Conquering Katahdin

When I climbed Katahdin on September 23, 2015 I was in a lot better shape than this past time (June 12, 2018). 2,000 miles of Appalachian Trail hiking had whipped my body into shape. Highly motivated to finish the pilgrimage, enthusiasm drove me to the summit.

This last time, I prepared with walks in the woods with my dog Buddy on Case Mountain in Manchester. Really no comparison. I questioned my readiness. But I was still motivated because of my daughter Samantha.

In 2015, she hiked a section of the AT with me; 280 miles in Virginia where she earned the trail name “Tough Love”. Tough Love adores the outdoors, hiking, camping and the AT. I believe her first venture out on the AT touched her soul. There was one point where her eyes lit up and she flew up Mount Rogers. I knew at that moment God had wired her for hiking. I also knew that part of my role as dad, and coach, was to encourage the development of abilities that generated great joy for her.

In May, Tough Love graduated with her degree in Education. In July, she embarks to
Nairobi, Kenya to teach 1st graders for 5 months. My hope for the Katahdin expedition was for her to conquer a difficult climb and to assure her that she is capable of remarkable accomplishments. I hoped it would be a unique graduation “gift” from her dad.

I sent out notice to some of my hiking buddies several months prior. Paradox indicated her interest. I think of Paradox and Tough Love as trail sisters. To my delight, Paradox flew out from Michigan and eagerly joined us. In Baxter State Park in Maine, I dragged myself out of my sleeping bag. It had been a cold night. My body revolted before I even started, but it warmed up immediately under the exertion. Halfway, I started to question my physical capability.

Tough Love had no doubts or fatigue. She led the charge. Paradox was better than me but slightly discouraged as well. She came to a ledge that required a difficult scramble up.

“I don’t like this”, she said.

“You can do it. I got your back.” I coached.

She made it up. We reached the tablelands safely. I was gassed. Three miles, mostly straight up had left my energy stores depleted. We still had a mile and a half left. The wind howled, my muscles screamed and my legs quivered. I sat down on a rock.

“Paradox, you guys go ahead. I’ll wait here.” Tough Love was several hundred yards in front. She strode confidently up the trail.

“You got this.” She coached back. She offered a fist bump. I fist bumped her back. I stood up. I continued. I trudged the last mile. I counted off 100 steps at a time. I looked up. I repeated the sequence countless times. Finally, I touched the summit sign.

Tough Love had been there for many, many minutes patiently waiting. She beamed while she admired the spectacular view. The wind tore at our footing. We took the obligatory photos, but we still had the descent. I was worried. I was already dead tired. I wanted to take a long, long nap.

Paradox led the way. There were sections where the only way down for me was to slide on my butt. I slid so much I tore a big hole in my pants. I did not make it down unscathed. On one misstep, I rolled my ankle and landed on my face. Later, I tripped on a root, went head over heels, bashed my shin against a rock and tore a sizable piece of skin off. Blood soaked my sock. The last mile was a tough one, even though it was on flat ground.

So Right Click, what’s the point? There are a few that relate to recovery coaching. Follow me here.

1. Recovery Coaches provide opportunities for recoverees to hone their skills and advance their strengths.

One of my abilities is to recognize strengths in people. With Tough Love, it’s easy. She lights up when she works with young children and when she hikes. She is a powerful, athletic, gifted hiker and loves the challenge of the climb. Katahdin offered her one of the most rigorous climbs in New England (where we live). I had been up that mountain before. Why wouldn’t I want to see her conquer it? I carved out the time. She did the rest.

2. Recovery coaches need recovery coaches.

Paradox encouraged me several times on that expedition. She is an incredible hiker, outdoors enthusiast and a joy to be around. She had summited Katahdin 2 other times (2015, 2017). She led by example. And she pushed me when I needed it. I like to think that this old guy (me) also encouraged her. Together we made it to the top. Together we made it down. Together we saw our younger protégé thrive and accomplish the goal.

3. There comes a time when a recovery coach needs to let go of the recoveree.

I could have asked Tough Love to stay by my side, to help me get up Katahdin. I did not. I let her go. I wanted her to test herself. As her dad, when she heads to Nairobi to establish her place in the world, it will be time for me to let go on a grander scale. The thought comes chock full of emotion. I’m filled with pride, curiosity, sadness, concern and love. I’ll always be her dad. I’ll always be her coach. I’ll always care for her.

4. To reach excellence in recovery coaching, coaches must delight in recoveree accomplishments that exceed their own.

I admit I wanted to see Katahdin again, but I might have been content to wait at the bottom. I chose to head up with my daughter, to see how she responded in a difficult situation. She thrived. She was built for it, mentally and physically. She embraced the journey and excelled. Tough Love has become a far better hiker than I. I sensed that I had passed the torch. This day hike was in some ways a rite of passage. Now she would be leading me on the trail. The thought warms my heart.

5. Recovery coaches will take their knocks.

I got to the bottom, wobbly and woozy. I lay down in my tent. Paradox brought me water. I stuck my wounded leg out my tent and Tough Love applied first aid. She still had energy. I did not. I didn’t even eat. I went to sleep. 9 hours up and down Katahdin had taken its toll. My body was beaten and battered. It was a small price to pay.

The Katahdin adventure could not have had a better outcome.

Phil Valentine
Phil Valentine

In 2015, I finished a thruhike of the entire Appalachian Trail, a trek of 2,189.2 miles. It took 189 days and 6 pairs of boots. During all that time alone with my Creator, my purpose in life became more precisely defined. I am, simply, to coach recovery. Recovery saved me from an early demise and brought purpose to my tattered life. I have learned that I’m a coach to my very core. I am blessed to put the two together. I started work at the Connecticut Community for Addiction Recovery (CCAR) in 1999. I became the Executive Director of this recovery community organization in 2004. I have trained the CCAR Recovery Coach Academy© dozens of times and have a hand in modifying, improving and adapting various recovery coach curricula. I’m old enough now to start considering my legacy. This is a way for me to share things I have learned in my recovery, in my role as Executive Director and a trainer. I find that when I speak I present the same messages over and over. It’s time to write them down.

Phil “Right Click” Valentine
Recovery established 12.28.87

5 thoughts on “Conquering Katahdin”

  1. Enjoyed the recent about trekking with you daughter. I have a daughter and hope to encourage her as you have to push beyond her perceived limitations. Great stuff Phil! See you in Punta Gorda.
    Hal Watkins,
    Healing Transitions

  2. Go Phil Go! Thanks for your inspiration and guidance, we as Coaches (and avid hikers who have lofty peak-bagging/through-hiking goals) look to you as a North Star and we are so lucky to have you leading the way!

  3. richard pacukonas

    One of the surest ways to enlightenment is … to pass the torch! Well done. This is why you got sober in AA. Peace, rick p

  4. Roman Barksdale

    Phil it’s always a blessing to read about your personal experience. It lets the readers know that would determination and a strength not of Their Own that we as a recovery people can overcome all obstacles with the strength not of Our Own. Dreams are rekindled and families are reunified that we can read engage in our personal goals and Inspire others. Yours truly 10 / 5.

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