Sometimes we're not ready for the peak

But we can still learn from the climb

Hi pals,

isn’t it funny how we can never fully understand certain concepts until we actually feel them in our bodies? Grief is one of them. Therapy another. And so is learning from failure.

While I was travelling through Germany earlier this month, I went on a hike in the alps. It was definitely one of the highlights of my trip. I had been longing to be in the mountains all by myself. To walk at my own pace and to take as many photo breaks as I wanted. I mapped out a route which was already somewhat familiar to me, so that I couldn’t get lost. In May, I had set out on this same route with two friends, but snow and icy trails had forced us to turn around before we could begin the climb to the peak.

This couldn’t happen today, I was sure. It was the middle of summer, a humid 25 degrees and I was grateful to be spending the first hour and a half following a winding road in a thick forest. I ticked off all the landmarks I remembered from our first attempt, enjoyed the view from the plateau after passing the mountain hut, and I finally reached the point where we had turned around in May. As expected, the trails were clear, there was only a tiny patch of snow left near the summit cross.

A little while ago, I had passed a caution sign which read “alpine experience required and hikers mustn’t be afraid of heights”. Now I knew why. The trail in front of me turned into a rocky obstacle course, which tightly hugged the face of the mountain. Every step required full focus and every rock I kicked loose cling-clonged loudly down the steep slope to my left. Each of these rocks made my heart beat a little bit faster. “That could be you”, my brain warned me. I remembered the caution sign. I had never considered myself to be afraid of heights, but now I didn’t dare to look down. I glued my eyes onto the narrow trail ahead, while I felt my heart beating in my throat and my legs trembling. “It’s the heat, not fear”, I tried to convince myself. I found a small, safe place to rest, drink some water and summon the courage to go on. I was so close, after all.

Now I could see another hiker coming down between the jagged rocks. He was the first person I had met on the trail all day and I felt a little bit safer with another human nearby. I grabbed my hiking poles and continued up the trail, fighting an internal battle at almost every step. The hiker stopped to greet me, “you headed to the summit?”, he asked. “Yes, it’s not far now, is it?”, I almost pleaded. “Well,…”, he smiled apologetically, “you’ve got a bit of a climb left. Good luck!”.

A climb? What had I been doing so far? A few meters further, I understood. The trail disappeared almost completely and a fixed rope indicated I needed to pull myself up the steep side of the rock. I took one step, then I froze. I couldn’t bring myself to go forward, yet turning around felt equally unsafe. Plus, there was this voice in my head asking “What are you going to tell people – that you almost made it to the peak, but chickened out on the last stretch?”.

When I realized that the only thing keeping me in this terrifying limbo was my own pride, I decided: Yes, that’s exactly what I was going to tell people (and it will surprise absolutely no one when I say: nobody judged me but myself). So, I slowly slid back towards the trail, on my butt. And that’s where I sat for a while, waiting for my heart rate to go down and for my hands to stop shaking. I ate a banana and a clif bar, trying to find out whether I was shaking out of fear or out of physical exhaustion. Finally, I decided that it didn’t really matter why my legs were wobbly – they definitely wouldn’t carry me to the peak today. So I swallowed my ambition and started an unsteady descent, feeling defeated and fighting back tears.

I like to think of myself as an outdoorsy person, and while I’m not a fast runner or graceful yogi, I had always considered myself strong. Not strong enough, I scolded myself on the way down.

It took me almost the entire descent to work through my disappointment and to understand the lesson I had just been taught. My body and mind had shown me my boundaries, and I had, eventually, respected them. And that requires a whole different kind of strength.

I wasn’t ready to reach the peak this year, but that only means it’ll feel so much sweeter when I eventually make it. When, not if. Because now I know that I’ll need someone with alpine experience by my side at the next attempt. I know that I need to fuel my body with more than a pretzel in the morning. I know that I need to lift heavier in the meantime. And I finally know (as in “felt it in my body”), what Elizabeth Day means when she starts each of her podcast episodes with the sentiment “learning how to fail is actually learning how to succeed better”.


pop culture pleasures

I am currently re-watching Schitt’s Creek (now available in Germany on Amazon Prime) and I think I love it even more the second time around? I honestly think the world would be a better, or at least kinder, place if you had to finish all six seasons of it before being allowed to enter adulthood.

Related: Annie Murphy was a guest on Table Manners!

Relatable: Veronica McCarthy on what she’s learned from dating in her thirties. My favorite: “You do not miss your ex, you just had a bad date.” And, every woman needs to hear this: “Men don’t care that your lower abdomen is soft and round.”

Most men don’t read fiction by female authors. It’s not surprising, but seeing the statistics in this Guardian piece and understanding what this implies is, well, disheartening.

Why it’s sexist to demand of women to “age gracefully”, explained by the ever so wise Elizabeth Day.

If you only read one thing out of these recommendations, let it be this one: Jill Filipovic wrote about how western medical systems still expose women to an insane amount of avoidable pain out of – surpríse: misogyny.

“Underlying all of this is an assumption that womanhood, and particularly motherhood — or the avoidance of motherhood, and the desire to have sex for pleasure — demands sacrifice.”

Filipovic uses her own experience of having an IUD inserted as an example of being gaslit by the medical system, and I fully agree with her. I have never felt pain like this in my life and all the doctor said before the procedure was, that it could be a little “uncomfortable”. Luckily, the conversation about this process is getting louder, and The Lily recently picked it up in this feature – demanding better (or any!) pain and expectation management.

Amanda McCracken has researched our pandemic-fueled addiction to longing and how it leads to depression and increases anxiety. Bad news for all of us daydreamers.

Listen to this Radiolab episode before your next Amazon order.

🇩🇪 Womit haben wir unser verdammt gutes Leben eigentlich verdient, und warum sind wir so undankbar? Sehr guter Privilegien-Check von und mit Gabriela Herpell im SZ Magazin.

🇩🇪 Seit dieser Woche sind alle Folgen unseres Podcast “Stadt Land Clan” online. Wir sprechen über sogenannte Clankriminalität auf dem Land und ich hoffe, es wird deutlich, dass es bei diesem Phänomen zwei Wahrheiten gibt. Weniger Four Blocks, mehr so “you ok, Kriminalpolitik? 🧐 “

One of my favorite childhood memories is watching the Olympics with my mum. Every four years our TV was blasting 24/7 and we’d watch every single discipline – less for the athletic achievements, but for the stories and emotions, always rooting for the underdogs.

I still watch a lot of it, although nowadays I find it hard to watch professional sports without thinking of corruption, doping or abuse. So I was grateful for Lindsay Crouse’s op ed in the NYT, on how we can be critical of the Olympics yet still enjoy watching Olympians – especially now. As she puts it: “I read every day about how the ship I’m on is sinking, and right now I want to hear the band.”

Naturally, horse riding is my favorite discipline to watch, but this made me laugh anyway:

That’s all for today, thank you so much for being here. You can support my work by subscribing to this newsletter, forwarding it to your friends or treating me to a cup of coffee. 

coffee ☕️

Until next time,