“Shush, Nellie. Stop that whining. You’re climbing a mountain. It’s supposed to be hard.” If I wasn’t vigilant, Nellie’s constant whining and naysaying was all I heard on my way up Shuksan Mountain. “You’re not in as good of shape as everyone else,” she said. “They’ve all climbed Mt. Rainier, and you never have. Who do you think you are?” “You are already so tired, do you really think you’ll make the top?” “If you quit now you could spend the next several days hanging out in the hotel.” “You’re too old to be doing this.” Nellie smiled smugly when I swayed a bit after putting on my full 45lb pack at the trailhead. She crowed when I vomited up water and Kind bar on the first day of the hike (likely caused by insufficient salt intake).
Nellie wasn’t a registered member of our group of seven hikers and four guides. She is the voice in my head who points out my weaknesses, keeps track of my mistakes, keeps a running commentary of why I won’t make my goal, and tries to convince me that people are only pretending to like me. I learned from a friend to give Nellie a name (some of you may remember Nellie Olson from Little House on the Prairie) and to keep her occupied. As it turns out, Nellie is pretty good at counting steps, a helpful activity when on the slow slog up a glacier, and she likes to sing. She and I gave new words to the song “We are Climbing Jacob’s Ladder.” Over and over again, she sang in my head “We are climbing Shuksan Mountain…” and then “Every step goes higher, higher.” Sometimes we would both get distracted by a stumble or steeper part of the ascent and Nellie would start complaining again. That’s when I reminded her that it was supposed to be hard, that we were in it together, and that I was going to keep putting one foot in front of the other. Sometimes I had to get tough, “Nellie, you are not the boss of me.”