Perception shapes our reality, but I didn’t expect a lesson at 7,000 feet.

About two weeks ago I took a few days away from computers and headed out into the frigid cold of West Yellowstone, Montana, to go snowmobiling. I am not sure if you remember what snowmobiles used to be like, but they were something like lawn mowers. The engines were cranky and slow. If they started at all, they started with a sputter, after too many pulls.


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Now they start right up without much fanfare and they are fast – deceptively fast.

The four of us were riding through a mature coniferous forest on hard packed snow at around 7,000 feet. The machines hardly struggled. The trail went suddenly vertical. I was number two rider.

The sled in front of me pitched upward maintaining its velocity and climbed the astonishingly steep wall without hesitation. I followed…

Earlier that day, as we raced through the dense, cold air, I relished the detail of the experience. The loud wailing of the machine disturbing the quiet forest was honest in its way.

The cuttingly crisp air dried out my sinus and froze my mask. The perfect light detailed each frozen edge and nook on the trail with a crisp outline. Each of those nooks communicating through the sled to me as I went by.

The rich pieces of the experience passed at about forty miles per hour and yet it seemed to be happening in slow motion.

When I reached the top of the wall everything stayed exactly the same, and yet, was completely different. I had gone up a few hundred feet, yes that is true. The snow was not terribly different. The vibrations were there. I was even traveling at basically the same speed, through air of about the same temperature, riding behind the same rider…

But I couldn’t see the ground any more.

The sky was blanketed in low clouds, and the ground once so richly detailed, was now a flat white waste fading seamlessly upward into the snowy sky.

The palate of deep green on the trees and the subtle shades of blue and white in the sky were replaced with a puffy, muted, flatness.

Marking posts edging the trail whizzed silently by. Their blackness, and the black of the rider in front of me were the only visual clues left of the world around me.

What had only an hour before seemed like slow motion now seemed terribly fast. The vibrations pouring up through the machine were no longer physical confirmations of visual cues but rather a series of surprising announcements.

My surroundings had not changed, but my perceptions had, and I felt the difference in my gut.

How have your perceptions affected your own reality, for good or otherwise?