Edie Banovic '25

Newburyport High School, Newburyport, Massachusetts

“How many times did I wake up at 4:15 a.m. this summer?” I found myself once again asking this question as I climbed endless stone steps with bruised shins and dirt-filled fingernails. The answer: twenty-two times. I was in a rush to finish the 48th peak before school began in order to fulfill a goal I set in fifth grade after meeting a wild pack of Appalachian Trail through-hikers. I marveled at their determination. Climbing all 48 four thousand foot peaks within New Hampshire is an ambitious goal that takes some people a lifetime to finish. There I was, at 6:15 a.m., gasping for air and wondering who I should blame for the pain.

Maybe I had my parents to blame for my drive to be in the wilderness. They exposed me to the outdoors at a young age, sparking my passion for hiking and backpacking. Having lived in China for four and a half years and traveling the world, I always knew my childhood was unique. Unlike other expatriates, my family dismissed four-star resorts and instead chose to stumble through the alleyways of Hong Kong with an array of camping supplies. As a six-year-old, I was fortunate enough to find myself in Italy running from a wild herd of cattle in the Alps. During our summers in Oregon, instead of renting a car, we pedaled through the hilly streets on a three-person bike. These experiences, that made my family different, instilled in me a sense of adventure.

The 48 strenuous climbs and endless miles also brought beautiful vistas. If we were lucky, we got to end the day at a high mountain hut where we drank endless cups of rich hot chocolate. I would sit in the corner of the dining room engrossed in books about rare lichen. At Mizpah hut, I had the chance to talk with a female naturalist about some of the endangered alpine flora. I sat and stared in awe. I didn't know that someone could have a job doing field studies in the mountains. I’ve spent the last six years looking at the sides of the trails for the dwarf Cinquefoil she introduced to me. That’s when I knew I wanted to become a hands-on environmentalist so I could spend more time doing the things I love. Maybe I have the naturalist to blame for all the blisters and early mornings on the trail.

Mount Isolation was my last peak. One last push. Number 48. 13.6 miles. After the first grueling thirty minutes, the path opened up and I could see all the way to the Atlantic Ocean. This is the way it always goes. First, the struggle, and then the reward. Mt. Washington glowed like amber. The wind nipped at my fingertips and shook the crooked trees. My heavy breathing competed with the sounds of the white-throated sparrows. I had the entire mountain to myself. Overwhelmed by emotion, I began to cry bittersweet tears. No more waking up at 4:15 a.m. but then again, no more celebratory Cokes at the top. I was done. I decided to let go of the blame for all the early mornings. Instead, I would love to give my fifth grade-self a big “thank you”.

The struggles only augmented the joy I felt on the car ride home with music playing and my feet wiggling in the wind. I felt that I had graduated from my childhood. Hiking over the past seventeen years with my family has created endless memories, yet it's time for me to start a new chapter of my life. Maybe I’ll hike the Adirondack 46ers, explore sections of the Appalachian Trail, or guide others through the wilderness. But I know I will always continue to look around and search for rare specimens and marvel at the ordinary.