52. Climbing Nevis Peak

52. Climbing Nevis Peak

From Chicken Soup for the Soul: Shaping the New You

Climbing
Nevis Peak

Self-conquest is the greatest of victories.
 ~Plato

My trips to the Caribbean usually include nothing but sun, sand, and umbrella drinks. But on a recent getaway to the West Indies my husband, Tom, and I ventured out of our comfort zones and climbed to the top of Nevis Peak, a dormant volcano in the center of Nevis, a small island nation located about 220 miles southeast of Puerto Rico.

We had spent our honeymoon in Nevis and had admired the beauty of the Peak but gave no thought to visiting the summit. In the weeks leading up to our return—to celebrate our fifth anniversary—we discussed climbing the mountain, though neither of us had ever attempted such a feat.

On our first full day in Nevis, we arranged a guide through the concierge at the Four Seasons. Early the next morning we met our guide, Sheldon, and traveled together by taxi to the staging point for the climb.

The hike started out pretty much as we’d imagined—a moderately uphill nature walk. We passed old, delightfully rundown sugar mills, breadfruit and banana trees, and mischievous green vervet monkeys that made us laugh.

“No need for dat, mon,” said Sheldon, as I slathered my arm with sunscreen. “We’ll be out of da sun in a few.” Wearing Dickies and a green logo T-shirt, his style screamed urban hipster, not mountain guide, and his thick Caribbean accent made his words dance.

He was right. Minutes later the forest began to close in on us and the sun was gone. We were dwarfed by the colossal roots and towering trees as we made our way through the dark, dense, and muddy jungle. The incline continued to increase until it seemed impossible to walk without falling off the earth. That’s when we encountered the first knotted rope, needed to aid our ascent, followed by dozens more. Hours passed; my heart raced and drops of sweat made my eyes sting. As I continuously climbed over rocks, maneuvered under fallen trees and used the rope to pull myself up nearly vertical slopes, it dawned on me—I had the strength to do so, because for most of my life, I wouldn’t have been able to.

Thanks to my general lethargy, combined with my love for ice cream and almost daily dates with jumbo bags of Doritos, I hit my all-time high of 216 pounds during my sophomore year of college. All the nacho cheese flavor and Cherry Garcia in the world couldn’t mask the shame I felt for letting my body pass the 200-pound mark. It took a nasty fall in which I severely sprained my ankle to change my ways. The fall forced me into six weeks of physical therapy to help strengthen my ankle. Ultimately, the fall and subsequent stint of PT were blessings in disguise. I discovered my body related really well to exercise and, much to my dismay, I relished working up a sweat.

And now, here I was, 65 pounds thinner and climbing a mountain; making my body work harder than any other time in my life. Even after my significant weight loss and ability to kick it out in a spinning class, I still didn’t think of myself as fit. But after reaching the cloud-covered summit and making our trek back down the mountain, I changed the way I thought about my body—physically powerful and beautiful.

As we approached the edge of the jungle, it began to rain. The light drizzle turned to torrential downpour and I felt an overwhelming sense of cleanliness. The mud that by now covered every inch of my body washed away, as did the negative feelings about myself that I’d harbored for years.

~Jennifer Leckstrom

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