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Sweatpants & Soul | What the Mountains Taught Me

By Grace Olscamp

The only similarity between the infamous African plains and where I stand now just outside of Jackson, Wyoming is the vast flatness of the land. Gazing at the land feels like looking across a green ocean that goes on until it meets the horizon. Its tall grass and uninhibited wild flowers sway sweetly as the wind tumbles across the plain. This is the case in all directions but one, the one directly in front of me. It feels like sprinting at full speed and suddenly slamming into a wall. The field is flat for what looks like miles until, without any hint of its upcoming presence, a mountain range erupts from the landscape. These mountains, the Tetons, are jagged and barren. They are daunting and their desolation stands in sharp contrast from the soft, lush flatlands below.

I take pleasure in the mystery of things and try not to immediately look up answers on my phone, so I continue to stare in astonishment at the Tetons. I am dazzled by their location and formation. How did they get here? How, amid all this surrounding flatness, did they burst through the earth to forge their path towards the sky? Flooded with these thoughts and inspired by the endurance the mountains must have had to break away into their own formation, I almost miss my alarm going off on my phone.

I’m car camping near the Tetons but need access to Wi-Fi to get work done, so I walk back to the lodge I came to while dialing into the conference call my phone alerted me about. Calling in on my headphones gives me a chance to send a few photos of the Tetons to my family while I hunker down to work in the lodge. My parents immediately respond to my photos with various versions of “Where are you?” and, after answering, “Why are you in Wyoming?”

As I mindlessly take notes on the call, I stare out the lodge windows, enamored with the Tetons I can still see. My previous questions about their presence morph, influenced by my parent’s inquiries of what I was doing, about how I too got there.

My current life stands in contrast with the one I was told I should have, the one that I thought I would have.

I was raised in Ohio but I was told that only in a vibrant, million-plus-people city could I be successful. Instead, I live in Salt Lake City, no doubt a metropolitan area but an ant compared to somewhere like New York City. Business, economics, or law were my destined career paths. It didn’t matter which I chose as long as it ended with a 9-to-5 job at an easily recognizable Fortune 500 company. Instead, I work part-time as a remote consultant at a 5-person public relations firm. I was supposed to be a varsity athlete and socialite who enjoyed parties, glitz, and glamor but I spend most of my time hiking or rock climbing with days-old dirt caked onto my skin.

My whole life I thought I would be the former options, yet I ended up the latter. How did I emerge from my pre-planned life into my current one? As I doodle the Tetons in the margins of my notes, the answer becomes clear: the mountains brought me here.

At 17, I stood on my first peak in Wyoming and marveled at how unpredictable the twists and turns of the surrounding mountains were. The shape of them must have happened by chance yet they were perfect in my eyes. At a time where my next step after high school, college, was unquestionable, the image of things happening by chance was alluring. I couldn’t get the image out of my head and within a year of starting college, I quit my varsity sport to pursue rock climbing and replaced my economics courses with political science and philosophy ones.

At 22, I trudged off-trail and through the remaining July snow in my sandals. Not only was I lost on this mountain in Colorado, but I was lost in life too. I graduated college and moved back home to parental pressures of getting a job at a big corporation. Everything in me went against this yet I saw no other option. Every time I thought I found the trail, the mountain spun me in a new direction. Slowing myself down to avoid panic, I moved deliberately and trusted my instinct of where to go. My confidence grew with every step, assuring me that I could figure it out, until I found myself back at the base of the mountain. As I got into my car, I was self-assured that, no matter what, I’d figure it out. And with that, I moved to San Diego, which I had never been to but was drawn to, for an internship in the environmental sector.

At 23, I bawled on the side of a granite rock face in California. I was too scared to move even though I was miserable in my panic. Well, not just in my panic: I was at a job that my parents loved but I didn’t, I disliked San Diego, and my spirit longed for something greater. Between my tears, I could see the endless peaks and valleys that used to be under a glacier. The granite mountain I was on formed long before the glacier, yet it persisted through ice ages, great melts, and centuries of other change. If nothing stopped it, why should I let anything stop me? So, I made my way up the mountainside, promptly quit my job, left the country for four months, and moved to Salt Lake City. All the while I drew perseverance from that granite mountain for anything that crossed my path along the way.

Now I sit here, almost 25, and stare at the Tetons while I work. I can see the pieces that added up in my life to get me here, just as I can see, with a little bit of research, how the Tetons got there too. I got here thanks to the mountains in Wyoming, Colorado, and California that showed me how to take a chance, to be confident, and to persist. The Tetons have unapologetically forged their own path amid the surrounding flatness. I start to wonder if I am more like the Tetons than any of the other mountains I’ve been on: my life was laid out in front of me and I, too, chose to create my own way. In both cases, we broke ground where we weren’t meant to and I think we will both continue to do just that.

 

Grace Olscamp is an adventure and mental health author based out of Salt Lake City, Utah. Between consulting for public relations and writing, she can be found petting every dog she sees on the trail or at the crag, meditating, using her turn signal, or baking bread. You can find her work here or follow her adventures here.

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