Tuesday, August 21, 2007

We Peaked

I'm going to try and paint a picture for you. It's summer time in Wichita. The August heat is probably bearing down. My family has probably chosen to spend part of the day indoors to escape the heat. My sister is possibly playing with her Barbies while her long red hair is pulled up with what appears to be a thick piece of yarn tied in a bow just behind her permed bangs. My mom has possibly gone into our red tiled floor and textured wallpaper kitchen to make a righteous lunch of sandwiches and cheese curls. I'm sure she had to stop to check her permed hair in the mirror along the way. My Dad has just finished turning the channel knob on our television set and tuned in to ABC's Wide World of Sports. I doubt he had a perm, but I'll bet his shorts were much shorter than he'd ever dream of wearing them today. I also doubt that he expected the program he started watching to have a 25 year after effect, but it did, and I'm so very happy that it did.

Granted my telling of this story is mostly construed of guesses and vague memories. You see, it was 1982 and I wasn't quite one yet. So maybe the details are off, but that's the best I could imagine.

However, the fact remains that my Dad did tune into ABC's Wide World of Sports that day and watched the broadcast of that year's Pikes Peak Ascent. I suppose a seed was planted that day, one that had refused to die. From what I can gather I believe this had been a dream of my Dad's that just wouldn't give up. Sure, through the years it had been nearly silenced, but I guess it never quite stopped making sound. Last year, I may have helped bring that dream back out to the light. After I got an addiction to running, I got an email from my Dad with a link about the long-running event on Pikes Peak, with a note, "13.32 miles straight up to Heaven, think about it. You and me next year." I never paid it much mind, thinking, "I doubt it... but maybe."

Obviously, my Dad paid it a big deal of attention and as the year progressed he became a walking encyclopedia permanently stuck on the page labeled, "Pikes Peak Ascent." From training tips to testimonies, the man had read every teeny tiny morsel of information available on the subject.

Then came near the time for registration. I had made up my mind that I wanted to do it. By this point I was nearly done training for my first marathon, so my perspective had shifted and it didn't seem so unattainable any longer.

Online registration was a mess, a disaster more like it. My Dad took the day off work, to ensure he would get in to one of the coveted slots. I was at home on the phone with him, trying to walk through the registration process with him. Problems immediately occurred.

"It's not loading," "it just bumped me off line," "it's taking forever to advance to the confirmation page," "I can't sit here all day, I hope it worked."

Maybe we got in, maybe we didn't, it was hard to tell. The website had crashed and tons of people were in the dark. Some were charged but not in, others were in, but not charged. It was a mess. The organization decided to wipe the slate clean and try it again in a few days.

So, here we go again. This time it's early in the morning, still dark. I'm on the phone with a nervous father and mother, while I have barely woken and could barely see the computer screen to try the process all over again. Much smoother this time, click, click, boom, I'm in. Panic ensuing on the other end, Dad missed a que and had to go back. Finally, he's in and I gotta admit I laughed as he sighed the biggest relief sigh I've ever heard. It wasn't my 25 year old dream, so I'll cut him some slack.

Registration was task one, and since it was about five months until the event I didn't pay much mind for a while. Not my Dad though, he pressed on with the research. Purchased training manuals, videos, and kept a running countdown in his head 'til the big day.

Training got more intense. He was working himself to the bone and I was running more miles in one week than ever before. He's maxing out the incline on the treadmill, and I'm wondering, "What more can I do?" We both had tapped our energy and could only pray that it was enough. The flat lands of Kansas can only do so much to prepare you for a 7, 815 feet vertical gain ending you up at an elevation of 14,110 feet. "God, please don't let us get hurt up there, please."

6Am Thursday, August 16th, the sweet rental mini van rolls up in our drive and we're off. Headed to I-70 to take that long boring drive across Kansas. Eventually, Colorado beckons us across it's border and we finally roll in to Manitou Springs, the city at the base of Pikes Peak.

There are so many fun things to do in Manitou. We tried to do it all, even though a pending weight was still bearing down on my Dad and I. Eating, shopping, the awesome penny arcade, sight seeing, training runs, swimming, visiting the Ross' cross town, more eating, packet pick-up, strolling the expo, playing at the park, and trying to get some rest.

The shakes were setting in a bit, and I think a bit more for my Dad. Sleep is tricky when you're so anxious. The alarm goes off way too early and I once again think, "I signed up for this?" "Am I crazy?"

I load up best I can, and prepare for the unknown. A backpack full of energy gels, energy bars, trail mix, aspirin, chapstick, pretzels, toilet wipes, gloves, wind breaker, ear muffs, muscle cream, and hand sanitizer. (The last item was from a past thought in the marathon, after I used porta-potties with no sanitizer and then proceeded to grab in the bowls of food at the aid stations, time and time again, before I realized..."ewe! everyone else did the same thing!" Call me Howard Hughes, my Dad did, I can take it!) Hopefully I had thought of everything.

The sun was rising and it was time to roll Judah and Kenton out of bed and walk with my parents down to the starting area. It was a beautiful day. The Peak was in view and it was clear at the top. The announcer said it was about 40 degrees at the top already. That didn't seem too bad. As we lined up, I looked up one last time and swallowed hard, "how am I going to get all the way up there?" "I don't know if I can do this." My dad confessed that he nearly threw up earlier, at least I knew I was in good company, the kind that you can shake in your boots with, or running shoes, as it were.

Before we knew it, we were off. Trucking down the street with all these other crazy people. We pass our support crew to the right. Wave at my mom, Kenton and Judah. See the camera flash, give Jude a high five and leave them behind. It would be hours before we'd see each other again. I was wishing that maybe I'd just opted to spend the day at the North Pole with them, instead of thinking I could get to the top of the enormous mountain.

The speed slowed way down and the herd got real thick. Eventually we were headed straight up hill and the path was getting more narrow by the second. I knew from the little reading I had done that it was going to be the worst at the start because the trail is so steep at first. So, I blocked the burning in my legs out and trusted it would stop soon. We turned and were now on the Barr Trail. A crazy path all the way to the summit. At first it was very narrow and you just have to climb single file. My Dad liked the stated phrase that it was the "sniffing butts" portion of the Ascent. We sniffed for quite a while and it started to thin out as it widened. We drank water, joked about where the next 7-11 would be so we could get a Big Gulp and a Slurpee. Many of our comrades assured us it was just around the next switchback.

We filled our water bottles at the relieving aid stations and tried to file back in the pack. We just kept going, pressing on and watching as the clearings would offer an amazing view of the cities below. Knowing we were only going up we kept drinking and drinking, per directions, in order to acclimate as the elevation rose. While drinking was good for the acclimation, it was bad on the bladder, especially since there are no proper restrooms out on that mountain. I had to learn to spot some "good enough" locations and trust that my Dad was keeping watch for me, which he was, thank goodness. Let's just say, Lacy is not a proficient squatter, and I've got the bark/rock/mushroom imprints to prove it! Oh, well it gave me and my Dad something to laugh about as we strolled out of Barr Camp, our first cut-off location around 7 miles. We had made the time cut off and were safe to press on up the hill.

The next portion of the trail was absolutely beautiful. We were still in the trees and the atmosphere was enchanting. Tall aspens all around, the leaves fluttering like butterflies, the sound of nearby streams flowing, foliage and mushrooms like I'd only seen in science books. Bright red mushrooms with white spots, wild flowers dusting the path, and soft red rocks padded our feet. It was so wonderful, not to mention it was basically flat, how it was flat and we we still ascending is beyond me. I think it was the favorite part for us both.

I suppose one could just take in the scenery and have the mere sights be enough to carry them through that particular section, but I had just taken some energy shots that contain green tea and before I knew it I was running my mouth a million miles a minute. My Dad drew it to my attention and I guess I was talking a little fast, a little loud, and little long. Green Tea,it works! (Wendy could attest to that during marathon training, right?..."And then!... And Then!..... And Then....!") Oh well, you gotta do something to kill the time!

We pressed on as the path got steeper and rockier. We were climbing over some really big rocks as we tried to stay on the path. We randomly ended up with a pack of people who happened to be from Wichita, chatted and pressed on. We made it to our last cut off. The Aid Station at the A-Frame was once again refreshing and fueling, it was also great to know we had reached it in time and they weren't going to turn us around and send us back down.

The breeze was rolling by and it was cool. The temperature had definitely changed and you could see the trees getting shorter as the timberline approached.

Up to this point I had felt relieved that it wasn't nearly as difficult as I thought it would be. Some areas were really steep, some footings were really rocky, and my breathing was getting more labored, but so far it was very pleasant. I even mentioned to my Dad a rebuke to who ever told us that it was tougher than a marathon, because I wasn't getting it. It really wasn't that tough.

I spoke too soon, way too soon. We had been told that the last three miles were the toughest part of the Ascent, so we were preparing for it, nothing could have prepared me for what the next hour and a half had in store.

The first difficulty to swallow was the fact that the average speed on the last three miles is 30 minutes per mile. At my slowest, I run three miles in 30 minutes, so this news was crazy. Crazy, but accurate! Once the last tree appeared to be more of a tiny bush, things changed. The view was incredible! As far as you could see was the Earth below. Tiny little lines making up streets and highways, we were high. There was no more soft red rocks padding us, it was all rock. Chunky sharp rocks everywhere. I was saying less and less as we kept turning this way, stepping over that, turning that way. I couldn't look up any more, it took too much energy and it was depressing. You could hear the finish line, see it in fact, but as we turned the corner of switchback after switchback, I had to accept we were going to be doing this for over an hour still.

I was feeling the effects by now. I was just trying to drink water and watch my steps. As the rocks were getting bigger our steps were more like climbs. I was trying to take the shortest step possible because with every exertion I was getting more and more shaky. I managed a few more words to my Dad and most of them were, "I take it back, I'd rather run a marathon." I kept saying in my head, "never again, never again, never again!" In between recalling that "I can do all things through Christ, not my strength Lord, it's all you , give me strength, I love you come now." I broke my vow not to look up again, "oh my gosh, why did I do that, it's still so far!"

We hit the very last aid station and I refilled all three of my bottles and inquired where I might find a good rock to do my business. No more shielding trees, I barely manage a climb to a "sorta" hiding rock and let all modesty go. Try to get down to the trail and quietly press on. I wanted to stop with every step, but I really don't think I'd be able to get back up, so I kept trailing the same red shirt I'd been staring at all day, and followed my Dad. He asked if I was okay, "Sure, as okay as I can be." "You?" "I'm okay." That was the extent of our conversation for quite some time. Our hearts got an extra jump as the medics came running by us hollering for a respirator. I got really scared then, "Oh, Lord give my your strength, what was that you said? About a plan not for harm? I can't seem to focus, oh. protect us!"

A sign let us know we had just entered the 16 Golden Stairs on Pikes Peak. Golden? Maybe. Freakin' hard to climb? Yep! We did it though, all 16 and we were getting so close. All the order of events have seemed to mesh into one, I think it was the altitude, but I do remember a medic tell us we were doing great and it was only 4/10 of a mile left. It was the best thing I heard in hours! Adrenaline surged, God came and renewed my step. This rock, that rock, this crazy step, turn, climb, pull up, and look, there it is! The sound is so loud now, the announcers spot our bib numbers, call out my Dad's name first, and then mine and we are there. My Dad grabs my shoulder and we truck to the finish line. The officials wouldn't let us finish together so my Dad graciously pushes me forward and we finish one second apart.

Praise the Lord! It was over and we were okay! We get our coveted medals and finisher's jackets. We get the warm clothes that were trucked up the mountain for us, but we didn't need them, it was a beautiful cloudless day at the summit. I never even used my jacket or gloves, it was awesome! I scrambled into the house to use the first real toilet I'd seen in hours. I got more water, took a few pictures with my Dad, and made every effort to get to the shuttle to get down as soon as possible.

The winding ride down in a van loaded with other Ascenter's was too long for worn out Lacy. I thought I was going to be the designated "puker," thankfully I held it in. My Dad chatted with the man next to us who happened to be from Hutchinson (such a small world), and I called Kenton to let him know it was time for them to leave the ferris wheel and go meet us at the park, we weren't walking!

We made it down in one piece and I managed to keep my green tea down. Our cheering section jumped out of the mini van and clapped as we slowly made it to them. We got back ate some recovery food, and just reveled from the high. Maybe an hour passed and my Dad and I both slightly eased up on our inner vows to "never again" take on that mountain, "maybe it wasn't that bad."

We enjoyed a meal out together, while the smile couldn't seem to be erased from either of our faces. Kenton, Judah and I hit the town looking for Ascent tee's and other souvenirs. Headed back to the hotel. Sat and looked at the pictures one more time with my Dad and went to my room for a long summer's nap.

As we wrapped up our morning and loaded the cruiser, I stared at the Peak one last time with my Dad. We were in awe, "look where we went."

It was so much more than just the literal ascent. Something had occurred that couldn't have in years past. Not just the physical part either. Yes, I'm stronger now, I can endure much more than before, but it was more than that. I needed to climb a mountain with my Dad, and I think he needed to climb one with me. Sometimes it takes a mountain climb to get to know someone. It's hard, long, and frustrating to endure, but it's all worth it once you're at the top.

Thank you Dad for climbing with me, for chasing down your 25 year old dream and letting me come. I'm so proud of you. I'm so glad we aren't even close to ending our quest together, let's keep climbing.

So what do you think Dad? 13.32 miles straight up to Heaven. You and me, next year?

Here's a link to some even better views: