A few years back I went on a family vacation to Colorado. My son-in-law Scott had devised a plan for all of us to go backpacking in Rocky Mountain National Park. He assured us that it would be a rather leisurely stroll up a minor peak where a lovely lake awaited us. The plan was to bring our tents and backpacks so that we might spend the night in the secluded spot. It sounded like a doable challenge, especially since Scott had done a great deal of research ahead of time. We would be taking some rather young children on our adventure and my husband Mike and I were well into our sixties and admittedly not in the best of shape, so Scott had done his homework in choosing a destination rated moderate in difficulty.
I was quite excited because it had been years since Mike and I had backpacked into the mountains. We had once attempted to reach the summit of Long’s Peak but had to turn back when one of our daughters was overcome with mountain sickness. Luckily we had camped along the trail at a lower elevation so she was able to rest for a time and recover. By then it was far too late in the day to try our ascent again so we gave up and decided to return another time. We got busy with living and didn’t come back until we knew that we were no longer as hardy as we had once been. A short trek up an easier trail would have to do.
Mike and I spent a great deal of time at REI accumulating the proper equipment. Our old backpacks were sadly worn and out of date so we invested in new ones that were better built. We decided to purchase lightweight sleeping bags and a two person backpacking tent. We already had a single burner stove for cooking and lots of containers to carry the water that we would need. We carefully weighed our loads and spent time walking around the neighborhood to increase our stamina. We thought that after our more difficult adventures this one would be a walk in the park.
We headquartered at my brothers‘ cabin on Storm Mountain. I began to worry just a bit when a walk along the road near their house left me feeling breathless. I told myself that I just needed to acclimate to the elevation. After all, I was coming from only a few miles above sea level to an area that nature had pushed up to great heights. I suspected that after a couple of days my lungs would be okay in the less oxygenated environment.
We ate pasta the night before our journey hoping that the carbs would provide us with extra energy. I hardly slept in anticipation of our trip. We were all set to venture out when one of my grandsons fell on the gravel driveway and got a huge bloody gash in his knee. Fearing that he might need stitches we detoured to a local clinic. The doctor saw him right away, cleaned the wound and declared him ready to go. We were off and running albeit a few hours later than we had planned.
We were grinning from ear to ear as we embarked on our hike. Scott reckoned that it would take us three or four hours to reach our destination. That would give us plenty of time to explore the area before retiring for the night. We were all smiles as we took our first steps down the trail. It didn’t seem to be difficult at all. We began to believe that we would hardly break a sweat achieving our goal.
Before long the asphalt pavement gave way to a more rugged pathway filled with sharp edged rocks and boulders that required us to increase our strides. The gentle slopes became steep and before long I found myself huffing and puffing. I could feel the pounding of my heart inside my ears and I suddenly wondered if I was up to this challenge. Unwilling to admit my concerns to anyone I just kept moving forward one step at a time.
Eventually the trail became so rugged that I had to play mind games to keep moving forward. I would see a log or a rock up ahead and tell myself that I had to proceed until I reached that small goal and only then would I be able to rest for a time. Over and over again I maintained my motivation by starting and stopping, pretending to need a swig of water or a bite of one of my granola bars. The hours ticked by and I feared that I was no closer to my goal. My children and grandchildren had grown weary of lagging behind and were long gone. Only Mike was walking steadily behind me to reassure me that I was not going to pass out alone on the mountain.
Along the way I encountered other hikers who were in worse condition than I was. I pretended to be strong as I sauntered past them and smiled when I heard them note that I appeared to be a very experienced backpacker. I only collapsed when I was out of view, usually pretending to be so taken by the lovely scenery that I had to linger for a time. The truth was that I was running out of steam and saw no end in sight. I didn’t want to disappoint my family or myself. I decided that I had to muster my determination even if it killed me and that was indeed a possibility.
Just when I thought that I was unable to take another step my two eldest grandsons appeared. They had already reached the end of the trail and had set up camp. They encouraged me by insisting that I was almost there. One of them went to help Mike carry some of the load and the other took my backpack and hoisted it over his shoulders. I felt that angels from heaven had descended to aid me in my hour of need.
We walked along talking about a variety of topics most of which were rather deep. I suppose that mountainous environs are cause for reflection and we certainly had time to discuss the state of the world. The good company and conversation made the time and the effort seem less brutal and before I knew it we were rounding a switchback that led into our campsite for the night. I wanted to kiss the ground but I maintained my composure as though I had only completed a little walk that hardly caused me to strain.
It was lovely up there, more so because I was at the top of the world with all of my children and grandchildren. We had brought a whole lot of love and laughter to that place. I was proud that I had made it. I was happy to realize just how wonderful my life really was. I celebrated and rejoiced and slept like a baby even though the rangers had warned us that there were bears in the area.
The next day as I descended I passed people coming up the trail who marveled when they learned that I had spent a night on the mountain. They complained that the trail was far more difficult to navigate than they had been led to believe. I proudly insisted that if I could make it so could they. I was admittedly quite full of myself at that moment. Going down was far easier that coming up had been. I fairly flew to the parking lot where our cars waited to take us back to the luxury of our cabin.
I knew then that my rugged camping days were over. I had grown soft and old. I no longer had the desire or need to prove my mettle. I would leave that to the youngsters. Still I am so glad that I made that kind of trip one last time. I did it!