What do you get when you climb Pikes Peak? I think that was my question before. My goal. My destination. My whole purpose (so I thought) was to climb that beast and get some answers. Whether it comes across or not I do believe in God. I am not religious- never will be. And I don’t do “the God thing” like most. I used to care what others thought about that. Some people certainly let me know I wasn’t “doing it right” in their opinion. And I certainly do not care any longer. So maybe I thought God was going to magically fling down some answers at me. “Speak” to me through the mountain. Let me know WHY. WHY I had so many miscarriages. WHY my Dad was killed so young. WHY my daughter has a chronic condition. WHY my husband got brain rot. WHY my second Mom, Lynda has cancer. WHY. I needed answers. And I thought the mountain would shout them to me.
Let me talk for a minute about the climb. I am in decent shape. My Beachbody workouts, eating well, drinking Shakeology and hiking often got me in pretty darn good shape. Better than in my 20’s. But there is nothing. NOTHING. That can prepare you for climbing Pikes Peak. I live at 7,400 foot elevation. So the trail begins at around 7,500 feet and the summit is 14,110 feet. That’s a HUGE elevation gain and would prove to be the biggest obstacle for me. I pulled my groin muscle around mile 3 and at mile 4 the cracked vertebrae in my neck were screaming. It was horribly painful. Every damn step it hurt. A LOT! I teared up a few times from pain. And let me tell you- a mile on the ground is one step compared to a mile climbing up the side of a mountain. I have never, ever, done something so physically difficult in my life. The last 3 miles above the tree line were the hardest. Treacherous man. Scary and hard and very little oxygen and slippery rocks and it looks like the top of the mountain is forever away and you are just out there. You are a speck on the side of an enormous structure. You feel like nothing. And I realized something at one point when my partner asked me to just “stop”. “Just stop Jennifer and look back at what we’ve done, how far we’ve come….YOU DID ALL THAT”. It makes me cry even typing it. I was so focused on the pain, and the miles and miles of height and rock above me I had not looked back at all. That view. I cannot – I wont even try to find words for it. But all of the symbolism on the many miles of path behind me is not lost. Magnificent views 360 degrees around me. Water and rocks and green trees and desolation and a height you cannot believe surrounded me. I could see snow while I was sweating. I felt exhilarated and motivated while completely physically exhausted. I never had a doubt I’d summit. But I had no idea how hard it would be. And looking back is sometimes necessary because you focus so much on GETTING there, reaching the top, finding a solution, finishing, how much MORE you have to go……that you forget to celebrate all the way you’ve come.
So thank you Susie for reminding me to stop and look back. And be proud. And know how far I’ve come.
So we cranked on. We could not talk much those last 3 miles as we were gasping for thin air and it was hard to breathe let alone talk. So as the summit neared I felt excited. That the top, the answers, the ending, the finality of it all was so close. Just around the corner. And I cried a bit. Just a bit. I walked into a sea of tourists who were taking pictures and eating Pikes Peak donuts and mingling with their families and complaining about their “altitude headaches.” They had driven up here. They barely noticed me. I was one in a crowd. They had no idea I had just WALKED up the mountain they’d driven up. I hugged Susie and I stood there quietly. Waiting for the trumpets and the balloon release and the fireworks and the SHOUT of accomplishment from above. I’ve never been so physically exhausted in my life. My body was just about to give up. It had been pure will power, adrenaline and mercy that got me through that last mile. But there was no shouting. No balloons. No fireworks. And instantly I gained a lifetime’s worth of knowledge. I grew up in that moment. It hit me. Two things really. As Glenda the good witch in The Wizard of Oz said “it was in YOU the whole time”…there were never answers ON the mountain. They were in me all along. And damn it- it was never about what you GET from the mountain. The things you find out or the things you gain…..It was always about what you LEAVE on the mountain. Sometimes….sometimes the things you let go of are vastly more important than the things you grab on to. And you can let a LOT go at 14,110 feet on top of America’s Mountain. A. LOT. And I let a lot go. A lot of things I needed to let go of. And dammit it feels so good. So light.
My body aches today. The day after. I feel every bit of 42 years young. In so many ways. Do you know that sometimes there just aren’t answers to every question. There’s just not. And you have to let go. Let go and be ok that you may never know. And as cheesy as it sounds I TRULY now know its all about the climb. Don’t get me wrong- that SUMMIT IS AMAZING. Nothing like the feeling of that last step. Nothing. A pure raw joy Ive never felt before. One of the greatest physical accomplishments I’ll ever make in my life for sure. And my friend, Erika’s words to me rang in my ear “Girl you fight way bigger battles on the ground- that mountain is NOTHING”. It was never about the summit. It was ALWAYS…ALWAYS about the climb.
I can do hard things. I CAN. I have more tears today than I had yesterday. I think it just took a day to hit me what I’ve done. I cannot thank Susie enough. I cannot thank Patrick enough. I cannot thank those angels I met on the mountain along the way that encouraged me enough. I cannot thank you all enough for your support and encouragement. I gained and lost more than I ever dreamed I would up there! Dream BIG!
I did it, Dad.
“I went up to the Mountain…Because You asked me to. Up over the clouds, to where the sky was blue. I could see all around me. Everywhere. I could see all around me. Everywhere”. ~ Patty Griffin, ‘Up To The Mountain’