There is a mountain in the Dominican Republic named Brison. Never would I have guessed, with my lack of athleticism and of experience in hiking, that I would one day reach the top. But when jumping out of the comfort zone, all doubt and hesitation must stay behind. If I was going to do this, I was going to give it my all. It can’t be all that difficult, right? There I was on the first full day of my first service trip, with a group of teens I had never met before, after having taken my first flight alone, (not to mention in a third world country), about to embark on the most physically difficult journey of my life thus far.
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Two and a half miles up, two and a half miles down. The trail was rocky, and a small cloud of dust kicked up with each step. It felt like I was walking up at least a 45 degree angle, like the side of a right triangle from my trigonometry homework. There were no trees to protect against the ruthless Dominican sun, and the air offered no breeze. It didn’t take long before I was out of breath and drenched in sweat. To make matters worse, I wasn’t yet used to routine at base camp, and hadn’t filled up my water bottles before the hike. But I kept reminding myself, for my own sanity, of where I was and how unique of an experience I was having. I hadn’t even done any service yet, but seeing how people live on Brison and make this trek every day was enough to silence the complaints. Otherwise, drowning in negativity would have been too easy.
There were chickens, donkeys, and cows on the side of the road, with hardly a fence to contain them. The villagers lived in small, rundown houses that could barely pass for backyard sheds in the U.S. I was completely alone for stretches of time, with just the sounds of my footsteps and my uneven, labored breathing. Finally, after what felt like eternity, I reached the top of the mountain, where our group was hosted for lunch by a local family. Trees had finally decided to show up, so the views from the top were not spectacular. After we’d had our fill of chicken, rice, and beans, we returned to the trail. Hiking down a mountain can sometimes be more challenging than the way up, a mentor had warned. With the downhill momentum and the unstable rocks, ankles have a tendency to roll. But I was so anxious to reach flat ground that going downhill seemed quick and easy.
I took away much more from Brison than just sore muscles and blisters on my feet. The directors of the program had a reason for making us hike a mountain on the first day: the rest of the service trip would seem easy in comparison. What they probably didn’t predict was that the rest of my life seems easy in comparison. Scaling Brison was a major accomplishment, and it directly improved my self-esteem. If I achieved that, what can’t I achieve in the future? My potential suddenly expanded. The journey was also extremely metaphorical. I will inevitably face challenges in my life. I may welcome them, or I may try to avoid them. It’s not all about the destination-as I learned when I was not greeted with stunning views. I may not enjoy every step, but staying positive and determined is crucial. That’s why, and I thought I’d never say this, I’m thankful for the hike up Brison.
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