As frequently happens when something enlightening occurs, it was a change of plans that brought it all about.
The original plan was to visit one of the highest mountain summits accessible by car - the 10,900 foot Beartooth Pass, 80 miles north of us in Montana. Despite 70-degree temperatures here in town, we packed the winter gear - experience teaching us respect for the effects altitude has on temperature. After packing sandwiches, books and cooler, we dashed off into the adventure.
Mother Nature, however, had other plans.
Ten miles out of town, the weather turned dicey. What started as puffy white clouds in town had turned dark and ominous in the surrounding mountains. Individual clouds merged into a solid gray mass, slicing 10,000 foot mountain tops from view, choking off the spectacular vistas we'd remembered from our last trip to the Beartooths.
Calling off the Beartooths for the day, Plan B evolved into a trip 30 miles ahead to Dead Indian Pass, an 8,200 foot lookout with the dual benefits of stunning views and hand-fed chipmunks. Nearing the paved pullout holding half a dozen cars, we instead turned right on a dirt road that led to the top of a mountain a thousand feet higher. The potholed road was obviously just a trail for those who maintained the weather monitoring equipment at the summit. A third of the way up the rise, we parked.
Stepping into the 30 degree alpine breeze, we complimented our wisdom while slipping into winter coats and gloves. Already 300 feet higher than the travelers at the pullout, we decided to follow the trail to the top.
Within a minute, we could've been filming a scene from the Sound of Music. Alpine meadows filled with wildflowers, bordered by forests and craggy boulders scattered everywhere, silently affirming our position near the top of the world.
And the views! The cloud cover we expected to ruin the panoramas, actually enhanced them with their ebb and tide. One moment nothing but gray, and the next, a hole opened casting sunbeams on breathtaking valleys twenty miles below. Better yet, we were approaching the point on our mountain where the mist was washing over rock. Another 200 feet and we'd actually be walking in clouds.
How does one say thank you for receiving their own personal mountain top? One enjoys it. Three of us hiking that day, we possessed a hundred square miles of America's choicest real estate for ourselves.
How could it be that this spectacular experience was so unattended by others? It wasn't the month - it was late spring, the beginning of prime vacation season. It wasn't the day - Sunday, a prime weekend day. It wasn't the weather - sure it was cloudy, but it hadn't been raining.
And then enlightenment. The reason it was so unattended was because it wasn't a place normally visited by groups. It was off the "normal" path. There was no pavement. No signage. No historical markers. No souvenir shops or restaurants. The best real estate on this planet is rarely visited because most people judge what is "good" by how many others are attending. People watch other people before deciding what they should do. By conforming to the group, they limit themselves to average experiences. Break free of the group and you step into uncommon experiences.
Could that same idea be applied to careers? Relationships? Spiritual development?
As we hiked into the clouds - our clouds -- we realized that of the 300 million Americans scattered below, not one in a million would ever experience the magnificence of this peak. Of those few who would, it would only occur if they'd made one fateful decision -- the decision to leave the crowds behind and follow their own path into the clouds above.
Mike Johnson is an energetic writer & entrepreneur. Learn more about Mike's offerings at www.MikeJohnson.biz