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Every summer, At The Crossroads (ATC), my DukeEngage partner site, organizes a hike up Mount Tamalpais (Mt. Tam) in order to raise money so that they can continue to help young people experiencing homelessness move beyond the streets of San Francisco. Throughout the summer we did an assortment of jobs to help put on this fundraising hike. We reached out to volunteers and sponsors. We organized and secured hiking materials. We wrote thank you note after thank you note to donors. And by the time the week of the hike came, I was more than ready to be out on a mountain, doing work for a great cause.

I don’t know why I hadn’t looked it up earlier, but the night before the hike I got curious about the elevation of Mt. Tam, so I googled it… 2, 572 feet. That’s it? 2, 572 feet? I thought they said this was a mountain? I’m from Colorado, and when I heard about this hike I jumped on the opportunity to work at ATC. I thought I was going to be out on a mountain, helping people climb up beyond the tree line, into the thin air, at least up at 6,000 feet. I’m not going to lie and say I wasn’t a little disappointed that this “mountain” turned out to really be more of a hill. But, I was still excited to be out in nature, making a difference in the lives of homeless youth. On the morning of the hike I got up at the crack of dawn, ready to tackle this “mountain”.

We got to the trailhead, checked people in, and groups went off on their hikes while we got ready for them to return for a picnic lunch. I desperately wished I could be out on the mountain hiking myself, and as the first couple of people started coming back I was more than ready to live vicariously by hearing all about their experience. A couple hikers were telling me all about their hike, how hard some parts were, how cool it was at the top. I was taking it all with a grain of salt, this was a “mountain” how hard could it really be? They told me that the worst part was that one of them got the song The Climb by Miley Cyrus stuck in everyone’s heads. Strangely, I could relate. I had The Climb stuck in my head the whole time I climbed my first Colorado 14er, and honestly, in the moment, the song kind of helps.

It got me thinking about how we shared this experience of pushing ourselves on a hike, trying to motivate ourselves anyway we could. It made me take a step back and recognize that it didn’t really matter how big the mountain was, what mattered was the climb. Someone who has summited Mt. Everest probably thinks a Colorado 14er is nothing, but it’s the climb.

If there’s one thing I’ve learned in my time at ATC, and in San Francisco in general, it’s that we have way more in common than we think. We are all climbing our own mountains, some are bigger, some are smaller, but no one’s life is completely flat. Who am I to judge what a mountain is or isn’t if I’ve never climbed it myself? Who am I to give anything less value when I have no way of truly understanding it?

ATC’s mission is to meet young people experiencing homelessness where they are, to listen to them, and to give them the resources and support they need so that they can climb their own mountains; this is something I’ll take with me long after my DukeEngage experience. Whether it’s 2,572 feet, 14,270 feet, or even 29,029 feet, it’s all about the climb.