How appropriate considering the only time I’ve been in Burlington was during the vacation that set me on the path of better health.
It was September 2004, a few months before I joined Weight Watchers, and I weighed 300 pounds. Larry and I hadn’t been on a vacation in years, partly because I was busy with my antique store but mostly because I didn’t like to travel very far from home. I lived with a lot of inner demons when I was morbidly obese which made me prone to panic and anxiety. But the times were changing and I was getting restless. I missed my freedom and no longer wanted to feel stuck in my body and mind, so I agreed to a vacation.
We chose the Adirondacks because Larry wanted me to see the high peaks he calls his spiritual home. Whiteface Mountain was the site of the downhill ski competition during the 1980 Olympics in Lake Placid. Unlike most of the peaks that required visitor to hike to the peak, Whiteface has a five-mile road called the Veterans Memorial Highway that leads to the summit. Given I was in no shape to hike 50 yards let alone 4,600 feet, we chose to drive up Whiteface.
I’ve always been afraid of heights to the point of feeling dizzy and physically ill looking down from anywhere higher than a third-story building. It didn’t occur to me as we were driving up the mountain that we were going to a place where the vegetation was sparse and you can see Canada 100 miles away.
On the last curve of Veterans Memorial Highway is the entrance to the parking lot which is the entrance to the summit. When we turned that corner, the view hit me like a two by four. Even though I was safe inside the Jeep, I felt like some uncontrollable force would open the door and propel me into the atmosphere.
“I have to get off this mountain!” I cried.
There were cars driving up behind us, a parking lot attendant ahead of us, and tourists mulling about taking photos. I had to choose which fear I feared most: freaking out and drawing attention to obese me in the Jeep Cherokee or being 4,600 feet in the air.
“Do you want me to park or drive back to the bottom?” Larry asked after he paid the attendant.
I had to think for a minute. I knew how eager Larry was to show me the view and I already felt guilty for being too large to fit in the fishing boat the day before or to go on a simple hike without my back giving out. The least I could do was sit on top of this mountain and try to figure out what it was he wanted me to see.
Larry parked the Jeep. I opened one eye and looked around. I opened my door and put one foot on the ground. The sun was bright, the air was clean and warm, and my head felt steadier. I got out of the Jeep and we walked to the middle of the parking lot.
“Wow,” I said, amazed that I was so calm. “It’s really beautiful up here.” Larry just smiled.
I walked a little closer to the 3-foot stone wall, the only thing separating me from the bottom of the mountain. My body started buzzing a little, but I breathed evenly and told myself I wasn’t going to suddenly lose my mind and jump over the edge.
My courage was rewarded with a breathtaking view of Lake Placid to the west, Lake Champlain to the east and Canada to the north.
“Oh my,” I said, looking out into the valley.
Larry and I walked to the granite castle at the end of the parking lot where I did something even more unimaginable than looking over a mountain’s edge. I asked Larry to take a photo of me standing below the sign that read, “Whiteface Castle, El. 4602’”. I’m not sure who was more surprised – Larry or me.
I wrapped my flannel shirt around my waist thinking that would make me look smaller, and posed with my hand to my mouth in mock fear.
Three years later, that photo was broadcast worldwide on the Oprah Winfrey Show.
Funny how, when we learn to trust our inner selves a little, our true natures can shine through. That vacation was the best gift I ever gave myself. I was glad to be reminded of that this morning. Thanks, Burlington!