Austria Adventures: Climb every mountain

MICHELLE SAMANO
AUSTRIAN CORRESPONDENT

Hiking has been a new hobby for me this semester. I am from Chicago, which is not only the “windy city” but also a notably flat part of the United States. Living on main campus introduced me to a hillier terrain, and I felt like I had truly seen mountains then. My first hiking excursion in that area was fun, and I really thought the hills in West Virginia were mountains. I was so wrong.

Upon my arrival in Gaming, I had the same idea. We live in the foothills of the Alps. I felt very accomplished when I made it to the top of Book Mountain during the first week. I was sore the next day, and I was convinced I could truly say I had climbed a mountain. Again, I was still off.

Two weekends ago, I went to Medjugorje, which was a life changing experience. We climbed Cross Mountain and Apparition Hill, both rocky, jagged terrains. I was impressed by those who chose to do it barefoot as a sort of penance or for their intentions. I had truly thought, after all that sweat and muscle work, that I had finally climbed a real mountain. But believe it or not, it wasn’t a real mountain. At least it wasn’t in comparison to the one to come.

This past weekend, several students, professors and I went to the home of Bl. Pier Giorgio Frassati in Pollone, Italy. He was an amazing man and truly is a blessed of the youth. One of his favorite things to do was hike the mountains around him, and our group leaders led us up the mountain on a hike like he took. We were not prepared for it at all.

That mountain, up and down, was the hardest thing I have ever done in my life. I hiked in a pair of sketchers, and none of us knew that the top would be covered in half a foot of snow. We were cold, wet, muddy and exhausted. Yet reaching the top and seeing all of God’s beauty below was so significant. We were above the clouds, and we had done something none of us could ever have imagined doing. We were on top of a mountain!

But then there was the matter of getting down before dark. It was so snowy and already so late that we didn’t have time to make it to the path down. We had to take a shortcut. A very difficult shortcut. I will admit, it was dangerous. Every step had to be taken with caution because it was snowy, slippery, and there were hidden obstacles on the steep, rocky route down. I was scared and anxious because my feet were losing feeling and I was exhausted.

We experience up moments in life, our moments at the peak of the mountain, and low moments where everything seems impossible. Both these moments are crucial in our lives, and the thing that makes all the difference at these moments is the support system we have around us. We get through the ups and downs with the help of our friends and family.

I would never have made it down that mountain without help. I sustained an injury and I was exhausted. I made it down slowly and surely thanks to my amazing RD and fellow students who kept me present and in good spirits. By the grace of God we all made it down safe out of this difficult place because we helped each other.

One of the things that struck me about this weekend was our professors. After this weekend, I have come to appreciate and respect the Gaming professors more than I did before. We had three professors with us, and this escape from the reality that is school and the fellowship we had was a special experience. They are not just our professors but our brothers and sisters in Christ, hiking the mountain, traveling up and down, just like we do.

I think back to the book my household, Acceptance With Joy, is founded upon. In “Hinds’ Feet on High Places,” the main character, Much Afraid, goes through a journey with the help of the Good Shepherd to get her “hind’s feet” and learn to accept her sorrows and sufferings with great joy. That’s what it is to hike the mountain, in real life or metaphorically. We may be afraid, but the Good Shepherd (Jesus) is there to hold our hand each step of the way. We must learn to accept our trials with joy, because to suffer is to suffer with Christ.

Yeah, I hiked a mountain. It was hard. But I did it, thanks to the support of my peers, professors and Jesus. And I will continue to hike the mountains in my life.