A man in an orange cycling suit cycles up a long road on Haleakalā Volcano in Maui. He's so high up that he's above the clouds.
Derek Davis Everesting Up Haleakalā VolcanoImage by: Derek Davis
A man in an orange cycling suit cycles up a long road on Haleakalā Volcano in Maui. He's so high up that he's above the clouds.
8 November 2022

Derek’s Story: Climb Mountains, Don’t Carry Them

Derek Davis
5 minutes read time

My wife and I visited Haleakalā in 2010. We were told it was one of the top ten sunrises in the world, so knew it was something we had to see. The view is incredible -- looking out from about 10,000 feet up, you’re above the clouds. On our way back down, our guide pointed to a guy biking up the volcano, so we cheered him on. He turned to us and said, “You’re going the wrong way.” In that moment it was just something a stranger had said to me. But later in life, it kept coming back up. This idea of going down the wrong path.

I used to be a paramedic. It was all about other people. What could I do to change a person’s life in that moment? I had exposure to men suffering, often in silence, with mental health issues all the time. In 2019, my own mental health challenges came to the forefront, when I was diagnosed with Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD).

I had become very aware of my coworkers just disappearing. They just didn't show up to work one day, and you never knew where they went or what had happened. It was a mix of physical injuries, but also a lot of mental health injuries, and because there was so much stigma around it, no one talked about it. No one would acknowledge it, because the moment you did that, you started to feel vulnerable -- like it could happen to you. Like it could take you down any moment.

I started to ask myself, “How can I make myself more resilient?”, because I was realizing that every first responder will feel this some way if they stay in the job long enough. I needed a toolkit to deal with it. I spoke with my wife, and told her what was going on. I started meditation, seeing a psychologist and reflecting on my own mental health. I had just been pushing through and carrying on up until that point, and realized I needed a break. Having those experiences and pushing through them was going the wrong way. Ignoring the problems was going the wrong way. And continuing to be a paramedic when it was destroying me was going the wrong way. So, I realized I had to leave the workplace and that career path, and instead start a new path, up the mountain.

On September 12th, 2022 I returned to Haleakalā, to take on an Everesting challenge to help raise awareness around men’s health, mental health and suicide prevention. This means cycling the height of Everest – 29,000 feet. From training to the journey itself, this challenge has had its bumps.

On day 1 back in Maui, I realized a key piece of my bike was broken, so had to scramble to find a bike I could use to start the journey. On that first day, we made it to about 7,000 feet by the time the sun came up. The sunrise from the 7,000 mark is beautiful, but it’s only just the first part of the ride. 7,000 feet is when the second ride begins. You start to feel the lack of oxygen, the impacts of the energy you’ve been putting into the effort. By the time I made it to my second trip up the volcano, we were about halfway to Everest. But at that point, I had to end the day. My body couldn’t go any further. So, we headed back and weren’t sure what the next day would hold.

Day 2, I woke up at 3AM and was ready to go again. It was pouring rain, but we started from where we left off, and made it to the top – above the clouds. On our way back down, I hit a patch of river water going across the road, hydroplaned, and ended up crashing. All of these challenges, they started to compare to my own life’s challenges with PTSD. You think you’re getting over the hill, and you realize that it’s nowhere near the top and all you can see is more of it ahead. Again, I had to call it a day.

On the third day, we made it to the top – amidst the fog of the volcano – and celebrated climbing up the heigh of Everest. I did it. It didn’t happen the way I had wanted it to happen, but when I think about how it happened, that was the way it was meant to be for me.

We become so obsessed with outcomes, and decide that a certain outcome is what we’re going to achieve. But we forget – it’s everything it takes to get there that is far more important than the actual outcome, and the outcome will be what it is. There will always be an outcome. But we don't actually have any control over what that outcome will be, and how we get there.

We all struggle, and sometimes it feels like we’re carrying a mountain. You might not realize it, because it’s a mountain built piece by piece. You take a little more on, then something else happens, the mountain grows. You’re walking along with this mountain, one piece falls away or a change happens, and all of a sudden it can feel like that mountain is going to crush you.

You can climb the mountain, and that's the other side of it. It’s that duality, that you can also just set it down and climb over it and move on. You can leave it behind. It's not easy. Climbing the mountain actually seems a lot harder than carrying it. But when you get to the other side, you realize that you can climb these mountains and you can get past these mental health challenges. You can get through the stigma of it all, and on the other side, you get to leave it behind.

Support Derek's efforts to raise funds and awareness for men’s health.