Overcoming Apprehension on the Journey to Alaska
Marine veteran Edward Mertz describes the emotional path leading to one epic summit
by Laura Baldwin, No Barriers staff
Ed Mertz is one of the members of the 2017 Warriors to Summits team. We reached out to Ed at his Texas home to talk about his experiences so far and feelings about heading north to Alaska in early September.
PART 1: ON CROSSING THE FIRST BARRIER — APPLYING
Q: Initially, it was your wife Jennifer who nominated you for Warriors to Summits. How did it feel learning that she had recommended you for this program and wanted you to be able to go on these expeditions?
A: To be honest, I did not put much thought into it. I did not want to get my hopes up and then be let down. Too many times I have started projects and never see them to completion. Lacking motivation or getting sidetracked with other ideas is my bane. Jennifer knew that if I was chosen for this expedition, it would force me to follow it through to completion because of my strong dedication to teamwork. Deep down I knew she was right.
Q: What inspired Jennifer to nominate you?
A: My wife had told me about Warriors to Summits after reading a success story of a previous participant. She is a member of a national caregiver support group, and one of the members talked about the experience that her husband had the previous year. She asked me if I wanted to apply, but I was hesitant. Having no real knowledge of what this program entailed, I was a bit apprehensive.
Q: Why were you apprehensive about applying?
A: At that time in my life I had lost motivation and fell into a rut. But I was really looking for a way to reconnect with other veterans. I had been talking about getting out of the house, but what I really needed was that shove. No Barriers Warriors was that shove.
Q: What helped convince you to apply? Did you do some research or read other participant stories?
A: To be honest, I dove into this expedition blind. I did not fully grasp the entire program and its reason for being. After reading about the previous participant’s success stories and the feedback from the caregiver support group, I was highly enthusiastic to apply and take my chance.
It was better than what I was currently doing. Nothing. Anything is better than just standing still.
Trying to summit mountains in Alaska may not have been the top on my list, but I did need that sense of belonging and camaraderie again. This is a team effort as well as individual. Knowing that others rely on me for joint success in tackling Mt Brooks is pushing me past my personal obstacles.
Q: What stood out as the most appealing part of the program?
A: What interested me most was that if selected I would have a solid goal to keep me moving forward. I needed this in my life. Goals and moving forward. I wanted to live life, not just exist.
After my medical retirement, I tried to find a higher purpose. Nothing seemed to grab my attention and if it did, the drive was nonexistent. Fear of failure. Fear of the unknown. Fear of not knowing what my future held. These were the driving forces behind my hesitation to find new interests.
PART 2: ON GETTING HIS FEET WET (LITERALLY, AT TIMES) WITH TRAINING EXPEDITIONS
Q: Have you ever tried anything like this [Warriors to Summits] before, either with a group or independently?
A: We have utilized several veteran support organizations in the past few years. They are all wonderful in the areas they are strongest in. Some were financial, some were spiritual, and others were informational. Warriors to Summits is exceptional in their own way. Warriors to Summits has transformed my life with their unique way of assisting veterans and solid aftercare when the expeditions were completed.
Q: What did you do to prepare for the first training expedition?
A: For the first expedition, I struggled to find the enthusiasm to prepare. Not really knowing what to expect, my motivational mindset was uncertain. I knew I had to be somewhat more active and get conditioned for the trek, so I would go hiking along the various trails near my hometown. It did, however, get me out of the house and become more active. Live life…not just exist.
The first expedition took a toll on my body, both physically and mentally. It was hard. It was exciting. It was the shove I needed to reclaim my life and start over.
Q: What was it like being the field?
A: The views were breathtaking and the peace and quiet was good for my soul. Training was difficult and pushed my body past my limits, but at night the silence from everyday noise had such a healing effect. I also realized that I was not fully prepared for the physical aspect of this expedition and that upon returning home I would have to step up my game.
Q: There was about a month in between the first and second training expeditions. What did you do during that time?
A: During the short period between the first and second expedition I pushed my body more. Hiking with weighted packs, going further and further each time. Getting up early in the morning to workout had become something I looked forward to rather than a chore. It was a struggle at times, and it still is, but the fire has been lit and nothing can extinguish it.
Q: What has it been like being around other veterans and the team’s expedition leaders in this environment?
A: The veterans and guides have been an inspiration to me. So many trials and tribulations to overcome. These are amazing individuals that encourage and support each other. We are all survivors. We all have our demons to prevail over and we understand each other, sometimes without saying a word.
PART 3: ON GEARING UP FOR ALASKA — PHYSICALLY, MENTALLY, EMOTIONALLY
Q: Denali National Park & Preserve is 6 million acres of wilderness, with Mt. Brooks — your next destination — right in the center of it all. What were your initial thoughts and feelings about going to Alaska for the 3rd expedition?
A: I have seen pictures of Mt Brooks, and it is extremely impressive. The mountain looms over the rugged terrain of Denali National Park. This journey will be an emotional one, as we have all worked so hard to push through our limitations.
I am still somewhat apprehensive about this final expedition. The transformation between each stage has been remarkable, but there is always the self-doubt that I cast over myself.
Q: What have you been doing to prepare for this trip: physically, mentally, and emotionally?
A: Physically I am concentrating more on my core. It is that strength that will help stabilize my entire body. This is will assist me in traversing the rolling hills, rocks, and glaciers as we make our ascent. Heavier weights are in my pack to simulate the weight of the gear I will be carrying. This is essential because we are all required to transport the required equipment from one campsite to the next.
Training was difficult and pushed me beyond my comfort zone, which I needed. Mental road blocks are always difficult to overcome, but with the help of the guides and fellow veterans my confidence is gaining.
Q: What do you hope to gain long-term through this journey?
A: After my journey is complete, I look forward to new challenges that will awaken my soul and keep this fire burning.