This July, I took a bike trip with my oldest son through Glacier National Park and the Canadian Rockies. Having been to Glacier on photographic journeys before, I had a good appreciation for what I was about to experience. Or so I thought.
Glacier and its Canadian counterpart, Waterton, make up the Peace Parks—more than 2 million acres of pristine wilderness, towering mountains, glacier lakes and abundant wildlife. The aptly named Going-to-the-Sun road forms a backbone across the top of Glacier National Park. The Going-to-the-Sun road begins with 14 miles of rolling countryside. Then it climbs for the next 11 miles, ultimately rising to 6,646 feet.
As my son and I began the ride, it started to rain and the temperature dropped. I’d trained the previous four months to make this climb, and I was determined to reach the top. The road is winding and narrow under normal conditions, but the weather made it that much more treacherous. The normally expansive views were now obscured by rain and fog. The path forward kept twisting and turning, never flattening to provide a pause for rest. I had but one choice and that was to keep grinding.
Nevertheless, the experience was incredible—everything I’d bargained for. The fog occasionally opened just long enough to catch a glimpse of the valley below. By this point the rain had turned to snow. I neared the top with less than a half-mile to go and was wet from head to toe, despite the rain gear. Park rangers briefly stopped me to clear a slippery trail somewhere above the mountain pass I was about to top. Once I stopped, I realized how cold I really was. But the final half-mile passed quickly, and before I knew it, I reached the top. And wow! I will never forget that experience.
We went on to have days ahead of beautiful sunny climbs and speedy descents. But it was this climb, this difficult ascent, that I remember most.
Why? First, I was prepared. I trained hard and it paid off. Second, the changing weather added a degree of adversity I hadn’t expected—exactly as things happen in life. Third, while topping the mountain pass was fantastic, it was the journey that I valued most. This was especially true since I cherished the time with my son, who has been my riding partner for many years.
A good friend once gave me a phrase to live by: “It’s all uphill from here.” His comment preceded a debate about how we might solve a difficult challenge. Yes, it would be hard. Yes, we would face adversity, but by working together, we would gain the high ground. There was a mountaintop experience ahead.
I hope that your educational journey at Owen offered you a similar perspective. I trust it was hard and that you faced occasional adversity, but that you gained the higher ground by working with others, many of whom are now your lifelong friends. In a way, the journey that you began at Owen has never really ended. You may be years, or even decades, removed from having received your diploma, but you’re still part of a larger community that is on the move together. We’re making steady progress in our upward climb to where we want this school to be. If we each continue doing our part, I can assure you that a mountaintop experience lies ahead.
It’s all uphill from here.
James W. Bradford
Dean, Vanderbilt Owen Graduate School of Management
Ralph Owen Professor of Management