decided it would be the perfect day to make the climb. Because the weather in Scotland tends to change quite unexpectedly, I dressed in layers and my trusted hiking boots. I also fortified myself with a Scottish breakfast which proved itself capable of sustaining me for a full day of activity during my last trip to Scotland.
Edinburgh is a walking city. Yes, it is the capital of Scotland and has a great public transportation system, however the city beckons you to walk as often as possible. If you walk briskly, you can travel from the West End to the East End and back within a little over two hours unless you stop for tea or to investigate one of the many sights guaranteed to catch your eye. Knowing that the climb would take some effort, however, I opted to take the bus rather than making the walk from my B&B to the Royal Mile and then down to Holyrood Palace and Park. As it turns out, I probably should have done that walk, but I hopped on the No. 16 bus to Princes Street instead with the intent to catch another bus from North Bridge to Holyrood. Somehow I managed to distract myself and wound up walking right by North Bridge and winding up alongside the eastern side of Calton Hill. Naturally, this turned out to be the one section where I could not find a bus that would take me to Holyrood other than the City Tour bus for which my bus pass would not work. Taking a quick glance at a pocket map I had brought with me, I decided I could not be too far from my destination and opted to continue walking, finding an interesting monument erected to commemorate Scotland regaining its own parliament again.
After becoming briefly lost, in what I think may have been Portobello, I finally found my way to Holyrood Palace. I stopped in the giftshop for Holyrood Abbey to ask for directions to Holyrood Park and the lady working there kindly provided me with a map of the park as well as a tip on a gentler ascent to Arthur’s Seat. I welcomed the news of an easier climb as my feet and ankles were now quite sore from the extended walk in addition to all the walking I had done the day before in not-quite-broken-in boots.
Thanking the staff, I walked an additional mile or two until I finally found myself at the bottom of the trail leading up to Arthur’s Seat. I felt a sudden burst of energy upon seeing the paved initial path and set off on my journey. Following my map, I veered off to take the path on the right of St. Margaret’s Well confident that I had found the easier route as it appeared well maintained with loose, but densely packed stones. After walking about twenty feet up the steeper-than-expected path, I discovered that I needed to stop and rest . Luckily I saw a boulder nearby and took a moment to sit and watch other hikers pass in either direction. A few minutes later, I stood and resumed my own climb. The appearance of a gentle slope turned out to be an illusion. Within minutes I found myself breathless and needing to stop and rest again. I told myself I needed to continue however as I worried that I would loose my motivation if I stopped again. All my life I learned the importance of always looking forward when reaching for a goal. My Aikido and CrossFit training provided me with a method of tricking my body to continue by telling myself I had just a little further to go and, once I reached that point, just a little ways more until I finally achieve my goal. I believed that if I did that, I would succeed since it had worked well for me in the past.
My plan did work, at least for the next fifty feet, although I think that it might have been because there were no boulders in sight and my options were to sit on the somewhat muddy three-foot-wide path near a steep drop on my left or lean against the steep wall to might right while fighting against increasing gusts of wind that seemed determined to blow me right off the side. When at last I found a section of the path that looked like a set of uneven steps made out of partially exposed rocks, I lowered myself down in relief to rest as close to the ‘wall’ as possible.
After catching my breath while looking across to a neighboring hill, I chanced a glance back up at the path that would lead me up to Arthur’s Seat and felt my heart wail with despair. No way could I make it up the next sections which consisted of an almost 45 degree incline followed by a near vertical climb. At this point, I had no energy left and no water with which to rehydrate myself. The only thing I did have was a camera case that seemed to grow heavier by the minute, two sore ankles and feet, a throbbing knee and an aching shoulder. Clearly the only option I had was to give up and go back down. My disappointment in myself only increased when I looked back up to see people actually running down the path and not looking tired at all! I truly felt like complete failure and foolish for even making the attempt. I heaved a frustrated sigh and hoisted my camera bag back over my shoulder, wondering why I had even bothered to bring it with me and closed my eyes briefly in resignation, dreading the sight of my pending descent.
When I opened my eyes and stood up, I found that I could not force myself to take a step back in the direction from which I had come. I could not believe it, but the path appeared steeper now than it had when I was walking up. I closed my eyes once more and shook my head slightly to clear it, certain my mind was playing tricks on me.
Upon opening them once more, I had an epiphany. The strongest and most meaningful epiphany I had ever had. I took a long hard look back down the trail and reminded myself of every step I had taken to get to the spot where I stood. I asked myself how I would feel about giving up and going back down now with the knowledge that I might never have the opportunity or the motivation to make a second attempt when I had already come so far.
I glanced back up where Arthur’s Seat seemed to call to me in the distance. Did it still appear nearly insurmountable? Absolutely! But ironically, the path back down seemed equally daunting, if not worse knowing that I would descend without achieving my goal and would forever question what it would have been like to reach the top and see the amazing views I had read so much about. I considered my options carefully and decided that I wanted to have that experience of reaching Arthur’s Seat and that giving up now would completely waste all the hard work and effort it took to make it to the spot I stood on at that moment. If I allowed myself to do that now, what did that mean for the other goals in my life that often seem impossible?
With a renewed focus and sense of determination, I continued my climb, allowing myself the chance to rest whenever opportunity allowed it. During those brief periods of rest to look back at how far I had come, even if it was just ten feet, and remind myself that all major goals take time and to have patience with myself. Other times I would push on , sharing knowing smiles and laughing comradely with others I met along the way.
The last bit of the climb proved the most challenging, with narrow pathways seemingly meant for sure-footed mountain goats and winds that now seemed determined to blow me right off the top, but I carried on and succeeded in reaching the top where I found a space to sit and take in the amazing views around me. From Arthur’s Seat I could see for miles in almost every direction with the city of Edinburgh and several the surrounding towns laid out below like a miniature model city. I took several pictures and then sat there on the rocky surface taking everything in with an immense sense of healthy pride in what I had just accomplished. As I gazed around me, I could scarcely believe that I had come so close to giving up the opportunity to experience not only these amazing views but the deep sense of accomplishment in overcoming a worthy challenge and knowing that I can now draw on this experience whenever I begin to doubt myself or the ability to achieve my dreams.
Too often we are told that we should ‘Never look back’ because doing so will slow us down and impede our progress. In many cases this is sound advice. Constantly looking over our shoulders while running from danger could slow us down or cause us to trip an obstacle we didn’t see and berating ourselves for past mistakes often leads to demoralization and the belief that we cannot accomplish anything. However, sometimes, it is okay to look back. Looking back once in awhile is a valuable tool in helping us recognize how far we have already come and an encouragement to keep going. The experiences and steps taken in working towards a goal all have a purpose and value to them. Every goal worth achieving takes time and hard work in addition to patience and understanding towards yourself and others making the journey with you.