In the past few months I have had several dreams of being a super hero. I wake up feeling empowered and ready to kick Life’s teeth in. When I was depressed this Spring the Medicine Man said I had Super Woman Syndrome. This is when women are overdoing it because they are trying to do everything. The thing is I’ve never felt like a Super Woman. I’m always in need of so much improvement and always have so much that has not been done. I know lots of Super Women though.
My neighbor, Caren, all would agree is a Super Woman. She makes magic in her kitchen, has every ingredient to do so at any time. She is physically strong, doles out sage advice, has travelled the world, charms men and women alike, and manages to get her three children to all of their multiple activities on time and with grace.
My Grandma was a Super Woman. She was a single mom in a time when it was highly uncommon. Finding herself a single mother of 5 daughters (2 with special needs) and having no degree, she took a job in the Albuquerque school district and worked, worked, worked her way up. She was the last non-degreed personnel to retire from her position. I can’t even begin to tell you the challenges she faced and again, it was with poise and grace.
My Aunt Marilyn is a Super Woman. More powerful than a locomotive, she is 15 years older than me and is in better shape than most women I know. She runs marathons, lifts weights, cares for her family and has a career as a dental hygienist. She also climbs 14ers.
I’ve mentioned these little buggers a couple of times. I’ll explain again for you low-landers that a 14er is a hike/climb up a mountain that’s summit is 14,000 ft above sea level or higher. In Colorado there are 58 such peaks. I know a guy who has climbed 26 of them. (Or is it 28 Chad? I don’t want to short change your accomplishment.) He may be crazy. You can click on this link to learn more about them: http://www.14ers.com/ When taking on one of these monsters you want to start really early in the morning because Colorado is prone to afternoon thunderstorms or even snow storms at those high elevations. You are so high that if a thunderstorm rolls in I’ve been told you can feel the electricity and your hair stands on end. You are right there under the clouds if not in them so you can literally be in the thick of it. Due to that danger (not to mention sun exposure) you want to get as much of the hike done early so that you are not racing down a mountain to try to out run a storm.
My Aunt and her family came to visit this summer to kill three birds with one stone (because Marilyn will always one up ya.) She was taking my Uncle and one of her daughters to a Kenny Chesney concert, she was coming to the Neil Diamond concert and she had plans to hike 3 or 4 of Colorado’s 14ers while in town. They rented a condo in Breckenridge and we all went. My mom stayed with the kiddos while I joined Marilyn, my Uncle and my cousin Meghan on the hike.
About a month before the trip Marilyn called and asked me if I had been training for it.
“Um…no. Like, what do you mean? What should I be doing?”
“Well, you need to be exercising and it would be good to do some hikes and higher elevations.”
I live at close to 8,000 ft. so I figured I’m half way there. I took a few walks in the neighborhood and I lifted weights.
I kept reminding them that I was not in as good of shape as they are and I was going to be much slower than them. I was kind of hoping they would maybe think better of dragging me along and discourage me from going but instead it was quite opposite. They were sure I could do it and they promised waiting for me was not a problem.
I talked to a few friends in advance to get some tips and find out what to expect. They suggested I wear layers because it would be cold up there but you would also be hot from the physical exertion. Of course we would need to drink lots of water and to pack light snacks.
I bought some individually packaged trail mixes. I put them in my back pack with a few bottles of water and tried it on. It was going to be heavy but it would work.
The night before we were to leave for our first 14er my Aunt, Uncle and Cousin pulled out a bunch of camel bags. these are long narrow back packs that have a bladder inside for water. A tube comes out of the bladder and straps to the shoulder so when you need to drink you don’t have to stop and take anything out of your bag. Instead you just pop the big straw in your mouth and drink. I used to have one back when I roller bladed. Thankfully, they had brought one for me. This would be much more efficient than a few bottles of water. They also had a variety of nuts, trail mixes, beef jerky and then these weird….chewey things…kind of luke gummy bears. I forgot what they are called. They are some sort of weird thing runners use that are full of electrolytes and things. We started hydrating ourselves that night.
I was sharing a bed with my mom and the night before my hike we laid in bed and talked.
“Are you sure you can do this, Michal?” she asked me.
“I think so but I honestly don’t know. When they started pulling out all of the supplies…I don’t think I really know what I’m getting myself into.”
“Well, if you can’t do it you need to tell them. You don’t want to ruin their trip.”
“I don’t know that I can’t,” starting to feel driven by her lack of faith in me, “I won’t know until I try.”
I closed my eyes and then my Uncle was knocking lightly on the bedroom door. It was suddenly 4 a.m. and time to go. In the dark I dressed, slathered on sun screen and then crept down stairs to join the rest of my family. Marilyn had warmed up breakfast burritos for all of us. We quietly chugged waters and then we were off.
Our first climb would be Grays Peak. The summit is 14,270. This is one of the easier 14ers to climb, plus it is right next to Torreys. There is a saddle back, or a dip between the two peaks, that goes down 7,000 ft. so if you were to climb Grays and then head down the saddle back and then back up to Torreys you have legitimately climbed two 14ers in one day. We were hoping to do both. I would have to see.
We drove up to the trailhead which is at about 10,000 or 11,000 ft. in elevation. When the car was parked I suddenly broke out in cold sweats and felt dizzy.
Crap. Altitude sickness. Am I going to have to make them turn around already?
I got out of the car, took some deep breaths and walked around a bit. I felt better right away.
OK. You can do this. Please God don’t let me get altitude sickness half way up this thing!
We all drank some more water, put on our light hoodies and our camel backs, and then we were off. At first it was like any other hike. The trail was gravelly with an easy uphill incline. The only difference was that I was about 2,000 ft. higher than where I usually hike so it was difficult to breathe right out the gate. My Aunt’s family is all very fit. They all run and play sports. I knew their pace would be hard for me to keep up with even if we were on flat land. the day before the trip we went for a run (rather they ran and I walked) the 3 mile loop in my neighborhood. Half way through my walk my hip started to hurt. Sometimes it does this thing where it just sort of locks up. Man calls it my Trick Hip. Yep…I’m arthritic and have a Trick Hip. I’m all sorts of cute. I was praying that would not act up on this like adventure either.
My Uncle and Meghan pretty much took off up the trail. Meghan is Super Woman spawn. The whole family is ridiculous really, running in the Boston Marathon and stuff. Meg had a cold and was still smoking us all up the mountain. She’s a freakin’ mountain goat. Marilyn lagged behind for me but she was like a penned in race horse, muscles taut and ready to sprint off with the other two horses. I saw that my Uncle and Meg had finally stopped to wait for us. I was in need of a break. As soon as we would caught up to them I took a drag on the camel back. I was ready to sit and try to catch my breath but as soon as I swallowed the water they all started moving on again. This happened repeatedly, where they would wait for us and then as soon as we caught up with them they would go. Finally that stopped happening. We told them not to worry and press on. We’d see them at the peak. Then Marilyn and I stopped when I wanted and took some time with it. Not too much time though…
Each time Marilyn would tell me to take my time but I could sense the horse was restless and I would only rest for a bit and then go. I could’ve sat for a good 10-15 minutes but I knew that would never do. At one point on the trail I kep feeling waves of heat break through the cool morning air.
Oh my lands. Am I having hot flashes? (This was before I actually started having hot flashes….) I feared it was the beginning of my body breaking down and I was not going to be able to finish.
“Isn’t it weird how you sort of walk through pockets of warm air?” my Aunt asked me.
Oh thank God! She feels them too! It’s normal.
“Marilyn? I can hear my heart beating in my ears…”
“That’s normal,” she said nonchalantly and kept right on trudging up the mountain.
Every now and then Marilyn would pass me back one of those weird gummy things.
“You want to drink before you get thirsty and eat before you get hungry,” she said.
I worked the chewy, sticky mass in my mouth. It was gross but I wanted whatever powers it held.
My muscles were doing fine, my Trick Hip was holding up; I just couldn’t breathe. Doubt whispered to me the whole way up.
I don’t know if I can do this. What was I thinking? Why do they think I can? I can’t ruin their time though. You are in it. Keep going.
There were also whispers from God pointing out to me the symbolism of what I was physically doing to that of my personal life challenges.
Yeah. Thanks Captain Obvious. I really can’t tend to those thoughts right now. I’m sucking air. What would be great is if you just didn’t let me die out here.
At some point the trail changed from gravel to rock. Lot’s of fist sized rocks. This is not the best thing to hike on. My footing was always wonky. I could see my Uncle and Cousin nearing the peak, climbing with actual mountain goats.
Along the trail are these piles of rocks called cairns. These piles are man-made and are there to give hikers direction as the trail becomes less clear. Every now and then my Aunt and I would stop and scan the way before us until we found a cairn and then we knew which direction to head. During our hike Marilyn told me of a report she saw on the Today show about a guy with no legs who climbed Kilimanjaro.
“He climbed with his arms and during some of the harder parts his friends put him on his back and they carried him. He said those were the hardest parts because he could see they were dehydrated and suffering from the altitude but he couldn’t help them. Then the interviewer asked him, ‘now that you’ve done that, what’s next? What is the next big thing you are going to do? Are you going to climb another mountain?’ ‘No,’ he said, ‘I think what I want to do now is to be a cairn. I want to help people who are lost, find their way again.’ Isn’t that amazing?” she said. “Wouldn’t it be great if that’s what we all did for each other?”
I loved that story and was bolstered by it. I have many people in my life who act as cairns for me, reminding me of the big picture and encouraging me to pursue God’s will and to be all that He has made me to be. I offered an internal prayer of thanks for those people and for my Aunt who was keeping me going on this climb.
The biggest thing that kept me going to the top was not the view, or for the accomplishment of it but just so that I would not ruin Marilyn’s time. I did not want to make her have to turn around and to keep her from the summit. I got to a point where I was too far up to turn back anyway. That and I wanted to prove to my mom that I could do it. So there.
As we neared the top I could hear a song from Sound of Music playing my head:
“Climb every mountain. Ford every stream. Follow every rainbow, ’til you find your dream!”
Dramatic. Oh yes! I can’t do anything with out some dramatic flare!
Finally Marilyn and I got to the top! There were several others up there. It was a space about the size of a living room and we all staked out a little area to SIT, catch our breath, and have a few snacks. Many at the peak were marvelling at Meghan’s speed and agility. She passed most of the people who were just now getting to the top. (Did I mention she was sick at the time? Ug.) There was a group of guys there that my Uncle teased because they got Chicked by my Cousin. Those of us who were 1st timers took a group picture together. And I did take a peak at the view. Beautiful and terrifyingly high! Decisions were having to be made by the various groups as well. Will they go on to climb Torreys or head back down?
The guys Meg had passed on the way up, decided to do Torreys and they took off with. Meghan and my Uncle decided to do Torreys and Marilyn and I would go back down. We all figured at their speed and my slow rate we would all finish at about the same time. So after a few more pictures and some big gulps of water, my Uncle and Meghan headed down the saddle back toward Torreys. Marilyn and I rested a bit longer and were entertained by a small plane that flew near. The pilot could see us all on the peak and he did some loopty loops and rolls. It was so cool! We got up to go but first searched the trail for Uncle and Meg to see how they were progressing. We saw that they had already passed the guys that had left before them. Chicked again.
The hike down was much easier. I could breathe! My knees had the hardest time with it but about half way down the pain left. There were a lot of boulders to maneuver over and around but it was fun and just such a relief to be going DOWN! We had some near slips a few times but all in and all it was pretty unadventurous. Sure enough we did meet up with the rest of our family. Freakin’ beasts y’all.
We were a bit alarmed by the number of people who were just now heading up the mountain and it was around 11 a.m. There was no way they would beat the afternoon showers. We could already see the clouds gathering in the distance. We saw one rather large woman working her way up with some friends. Friends who should have made sure their friend was in the condition to make this sort of climb. I was proud of her gumption but worried for her health.
“Tell me it gets better!” she pleaded as we passed.
Every time we passed a new group heading up we would start to worry.
“I feel like I should tell people to turn back,” Marilyn said.
“They may not actually be trying to go to the peak. Maybe they just want to do a little hike in and then turn back out.” It was my best guess as to why they would be heading out so late in the day.
It was so great to see the parking lot and to know that it was over and that I had done it! The hardest part was not being able to breathe and just not knowing if I could do it. The angst in that bit of wonder was awful but I couldn’t blow it for Marilyn.
Once home I took a nap. Mom went shopping with her sister and My Uncle took the kids swimming. (I’m telling you he’s crazy. 2 14ers and then wrestling with my sons in the pool. Nuts.)
That night at dinner we talked about the next days peak, Bierstadt.
“It’s supposed to be one of the easier ones,” my Uncle said. “Are you going to go?”
“I don’t know… I want to. I want to say that I did 2 of them but I’m not sure how I’ll feel tomorrow. I might be really sore.”
“I think you can do it,” he said.
“Oh yeah. You did great today! You’ll be fine. You should come.”
So I did.
That night we packed everything up again, laid out our clothes and got to bed early. Mom and I laid in bed and had almost the same discussion as the previous night. Now I knew I could climb a 14er but could I physically handle 2 back-to-back? At 4 a.m. there was the light knock on our bedroom door and I found myself dressing in the dark again.
As we headed down the road we saw the biggest black bear any of us had ever seen! He was walking through the parking lot of another condo. We watched him lumber up a few steps to the front door of a condo. They are out there people!
“He’s grizzly size!”said my Uncle. “I mean, a small grizzly but still… That’s a HUGE black bear!”
We tried to get his picture but he was too afraid of us and took off to hide.
“I’m so glad I decided to come today! That was worth it right there!” I was so pumped!
As we drove up to the trailhead we also saw two MOOSE! It was a cow and her calf. They were on the side of the road munching on some shrubbery. We again tried to get pictures but they ran away.
“We have had more adventure today by 6 a.m. than most people do all day! We’re like Marines!”
Bierstadt was very beautiful! I thought it was prettier than Grays. It starts with a hike through a marshy area (hence the moose). It was very green and there were all kinds of beautiful wild flowers in the meadows and succulents tucked into the rocks. Bierstadt was shorter but it was pretty much a straight up hike which was much harder. I was tired from the day before so I was breaking much more. I finally told my Aunt to go ahead.
“I see you looking longingly at your family. Catch up with them! I’ll be fine!”
I still felt a need to go forward and not rest too often though because I didn’t want them to wait for me too long up at the top. My Uncle did meet me as I neared the peak because the last part was a boulder scramble. This made the “trail” very hard to find. For one the cairns blended into the scenery and, for two, you just can’t really have a trail over boulders. The peak was more narrow than Grays and so you could see the ground below which was…yikes! I am a tad afraid of heights. Again, going down was easier and again we saw groups of people just starting out.
We ran into one group of four. One couple had camels full of water and the other couple was sitting on a rock to rest and were rationing their 8 oz bottles of Ozarka. We were half way down and still had plenty of water so we emptied part of our camels into their bottle. Their friends did not look pleased. You could tell they were annoyed that this couple came so ill prepared. Further on down we saw a girl who was completely prostrate. She had an empty bottle of water next to her. You could tell that she was fighting hard to overcome the altitude. She was less than half way up.
“Man,” my Uncle said, “It’s amazing to me that people think that just anyone can do a 14er!”
I had to laugh because then what made him think that I could do it? And twice! It was a flattering statement and I still have no idea what gave my family the notion that I was in the condition to conquer mountains.
Now here I am trying to conquer “mountains.” Still not sure if I can do it, gasping for air, not wanting to let anyone down and too far in to turn back now.