I’ve heard it called a mid life crisis. I pictured a 50 year old man with a bit of a gut, a receding hairline he’s trying to save, and a sports car he shouldn’t have bought. I pictured him flirting with younger women and making a fool of himself. I pictured a cheesy shirt and some jewelry he shouldn’t be wearing and a dirty martini. Its what I pictured. What crept up and slapped me square in the face was what it really is. Not so much a crisis as a stage of life. A transition. A skin shedding. A wing spreading. A death and a rebirth….and most shocking of all….not a HIM at all.
Someone once told me I was doing it wrong. DOING IT WRONG. It doesn’t matter what “IT” was. I saw a quote that says “Just because someone is on a different path than you does not mean they are lost.” That person who told me I was doing it wrong….she was wrong. She was very wrong. I have made a million mistakes, some bad decisions, said some words I regretted, hurt some people I shouldn’t have, and all of it has me right here, right now. And there’s no place else Im supposed to be.
When I was 15 I had my first “boyfriend”. Then I had a boyfriend every year for the rest of my life. Before I met Patrick I spent some months alone. Going out with friends and to parties as a single girl. But other than those months there has been very little time since I was 15 that I did not have a boyfriend.
Marilyn Monroe once said “Give A Girl the Right Pair of Shoes and She’ll Conquer the World.”
I’m pretty sure she meant some amazingly beautiful high heels that were so sexy only SHE could walk in them. And she conquered the world in her way. I love beautiful shoes. Its one of my downfalls. Love them. Some gorgeous Jimmy Choos or Manolos or even a crazy sweet pair of riding boots. One of my favorite shoes of mine is my Steve Madden cowboy boots I wore all during Beachbody Summit in Nashville. When you put on a pair of shoes they transform you. They decide what you are going to be that day. Most days I live in my workout cross trainers. They are comfortable and stable and they make me feel strong and healthy and remind me of what I am. What I do. How I help people and keep my physical body fit and well. Putting them on my feet makes me know I am going to either dance or lift weights or do Isometrics or push ups or any and all of the above.
My old school Converse are very me. Laid back, casual, able to be worn with anything. And I am most me, most comfortable in a t-shirt and old jeans with my Converse. I know lunch with friends or running errands or shopping or going to the kids school functions or a drive with the husband or a football game or soccer game is in the cards.
Flip flops are more common in Colorado than you’d think. And mine are glittery- of course. And they remind me of Texas and hot weather and swimming pools and lakes and 4th of July and shorts and make me smile. I know I pay more attention to my pedicure during sandal season. Love my flip flops.
My cowboy boots are awesome. And beautiful. And rustic and weathered looking and black. And they make me feel good. They make me feel like I live in the country and they go with dresses and jeans and shorts and pretty much anything. And there is something strong and grand about a good pair of real cowboy boots. Something quiet and strong.
I never owned a pair of trail shoes, hiking shoes, Merrels, until I moved to Colorado just over two years ago. When we first moved here my husband decided we needed to “Colorado-fy” ourselves. We bought thick coats and real mittens and scarfs and crazy gear for cold weather I’d never seen before. We didn’t need that stuff much in Texas. One of the purchases was a pair of hiking shoes. Because he decided we were going to hike a lot. One of the reasons we moved to Colorado was to live more outdoors. We did not know how much time brain rot would allow for him to be physically active. And we were 100% in. Lets do this Colorado thing. All the way.
So I started researching hiking shoes and asking people and had done a few short hikes in my Nike Tennis Shoes enough to know that THAT was not going to cut it. I needed REAL hiking shoes. And I was clueless. Again….not many mountains in Dallas. I think I tried on a million pair. Until I found mine. These Merrels. These brown, ugly, old lady looking Merrels. They sure felt good and in this case form & function was way more important than looks. So we invested. I got the good hiking shoes. And for two years I have worn them WAY more, exponentially more than I ever dreamed I would. I had absolutely no idea how important hiking would become to me. How huge a part of my life it would become. What it would represent and lead to. I cannot count the number of hikes I’ve been on in two years.
I’ve hiked with my kids, with my husband, with dear friends, with strangers, and alone. And always…always….with my Merrels.. The one constant. Every hike is different. Some are for escape from reality. Some are for friend time and gossiping. Some are dates. Some are to listen to my kids TALK. Some are because I NEED to be outside. And maybe a few are for exercise. They all feed my soul. They’ve all been necessary. Some hikes are short and easy. Some are treacherous and scary. Some hurt. Some take me way longer than I expected. Some slap my ego down a few notches. Nature can be a bitch. I am no match for her. Just grateful she lets me play on her playground.
My shoes are two years old. I hiked Friday and one of the friends I was with said its a good idea to get new hiking shoes once a year if you hike often. I kind of got quiet and thought about that. Before my Pikes Peak hike I had thought about getting new shoes. But I didn’t want to worry about breaking them in and I KNEW my Merrels would get me through. I knew I could trust there’d be no blisters, no tired feet, no aching, and even when they are wet and muddy they still keep my feet dry and happy. So my Merrels took me up Pikes Peak. When my groin muscle pulled and screamed and my neck hurt so bad I cried and my shoulders were burning and my head hurt…..my feet kept going. My feet never hurt. My hiking shoes were rockstars.
I have some pretty cool shoes. Some pretty gorgeous heels and boots and I love getting dressed up so much you just don’t know. Thats become more rare since moving to the mountains. And in a million years I never thought that if this Texas girl was asked to pick her favorite pair of shoes it would be my damn ugly ass hiking shoes. But they are. The past two years have brought so many changes. New friendships, progressive disease, new jobs and opportunities, new schools, broken hearts, disappointment, joy, adventure and so much more. And every hike I take is the medication, the stress relief, the antidote to life. And all the shit. I cannot ever imagine again a life without hiking. And I need new shoes. I need new hiking shoes. Mine are worn out. And they’ve done there job. Very well. But I want to keep hiking and breathing and laughing and gossiping and making friends and seeing new trails….so I’ll get a new pair. But I’ll keep these forever. Who gets sentimental over shoes? Damn it. I guess I do. Especially when they are so much more than just shoes.
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’
Well I was wondering when it would hit me. Today is the day. The first week of August has sucked for 9 years now. NINE. YEARS. Shit that went fast. My husband is out of town all week. The kids have a TON of stuff going on with soccer and cheer and school about to start. I’m planning to hike Pikes Peak Saturday. Oh- and its the 9th anniversary of my Dad’s death. I was hoping this stupid August thing was over. I think it’s just a combination of nerves about the climb, worrying about the weather that day, not wanting to disappoint anyone, my husband being gone all week and the craziness of end of summer.
But I was rifling through some old boxes the other day that I had never unpacked since we moved here and found some CD’s. Music CDs. And they were homemade and had my Dad’s handwriting on them. I had never listened to them before. I guess it’s one of the things of his I took. I had never heard of the artists (Im ashamed to say) on these CDs so I listened to a few. BLUES! It’s blues music. Crazy. The dude who introduced me to Led Zeppelin and U2 and The Beatles and Pink Floyd liked BLUES music. Who knew? Kind of nice to discover things about someone you never knew. And I may never have known had I not come across these CDs. This week. Funny.
Im nervous and scared and worried and anxious today about my climb. I just want to finish it. And the weather calls for rain. Which would scrap our climb and that would suck. Lightening is a real danger at that altitude. And maybe its the fear of disappointing myself that is the most bothersome. I really don’t have anything to prove to anyone else. But I have something to prove to me. I HAVE to do this. I wont be that girl that cannot do scary things alone. I wont! The deaths and brain rot and Hashimotos and thyroid problems and joint disease and move across the country and all of the other bullshit did not happen so that I could curl up and cry and complain and wait for someone else to help me. That is NOT the person I am. That is NOT what I want my daughter to see. Funny—I don’t have any female friends like that. That curl up and cry. And that makes my heart happy. Surrounded by amazingly strong women who can do anything has been a blessing.
That mountain stares at me daily. I remember how much my Dad loved Colorado. He died here. And I get to LIVE here.
Im nervous and scared and anxious and excited and hopeful. Because I need to climb the mountain. And its so much more than just the mountain Im climbing. I think I know that. I think that’s what makes me anxious. But man oh man…the view. I just imagine the view in my mind if and when I reach the Summit. What an amazing view I will have. And what an amazing view my Dad will have! 4 Days!!
I have posted a few times on my fitness page that I have a goal to hike up Pike’s Peak this coming summer. It’s 13 miles up a twisty, turny, technical Barr Trail to the summit of the Peak at 14,114 feet. I can do it. Mentally Im good and if my knees will hold out I think I can do it. Im in “training” now working on building my endurance. I casually mentioned to my husband that I was going to hike it alone and he flipped out.
Apparently it’s “not safe”. Honestly there should be other hikers on the trail especially if its good weather. Ill file a plan, carry bear mace and not talk to strangers but he insists that some crazy mountain man might drag me away so I need a partner. So I TOLD my friend Susie this past Saturday that she’d be hiking it with me. Without flinching she said “I’d be honored”. I love her for doing this for me.
You know what sucks…as much as I love Susie I wish it were Patrick. I wish my husband could hike with me. It was never even an option. His fucking brain rot makes his balance very off and maneuvering such a technical climb is not possible for him anymore. And that sucks big fat ass. There was a time not long ago we wouldn’t have flinched. We would have already hiked that sucker by now. Patrick was a triathlete. Biking, climbing, swimming, running…many miles at a time. When someone dies suddenly and tragically you mourn so instantly. Its like a sledge hammer hits your chest and a knife stabs your heart. You scream and writhe in pain and hurt so badly so deeply and so quickly its like being struck by lightening. I feel as if brain rot must be like cancer or other long term illnesses…you mourn for so long. And its like every little thing that slips away is a new sledge hammer to the chest. Its exhausting.
It’s not quick. Its very gradual. Slowly and steadily and methodically the physical body starts to fail. And it’s day after day after day of mourning and being sad about yet another small loss. Most of the time we are fine. Some days I am pissed. Maybe today I am pissed. Pissed that instead of ripping the bandaid off quickly and efficiently so the pain is intense but hits you fast, the bandaid is so so slowly being peeled off against his will that you have to suffer through each hair it pulls on. And why the fuck did he have to have a band aid pulled off in the first place.
Tomorrow I will feel better. He won’t. I am finding strength as this disease creeps on. I am finding strength in me as a woman and mother and wife. More than I EVER thought I was capable of. It’s a necessary strength. But there’s a guilt that comes with a gaining of my own strength. For I can climb a mountain. I can run. I can speak clearly. I can do anything. And I should. I should do everything for those that cannot. I have no excuse NOT to. I know many who would never attempt to climb Pikes Peak. I mean whats the point? Why? It will never cross their minds. But they CAN. If they want to. Patrick cannot. Someone who ACTUALLY wants to cannot. So I will. And Susie will. And like no other human on Earth she knows me and why I need her to go. She has suffered great loss.
And like my friend Steph says “sometimes we step in for others when they cannot do for themselves”. I’ve had a LOT of friends step in and step up for me. I am eternally grateful. And I will push play on this stupid fucking INSANITY MAX workout that nearly kills me everyday because I CAN. Because I have no excuse not to. And I will climb that Peak this summer. For myself, for Patrick, for those who cannot.
My husband and I went on a 5 mile hike at Palmer Lake Reservoir Sunday. I was secretly hoping he would pick Santa Fe or Spruce Mountain to hike instead. Palmer Lake has a pretty steep ascent that is quite long which means coming back is a very steep descent. I’ve grown to despise going downhill.
My husband’s “brain rot” (see previous blog from July if you are unfamiliar with the “brain rot”) causes ataxia. If you don’t know what that is it basically means uncoordinated. His balance, gait and depth perception are quite affected now. He walks like he is drunk. Without the fun part. So hikes are a challenge. Going uphill is great. There seems to be less of a balance issue and we trek along at a good pace.
It takes quite a bit of effort by the human brain to coordinate all of the bazillion things that must occur for your body to move downhill and not fall. It really is quite amazing. Most of us take that simple event that happens a thousand times a day for granted. Just one foot in front of the other…not giving it a second thought. Patrick does not have that luxury. His brain does not communicate correctly with his feet. In fact…his exact words on the hike were “my brain doesn’t know where my feet are”.
So as we start the descent downhill I put my arm out…he grabs it. It helps for him to balance against me. He said I am like his “stair rail”. Ha. Glad I can be useful. So as all 165 pounds of him LEANS on all 102 pounds of me and wobbles or falls or loses balance or shifts its a bit of a thrill when you are on the side of a cliff with a 200 foot drop!
Now, to put it mildly, I am NOT a patient person. Thats why I find it quite ironically humorous that the universe blessed me with a child with severe ADHD and a husband with brain rot…REALLY? So the downhill portion of the hike is quite a test of character for me. HMMMM…be patient and support my husband down the hill so he doesn’t fall or get irritated and say “dude you’re on your own I just cannot go this slow”. Yes I just re read that. I AM that shallow. Shit- I know how bad that all sounds. I am human. And if I said I love every fucking second of this journey we are on I’d be a liar. Some of this crap just SUCKS! And at times I lose my patience. At times Im not so sweet (if you can believe that). At times I question what the hell we did to deserve this. At times I want to run. I am so far from perfect and I will right here, right now admit that when I said “in sickness and in health” this shit NEVER crossed my mind.
So as I “slow my pace” to match his and keep thinking how many more calories I could burn if I was moving faster I sort of saw myself and thought “damn you’re an ass”. I started looking around at the mountain, the rocks, the trees changing colors, the caves, the blue birds, the lake and my husband. Slowing down. SLOW. ING. DOWN. If he didn’t have brain rot we would walk much much faster. We would have raced each other for fastest time. We also would not have had the 50 great conversations we had. I wouldn’t have noticed the water, the birds or the trees changing. Because I would’ve been rushing to finish.
Now before you think Ive come to find the “REASON” behind him getting brain rot or that I believe everything happens for a reason or that we are done fighting this thing that couldn’t be further from the truth. I quit trying to find “all the reasons why things happen”. It is a colossal waste of time and energy that could be spent doing something more constructive. Like research.
All Im saying is…sometimes slowing down is not such a bad thing. It’s all in your perspective.