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FlipSide writer Matthew Ayoob takes a break while climbing Mount Washington.

I never would have thought my summer would include climbing a mountain. Yet, I anxiously woke up at 5:30 in the morning and sluggishly pulled myself out of bed. The cozy cottage that we stayed in smelled of rain and a crackling fire. My head felt as though it had the weight of the world. My eyes seemed glazed over as I looked in the mirror. A sudden shiver crept down my spine as I was brushing my teeth with some French toothpaste from my sister’s international travels. I could not read the label; it was foreign and confusing, but I needed it.

I began to wonder about my decision to go on this trip with the Rashids. An overwhelming feeling rushed into my body, and I wondered if I could physically and mentally handle climbing Mount Washington. I knew the party I was with was certainly more experienced than me at climbing and hiking.

As we rode in the car to the beginning of the trail, my mind began to wander again. As our informative guide answered my group’s obscure questions, I thought of the cotton clothing I bought, which is not a wise decision in the high altitudes and extreme cold despite it being summer. The smell of pine and fresh air seemed to fill my eyes as a just as vibrant scenery passed by in the window. The taste of the French toothpaste still was bitter in my mouth as I licked my teeth as a nervous act.

The guide was an experienced climber of about 60 trips, with scintillating silver hair and a mischievous smile.

We finally arrived at the bottom of the mountain, and it was time to start summiting. As I took my first step, the dry clay soil flew into the air. My breathing was constant, and the air was crisp and crystal like. As we trotted along, hearing the crisp dry leaves crunch under us, I saw a bold uphill that seemed to go on forever. We all chatted as we took step after step. The guide talked about his wife, Beth, with pride and a sparkle in his eyes. Time seemed fluid as he told us about when he and his wife were camping in Alaska and encountered a huge vicious bear with large teeth and thick brown hair.

The terrain seemed to change secretly, changing without my recognition. The glowing deep green leaves changed to a barren landscape as we passed tree line. Our guide explained the tree line as I saw the dramatic sight of the trees getting shorter until there were very few. The tree line is the visible difference in height of trees and quantity in relation to altitude. It looked as though the trees had been groomed to make a flat surface as we scaled upward.

Birds could no longer be heard singing, creating an ominous atmosphere. But I was in awe of this natural phenomenon that I was amidst. About four hours had passed, and the sweat was disgusting and made me feel dirty. The sun beat down on my skin as I took every step. I regretted wearing my long-sleeve spandex shirt, but it was remarkable how warm it was on the mountain considering the altitude.

Time had spread us apart by about 10 feet each, and I tried to regulate my breath. It smelled dry, and the land looked untouched. With every step, the seeming peak became closer and closer. But to my dismay, every peak just was the beginning of another uphill. I could still taste the French toothpaste, just lurking in my mouth. For some reason, I did not believe the experienced hiker, our guide, who had scaled the mountain. He said, “about an hour till the top,” and our response of collective sighs seemed to tell him we were all surprised. Therefore, we decided to stop for lunch.

As we ate, we sat on a rock seemingly jutting out into the sky. I looked down and saw a height I only had seen in movies. My eyes almost felt glitchy trying to take in all the nuances of the valley below. As I tasted the savory flavor of my chicken sandwich, a smile would find its way onto my face with the camaraderie of the group and our many insiders that made me laugh.

Our lunches all smelled fresh, and I recalled making them earlier that morning. As I sat in my groove of the rock, I forgot about all previous parts of the climb. With my nourishment, it felt as though the day was new.

The trek seemed to be endless as every turn brought about more ground to cover. The sweat dripped down my forehead, and I was forcing my breath to be regular. My breath went deep into my chest and filled my entire being. But I could not help but to fall back into my uncontrolled breathing. I struggled climbing up on huge rocks all piled on each other.

It seemed like forever had passed since the last time I thought about the length of the journey. The mental and physical exhaustion were hand in hand and made me feel like just laying on a rock and basking in the sun. My head felt light, and my vision was slow. I climbed on all fours as the abrasive, porous rock scratched my hands with every grab. My breathing became erratic and uncontrollable, and I felt nasty as the sun made the sweat pour from my forehead. It almost felt as though I could feel the blemishes forming on the tip of my nose. My legs were wobbly, and I wondered, how much longer? But I did not want to be weak in front of my party.

I had a realization: I was inexperienced and ill-prepared, but I had come that far. Additionally, I enjoyed this crazy and spontaneous ride that was trying something new. My newfound mental strength found fruition in my gut. I took my next step with determination and energy. The gratification of completing a challenge excited my mind. My breathing slowed and went deep into my lungs. I felt a chill of adrenaline down my spine. I now saw the finish line in front of me.

It was finally in reach, and my goal was attainable. I took my final steps and tasted the salty flavor of sweat in my mouth. I wiped my sweaty hair off my forehead and reveled in my accomplishment. I realized that the French toothpaste no longer had a taste in my mouth.