Consider this...

By Mike Johnson


To the spectators 3,000 feet below, we were skilled mountaineers. Clinging to the south side of Rattlesnake Mountain, Margie and I rested, two specks of red just 500 feet below its summit. The distance prevented onlookers from detecting what they'd never suspect -- this was our first mountain climb -- and we were terrified.

It sure had looked easy back in 1996. Visible from our driveway in Cody, Rattlesnake Mountain had teased us for weeks, soaring 3,500 feet over our then new northwestern Wyoming town. What a view it must be from the top!

So one Sunday morning, loaded with too little water and too much confidence, we nonchalantly headed off. "We'll be back by lunch," we shouted to the kids, stepping out the door and into adventure.

The mountain enticed us by rising gradually from the road, an innocent dirt trail leading us like birds following bread crumbs into its boulder field. The giant slabs were easy to hike and teased us with their promise of ever greater ascension. By the time the boxcar-sized rocks had faded into the steeper, more treacherous gravel field, we were three-quarters of the way to the summit.

We rested, and reflected.

What had begun as a "hike" to the top, had subtly become a "climb" to the top. Initially relaxed and biting off terrain in hundred foot sections, we'd progressively turned tense, unable to focus farther than the next hand hold. Noon was arriving and the mid-day sun had long ago become searing. We'd consumed 60% of our water and 70% of our courage, yet the summit remained 500 of the steepest feet above. Looking at our current position, and then at the summit, we saw no way to traverse the gap between the two.

Yet, we knew the climb down from this point would be no picnic, and we also knew if we abandoned our ascent now, the mountain would forever mock us every time we glanced up from our driveway.

What had we gotten ourselves into?

More accurately, what had I gotten ourselves into?

Margie had originally refused to take the arduous route I'd selected. "I'm not climbing up the face of a mountain, Mike. You always underestimate these things. I'm just not going to do it."

"OK," I'd rationalized both to myself and to her, "Let's just take this easy trail and see where it leads. If it gets too spooky we'll just come back down." Technically that was a fib - I knew where it would lead all right - straight to the top. But inspirationally, I knew if I could just get her started, we'd both relish the accomplishment.

3,000 feet later - more perspired than inspired -- we were unable to turn back. She was right, I HAD underestimated the thing. Yet, there was only one way out of our pickle - straight up. So precarious was our position, we stopped focusing on the summit and centered instead on the step immediately before us. As that footstep held, the following one appeared.

Isn't that the way life works? We see someone successfully standing on their mountain top - perhaps it's an actress, corporate president or superstar athlete. I'd like to be there too, we dream. But then we size up our current position as compared to our hero's accomplishment, and see no possible way to duplicate their level of success. And surrender before we even begin.

The hidden truth of every goal is that it actually DOES arrive with a well-marked trail. Our very desire to achieve, writes the plan to which we cleave. The rub is that this road map only reveals itself one step at a time - AFTER we've put ourselves on the line. In order to get to the mountain top, we have to start climbing the mountain. Life asks just one thing from us - take the first step. It then happily rewards us by exposing the next step. And the next. One at a time, all the way to the top.

90 minutes later, after cresting the summit we'd been reaching for all morning, we reverently rose to our feet. Leaning carefully into the roaring, alpine winds, accepting their crispness as reward for our efforts, we scanned our town thousands of feet below. Somewhere down there, lay the driveway where our dream was hatched. Although we couldn't see it from our altitude, we knew that once we returned, its view would be forever altered.

As we surveyed other landmarks from our lofty position, our eyes settled on a new discovery - a rocky pinnacle that had been invisible from the ground below. This higher mountain top lay hidden behind the summit we'd just traversed.

Margie flashed a grin of recognition in my direction. I nodded. It was life, revealing its next step.


Mike Johnson is an energetic writer & entrepreneur. Learn more about Mike's offerings at

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