Breaking Vertical

I tried not looking at the trail ahead of me. The sweat raining from my face and the pounding of my heart in my neck told me it was treacherous. Still, I’m a glutton for punishment. There in front of my eyes it appeared, a pitch that looked something of Biblical proportions. I was certain that I was about to hit my vertical limit. It was nowhere close to Mount Everest, but to this nearly 300+ pound woman, I might as well been hiking at 29,000 feet. I was too tired to notice the disgusted looks from other hikers peering back down the mountain at the boulder of a person trying to make her way up. I had bigger problems. With every step my mind had some sign posted telling me why I couldn’t do it, why I wouldn’t make it, why I’ll always be fat, etcetera, and etcetera. And then it happened, just after I made the summit and back down the mountain to my vehicle. I drove off from the trip feeling elated only to pull over not even a mile from the trail head to sob in my car alone. I broke vertical. The limit I had placed on myself shattered when little ol’ big me silenced all the negative voices competing inside my head. I was overwhelmed with the realization that all these years I had been living nowhere close to my vertical limit.

Mountain top experiences are fabulous, but alas I don’t have any photos of conquering summits. I’m just an ordinary woman who is slowly finding victory in the small summits in life, like getting on a bike for the first time in nearly 20 years, being able to bend down and tie my own shoes, being able to say “Hi” to someone on a hiking trail and feel okay that somebody actually saw me– all 300 sweaty glorious pounds of me huffing and puffing.

Losing weight is hard, but finding and embracing an inner strength that I scarcely knew that I had was, and is, more treacherous than climbing any mountain or hiking any trail. It sounds silly, but I’m finding myself again. All these years hidden beneath the layers of fat there was a perfectly beautiful me waiting all along to be discovered.

If I could offer any unsolicited encouragement to the woman sitting at home reading this, you are immeasurably strong in your spirit. These daily summits we ascend quietly build our character and resolve, sometimes without our even being aware of it. Don’t stop fighting those internal recordings in your head that tell you that you don’t measure up, that you can’t change, that you won’t make it. Give those voices an eviction notice. You deserve to live, love, and have laughter in your belly. You are a gift to this world that is meant to be shared. There is a perfectly beautiful you waiting to be celebrated by the world. So get off the couch, take a risk on yourself, and take a hike with your fellow trail sisters. Who knows, you might just find yourself breaking your vertical limit.

Yours for the Hiking,


“Trail Mix” aka Stephanie

The Stuff of my Nightmares…..

This is reposted with our wonderful Head Dame, Michele Zehr’s permission.  It is one of the most wonderful things I have ever read. 🙂 For more about Michele and her journey, go to




…is the stuff of my nightmares. My friends know how I revere all of nature. Give me a Rattle Snake, Black Bear or Mountain Lion any day over a tiny spider much less the giant hairy spider in this picture. But it was the giant hairy spider in this picture that Mother Nature placed before me this past week.

I just returned from the second meeting of the Ecology of Awakening program. This time we spent time on a 95,000 acre wildlife preserve called Wind Wolves in central California. 5 unique ecological zones unite at the preserve so we were surrounded by Coyote, Elk, Mule Deer, Red-Tailed Hawks, Golden Eagles, Bob Cat, Mountain Lion, and yes even a Rattle Snake. Only when I walked away from our base camp wearing my backpack, in search of the place my heart would lead me in the canyon so that I could spend the next 24 hours fasting alone on the land, did I find my foot only inches from this amazing animal spirit. To say that my heart skipped a beat is sort of an understatement because I’ve always had a complicated relationship with spiders.

Nature always reflects back to you exactly what you need to learn next about your own perfectly unique journey on Earth. I’ve had this confirmed over and over again in my life, but it’s in exercising patience where the answers are held.

When I found this spider (who felt feminine to me), instead of reacting to my impulse to get far far away, I instead sat with my discomfort and pounding heart to really spend time with her. I took many pictures and asked her if I could spend the night on the top of her hill, as this was where my heart had led me. She never moved…not even a flicker, and she just sat there allowing me to photograph her very closely. I could tell she wasn’t afraid of me so that put me at ease and I felt we had come to an agreement.

I thanked her for her time and proceeded to climb up to the top of what I’ve named Spider Hill. The reason I named it this was because when I got to the top, as far as my eyes could see were tall soft golden grasses, and about every foot or two was a dirt mound with several holes….the exact “home” I saw Ms. Tarantula next to at the bottom of this hill. When I turned around, however, this was my view.


This was the place I was supposed to spend all day and night alone until sunrise the following morning. I was supposed to lay down a small ground cloth, my sleeping bag on top of that, and sleep totally exposed under the stars while consuming nothing but a gallon of spring water. There would be no physical boundary between Mother Nature and me, no bug netting, no tarp, only the minimal gear that I needed to stay warm.

I had second and third thoughts about this as the mere vision of me lying there at night surrounded by thousands of Tarantula holes made my stomach turn. In fact, as I write this I am experiencing a “flight” reaction with cold shivers going down my body and my heart is racing.

This journey symbolized the very essence of how we are asked to navigate life. Follow our heads that almost always offers up the “safe” options? Or follow our heart’s creative options, even if it feels scary, dangerous, or uncomfortable? I stood there for several minutes looking around and it wasn’t long before I knew I had to stay on top of Spider Hill that night. My heart had led me there and I know that my heart will never steer me in the wrong direction, but my head might because it doesn’t have access to the whole picture. Besides, not staying would have been a fear-based decision and so far, no spider had tried to threaten me. It was the “what if” of the situation that created my fear and that was created by my mind and thoughts.

I did stay all night and was gifted with a beautiful clear starry night where I watched Orion’s Belt cross the night sky from East to West. I heard Coyotes howling at dusk and dawn and witnessed this most amazing sunrise.


So my job now is to wait and remain open to the continuing lessons that Spider wants to teach me. She is a sign of strong feminine energy and is the weaver of destiny. Usually when we find resistance inside of ourselves to a specific animal, it means this animal possesses qualities that you are not yet ready to embrace within yourself. Funny how this has happened right before I am to start working on my confirmation statement for our next EOA meeting, where we will fast alone in the Mohave Desert for 4 days and 3 nights and intentionally mark the beginning of a new journey that will bring each of closer to living our Truth. What is it that I’m ambivalent about with my own path and why am I ambivalent? What gifts are inside of me waiting to be expressed that I am fearful to express and why am I fearful? That is what I have to work on now.

This is just a snippet of the beautiful stories that unfolded not only for me but everyone in our group. Much like Spider’s web, each person in this small community in which I am a part will go back to their respective communities hoping to create change that will allow for a more respectful and “whole” version of life for all people and living spirits on the Earth. We are weaving our own web of change in fact.

So your support towards the final $775 will become part of that web too. It will allow me to build something new because you laid down your own circle of strong silk to support this larger vision.

If only 12 people contribute $65.00 each we will have achieved what I once told myself was impossible. That was the same voice that was warning me off Spider Mountain and I chose to follow my heart instead, which was uncomfortable, but my heart wouldn’t take no for an answer on this one and look how far we’ve come already!

Love Michele