Everyone desires freedom, in one or more of its assorted shapes. Ironically, I discovered my version of freedom, arguably the foremost American ideal, during a trip to Canada. My dad awakened me one morning when the amusingly top-heavy tour bus swerved past a sign welcoming us into Banff National Park.
Armed with my happy-go-lucky mindset, I thought it was just another scenic park, maybe with a small pond somewhere in the middle of a dense forest of towering trees. Boy, was I wrong. Little did I know that only a few hours later, I would experience the coldest cold in my body and the warmest warmth in my heart.
While I cherished the calm of Lake Louise’s greenish blue hues, the true wonder of Banff was the Icefields, home to the spectacular white of the glaciers, as well as my perfect picture. When we arrived at the base of the Icefields I had an impulse to hike the glacier by foot while the rest of the group cheated up the side of the mountain on the bus. As expected, my parents were reluctant.
Even I was wary about committing to my self-dare, but in retrospect I am thankful to have had a sudden surge of audacity. My parents had no choice but to let me do it. Dressed snugly, I started my ascent.
Within minutes, beads of sweat oozed and trickled down my cheek, as gravity slowly manipulated their undulations until they dripped onto the chilly packed snow. (And this was still August!) My feet had left my body behind, slowly dragging themselves uphill. What seemed like an eternity later, I looked back at the microscopic figures below, following in my footsteps.
I turned back around and continued hiking, determined to prevent them from overtaking me. After a couple hours, I reached the highest point open to visitors. I fell on the snow, exhausted, and looked up at the puffy white clouds peering down at me.
They seemed to smile gently, pleased that I had accomplished my goal. When I stood up again, I looked back down the glacier, and the same people who had been following me now faced the other way, trickling down the mountain face. I glowed inwardly, and trekked over to a tiny stream of water.
I pulled out an empty water bottle and turned the cap, smiling as a small ‘pop!’ of pressure escaped. I dipped the bottle slowly into the water, careful not to disturb the harmonious, rhythmic flow too much. Then, my hands started shaking as I lifted the bottle out of the water.
I held a bottle filled with sparkling clear ‘glacier water’ in my grip, and couldn’t restrain a gleeful grin. I did it! I felt like a kid who had just won a big sports tournament. I hoisted my trophy above my head to show my parents, who were now watching me from a few hundred meters away. I wish my parents had taken a picture of me at that moment. The photo would have captured my casual teenage body struggling to temper the inner kid effervescing to the surface. But when I reminisce about that afternoon, my mind conjures up an image more vivid, more authentic than can be portrayed by any single picture. When I focus on the boy in the picture, I sense the jubilance in achieving his goals. He has just hiked 1000 feet of glory, and his face, gawking at his hard-earned glacier water, shows every single inch of that glory. Today, I still smell the pristine snow, and hear it humming a sweet melancholy. The snow possesses an ‘inner’ beauty, but it must be miserable nonetheless. So few people are willing to look past its harsh exterior, and are thus blind to the personal liberty they would find inside. The formidable appearance didn’t daunt me, and my reward for persevering was a blissfully consummate freedom that I had never known before.
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