One of my favorite things is to hike up mountains. Let me back up just a second: one of my favorite things to do is romanticize hiking up mountains.
You see, I love the idea of it all: the physical challenge, being outdoors and being allowed to be in my head, taking in the lush surroundings. Hiking is an activity that really suits me well, I think. And many of my favorite moments with my wife involve hiking. It’s a part of my life that I genuinely enjoy and, given how I haven’t gone on a long and tough hike in a while, miss.
But also, it’s not very glamourous. Like, the experience isn’t that warm, filtered photo in an REI catalog come to life. A lot of my hiking adventures have generally been great but more than a few have included: panic attacks, nearly stepping on a rattle snake, having a rattle snake slither between my legs without me noticing, and getting lost on a solo hike as a novice (that last one was all my fault and, trust me, I know how stupid it was for me to do).
So, yeah, hiking also acts as a conduit for Mother Nature to communicate constant reminders that I am a frail and extremely mortal being in, perhaps, the most aesthetically pleasing way possible.
Which is all a very long way of saying that I appreciate, then, the time spent at the top of each mountain I’ve been on. Some have views better than others, sure, but something about standing on this speck raised up a bit higher than normal is truly awe-inspiring.
Liverpool’s ascent to being considered among the best in England has been a long and arduous one. But even though that journey has taken the better part of 9 years, one still can’t help but feel that it’s all come on a bit sudden.
Because it was merely 9 years ago that Liverpool were mired in the muck with the threat of administration looming over them. And even though FSG had swooped in and saved them from that dire prospect, the resulting years were all a bit stop and start.
There was that era of no Champions League competition. The wondering if we would ever be competitive without the financial muscle that comes from being involved in Europe’s biggest and brightest footballing stage. And if we would forever be relegated to being linked to big names during transfer season only to have our hopes dashed when that prospect would choose a team better situated talent-wise.
And reflecting on the fact that Jurgen only took over for us a mere four years ago, at a time when Liverpool were unqualifiedly stuck in the neutral and seeming unable to make good on the promise of the work from just two season further, it feels even more sudden. Because it would only be about 3 years and change before Jurgen Klopp would guide a Liverpool squad back to the top of European glory.
It was, in fact, a bit of a dizzying ascent. One that happens fast and forces you to really work your legs and chew the air around you in search of oxygen to feed your tired body.
One of my favorite climbs is also the most challenging: Mount Baldy in the San Gabriel mountains. It’s a short, four mile up-and-back trail (8 miles total) that climbs over 4,000 feet during its time. Meaning it’s basically a stair case for the entire 4 miles. And you start at over 1 mile above sea level. This one works you.
My first trip up, I took what was supposed to be the shorter, less challenging route. Because I didn’t read directions well (again, this is why going solo is dumb...thankfully, I wasn’t alone here), the hike was made much more arduous than I needed it to.
In fact, I’ll forever remember this hike as the one that I was over multiple times before reaching the end. That’s because I ended up cresting over a summit at least once before the big summit. Unbeknownst to me, I was hiking a trail that would have me summit a slightly shorter mountain on my way to the top of Baldy.
It felt a bit discouraging, to come over that ridge and to realize that, about another mile or so off, was the real summit. The true goal. But that’s what I was after. So, I kept putting one foot in front of the other to get on.
Liverpool’s clinical (if hard fought) victory over Manchester City didn't put them at the top of the Big Mountain in English football. But it was a smaller summit on the way to the big prize.
And thinking back on when I was on that smaller mountain, the reaction today is pretty similar. Jurgen was asked about what this meant and he responded that while he was proud of the quality of the match and the result, he wasn’t going to think it was cause to celebrate beyond that. There was still everything to play for.
Which is true, of course. There’s still the big summit looming. But this was a big hurdle. And one that throws very real pressure on those chasing us. Because Liverpool have taken max points from the teams directly behind them, the path to the top remains entirely within their own control. They are the pace setters, while everyone else will need to rely on slip ups here or there.
That’s what I want to reflect on this international break, though. That while this win isn’t the final destination, it’s still worth savoring and enjoying. Because the view from up here is a different kind of special.
All those years ago, I remember myself feeling incredibly tired and a bit dehydrated. It was a warm day and because I can be a bit mean to myself, I insisted on putting my head down and powering through to the next summit.
I’d never see the top of that mountain again - my other summit trips to the top of Baldy have all gone the more direct, if more physically demanding, route. And given the nature of that first trail - double exposure, meaning sheer drops on both sides of a trail that was about a body and a half’s width - and my fear of heights, it’s unlikely I’ll be up that way in the future.
What I think of now is how I didn’t drink in every vista that I earned that day. So, here’s to all of us Reds, using the next couple of weeks to soak in the magnificent view from atop this mountain on the way to the big summit. We earned this view, might as well enjoy it.