If you're from Kansas and you've ever traveled west to the state of Colorado, you know the joy it brings once you start to make out the very first glimpse of a distant mountain range. Somehow the endless hours of monotonous Kansas landscape start to feel as though they weren't that bad.
That's the general feeling I get, at least.
However, a few weeks ago as the mountains began to grow with each mile, the pit in my stomach did as well. The voice inside my head kept asking, "Why are you doing this, again?"
Eventually the voice from my lips was saying the same thing and it was nearly in unison with the voice of my Dad.
It was Thursday, August 14. Along with my husband, son, mother, and father I had traveled all day to finally reside in the wonderful little town of Manitou Springs, CO. The city at the base of Pikes Peak. Just 12 months prior we had done the exact same thing. As a motley crew we crammed into a mini van and embarked on a journey that eventually ended up at 14,115 feet about sea level. Last year my Dad and I finished our first Pikes Peak Ascent, a 13.32 mile long foot race to the summit of Pikes Peak. Flash forward one year and we found ourselves about to give it one more attempt.
The difference this time is that both of us were stressing the words "one more." We had been letting the jokes roll off all day like, "Ah I see the peak, lets call it good and go home." "There's a small hill over there along the highway, lets just run to the top of that, it's nearly the same thing."
We joked, but I feel pretty confident in saying that I'm sure my Dad was thinking the exact same thing I was, "I don't want to do this!"
With our best faces forward we entered Manitou Springs and began the acclimation process. Funny thing though, it wasn't the altitude that was giving us trouble, it was the cooler than "cool" breeze that started to blow. Colorado in summertime is often a nice relief from the horrible heat of Kansas, but why was I shivering in August?
By Friday a consistent drizzle of rain accompanied the breeze. My Dad and I went for a little jog that morning and retraced our previous years steps. We reminded our selves of where the starting line is and of how the race winds through the city as it begins. It was nice and for me it even made some of the dread ware off.
Later that day the drizzle continued. As we picked up our race packets at the expo, things started feeling pretty good. We checked out the sweet finishers pull overs and medals that we'd be receiving at the summit the next day. All these things made it feel more real. There was no getting out of this thing now, but at the same time I was getting excited to finish and put it all behind me for good.
As we were finishing up at the expo, which is located at an outdoor park, I mentioned that I needed to go back to the hotel room and change. The "cool" breeze had officially become cold and I was freezing.
We changed and headed off to Cheyenne Mountain. We went to ride the sky ride over the zoo. It sounded like a lot of fun. As all five of us sat on the ski lift, we began to huddle closer and closer. We continued to rise up to the mountain top and with every increase our body temps began to decrease. It began to rain and before we could make it all the way down it was pouring.
So there we were. Scrambling for the car and instructing the driver to crank the heat...in AUGUST! uh-oh, this was not settling well.
After we all dried off and warmed up we hung close to town for a great afternoon of rest and arcade games. We all shared a meal together as we watched the Olympics. After the sun had set it was then time for all good little mountain climbers to go to bed.
I laid out all my gear. I knew this year I wasn't going to make it to the top with just a pair of shorts, tank top, and a stashed jacket. I pulled out layers of winter gear. Multiple pairs of gloves, hats, long sleeve shirts, tights, pants, etc. I was prepared for whatever the Peak was gonna dish out the next morning.
Saturday, August 16.
The alarm went off way too early. I quietly started the slow process of gearing up. Step one was checking the summit forecast. "70% chance of rain turning to snow and a high of 37."
Knowing there was nothing I could do, I suited up with all the layers I owned and sure hoped it was going to be enough.
I peeked out the window and saw other runners headed towards the start in the pouring rain. Most of those people were headed for the wave 1 start at 7 AM. My Dad and I were in wave 2 and had 30 minutes to spare and a sliver of a hope that the rain would stop.
It didn't and there was no more time to wait, it was time.
Once again my entire family walked from our hotel to the starting area. This year we all pulled up hoods and tried out best to keep the rain off.
It all went so quickly, but before I knew it my Dad and I were in a herd of people taking off on foot at the sound of a gun. Kenton, Judah, and my Mom were up ahead cheering us on as we passed. I waved and shouted to Judah that I loved him. Inside, I was so anxious and questioning what was I going to have to endure before I saw my little boy again.
Pikes Peak Ascent 2008 was underway. Despite the rain, it was going pretty smoothly. I quickly felt overdressed. Under all my warming layers I was sweating. I mentioned that I may have over dressed and a kind stranger chimed in, "You're gonna need it."
My Dad and I quickly made it through the first section of switchbacks, which is notorious for it's steepness. Landmarks were triggering memories of when we passed them last year. Some even brought up little stories starting with the line, "Remember that? that's where...."
We were wet but we were doing well. I had mastered using the "mountain facilities' this year and that made a tremendous improvement on our time. The signs along the trail seemed to be clipping off pretty rapidly. In what felt like a flash the signs were indicating single digits when referring to the miles until the summit. I thought that we were doing great and all my frets were for nothing. "What's a little rain and a cooler day?"
As we progress I began to notice that all the breath taking views I had been so impressed with the previous year were missing. It appeared "foggy" every time we'd come to a clearing. As a colder wind began to blow past my face, I realized that it wasn't fog, but we were actually climbing up into the clouds. Clouds that were holding a pretty heavy storm.
We pressed on and passed all the wonderful aid stations. We made sure to thank the volunteers. Most of whom have to camp on the mountain and hike all the supplies up in order to be there for us in the morning. As we were going the temps were dropping. I had to pull out one pair of gloves. Along with the dropping temps came a more constant rain shower as well. I now had to pull out my water proof jacket to pull over.
The trail was wet, it was muddy in some places as well. In some areas large pools of rain had collected and in efforts to keep our feet dry we had to climb around them. My socks had gotten a little damp and started slipping. I told my Dad I needed to pull off to fix them. As I bent down all the rain came rushing off the brim of my hat. I reached for my shoes and realized my hands were too cold to untie my strings. I fumbled with them for quite some time and finally got situated.
I continued to assess the situation. "Okay, I'm cold, wet, and little uncomfortable in my hands and feet, but I've got lots of energy and we're over halfway there."
We heard the loud welcoming voices of the volunteers as we approached Barr Camp. They let us know we were well with in the cutoff time and that even though the reports about the weather at the summit indicated it was cold, things were progressing as normal. They had music playing, lots of great food, and very encouraging words.
This was such a great feeling. We strolled out of the camp with confidence. We had gotten there much faster than last year and we both were feeling great. No huffing or puffing and we had just gone above 10,000 feet.
It was getting rainier though. Maybe it was getting colder, I couldn't tell anymore, I was just cold all over by then. We tried to admire the scenery that had just captivated us the last time. But this time the wild flowers were drooping, the leaves weren't fluttering, the sun wasn't twinkling in on our cheeks as it shined through the trees, it was just wet everywhere and cold all over.
As we had covered our eighth mile and were still progressing my heart started to speed up a bit. I began to recall how difficult the last few miles were. I remember the struggle I had with myself to not stop even though every intelligent fiber of me really thought I should. Now I was wondering, "If it was hard on a good day last year, what is waiting for me up there?"
Right around the same time a very chilling rumble of thunder shook through the mountain range. I swallowed hard and put my "I'm not scared" face on as my Dad and I turned wide eyed to one another. I don't think he bought my face that time or the next two times the thunder roared either.
There's something quite peculiar about hearing thunder when you're nearly 12, 000 feet in the air. It's like hearing "fresh thunder." None of that "left over" business we get down nearer sea level is comparable to hearing it nearly from the source.
By this point I was either trembling from the cold or the fear. Probably both. But here we were less than four miles to go and it's not like we could turn back now right?
We flipped one more switchback and I heard my Dad say, "uh-oh." I look up only to see a crowd stopped up ahead. We moved closer as people were headed our way.
"They're turning everyone around a A-Frame, the storm is too bad."
My Dad and I stood there with our mouths agap. "What did she say?"
Others continued down in our direction. All of them saying a similar version of what we first heard. We stood frozen. Wondering if we should believe them. Wondering if we should just continue on anyway. A passerby mentioned it could have been a rumor that spread down the trail like a game of telephone. Now it was to our ears in a different version that when it started.
We looked up and we looked down. Behind us were some very indignant competitors who stated, "I'm going, I want my medal and jacket!"
Another descender said, "You could go up, but what happen one year was that the weather forced us to get stuck huddling in that little shack for four hours."
With that comment and another rumble of thunder I had made up my mind I didn't want to be stuck on the mountain. I don't know what motivated my Dad, but never the lass we turned around. Very few people were trying to pass us going up, most were airing on the side of caution and started their climb down as well.
We were crushed, deflated. This race that had hung so heavy on my shoulders for so many months was ending like this? I had suffered through weeks of healing only to be turned around and not be considered a finisher. I've never quit anything and now I was going to have a permanent DNF on my record. (Did Not Finish) I began to question everything. "What if we're making a mistake?" "Why did I feel like I was supposed to do this race?" "If I travel the miles down to Barr Camp and they tell us the race is still on, will I have the energy and the will to start back up again?" "God, you gave me peace about this, why is it ending this way?"
So many things traveled through my head. I was sure my Dad was thinking some of the same things I was. I even apologized to him. I'm not really sure why, but I knew he was foiled too.
The path became saturated with people at this point. The wind kicked up even more and the rain dumped. Strangely it got very loud. As we were going up, the people were so quiet, barely saying anything. Once we turned around everyone was chatting. My Dad and I even got caught up in some of the conversations too. I over heard some one on the phone. Her husband was in wave one and had made it to the summit. She relayed that he was now stuck on the highway. I guess the storm was so intense that even the vans couldn't get through the snow and sleet.
Finally we returned to Barr Camp. We were relieved to hear the officials say that the race had officially been called. Many wonderful volunteers pulled our bib numbers and cheered us for our efforts. In the tangle of the crowd I heard many people say that it was reported to have been terrible above tree line.
I had accepted our fate at this point and almost felt relieved that I didn't have to face that monster that was waiting for me above tree line. With frozen hands, my Dad helped me weasel my cell phone out of my bag and I called Kenton. It's amazing the places you can get great reception. I told him the sad story and gave him our best guess as to when we might be down. Then we commenced our journey down the Barr Trail.
At times we were finding ourselves climbing up, yet we were going down. Other times we felt like were were on a flat surface. We revisited the same landmarks from earlier, continued to move to the left as faster runners were flying down from behind us, watched our footing which seemed to be much trickier on the way down, and chatted away about anything and everything.
Runners wearing wave one bibs were coming down the trail and telling the horror stories of what is what like "up there." We chinned up a little at this, feeling a little better that even those with a 30 minute lead on us didn't make it either.
We passed more aid stations and the same amazing volunteers still serving with smiles. Eventually the question of the afternoon became, "How far did you get?" We shared in our defeat with other scorned runners and kept going down.
Eventually the cold was easing up and the views were becoming pretty awesome. We were actually coming down out of the storm and we could see the clouds just feet in front of us, lightly dancing through the valley. It was pretty awesome. We winced with anger as the sun even tried to poke out a few times. A clearing had been made and for the first time we could see downtown Colorado Springs. It appeared to be sunny and dry, errg!
Knowing that what had been done was done, we started bracing our steps with caution because the trail was getting steeper. We had reached the final miles of our journey and if you remember, the steepest portion of the trail. I tripped a few times and thought I'd learned my lesson to keep my eyes on the trail. However, it took me tripping, rolling my ankle, and nearly taking my Dad out with me to really let that rule stick in my head.
It became progressively harder to maintain our steady speed. It was more difficult to walk than to run at this point, plus it felt good to open up and let me legs not be held so tight.
My dad kept reminding me of my freshly healed stress fracture and how how I shouldn't be running down so fast. By that point I was tired of holding back. I knew pavement was in sight and I wanted to go. So without really saying anything to one another, my Dad and I both started running down. Finally we had reached the paved road and we were flying down the steep hill that had nearly kicked our tails earlier that morning. The streets were lined with lots of people. It was obvious that many other loved ones got the same call we gave and they were waiting for their runner to appear. People were clapping and cheering. It felt good. It felt as though our endeavor was being given due respect. We spotted our family and ran to the van. So many little conversations were started. I was trying to explain how scared I was, my Dad was sharing part of his testimony and we were about to jump in the car when Kenton mentioned another option. He said that many runners were running all the way back to the park where we started, and being greeting by quite a crowd of supporters.
It was only about a mile or two away and I looked at my Dad wondering if he wanted to run it in. I can't describe how great it was to see no hesitation in his eyes. Yeah, we just covered nearly double the miles we trained for. Yeah we were tired, hungry, cold, wet...... but we were going to finish every dang mile the day had to offer.
We ditched some of our gear in the van and headed for the park. There were runners everywhere. The course had long since been opened and we had to share the road with many confused drivers. We outnumbered the cars by so many that it felt very good to stroll right on past them.
We made it to the park, not to as much fan fare as I had hoped, but I was glad we ran there. A man with a notebook was writing down all the numbers he could as we walked by. There was no organized system, no finish line, just a bunch of people. Some were runners like us, returning from their descent. Some people were waiting on runners. Others were waiting on buses and vans to finally return their loved one from the snow struck highway.
There were several people walking through the mass wearing their medal and jacket. This signified that they made it to the top, they were finishers. It became pretty depressing, pretty fast. What were we? We would have finished, but they wouldn't let us. It's not like we quit. It's not like we didn't work hard. Heck, we put in a lot of miles on that mountain. But the sad fact remained that no, no we did not finish the race and we weren't wearing a medal to show for our efforts.
We rode back to the hotel room still smiling, but I knew my Dad was thinking all the same things I was.
I was exhausted but I needed to get out of my soaking wet clothes. I showered and dressed. I started to feel that weird nausea that I tend to get after a long race. I shook it off and ate a sandwich with my family.
It was quiet in my room. Kenton and Judah had fallen asleep. I was on the computer sending a short message of what had happen to our friends. I told them that my efforts didn't constitute a medal, but I was dealing with it. I told them how overwhelmed I had become with the true notion that I'm really not in control. I was feeling better. No lack of medal was going to take away what I had really done. No jacket would serve justice to the priceless experience I got to share with my Dad. I ran my race and I couldn't have done any better than I did.
With that peaceful lament the phone rang. My Dad informed me that the race director wanted to give us our medals and jackets. He was later quoted saying, "Some put in as much as 22 to 23 miles today. That's a finish." He said we'd have to go to the park at 4 PM to pick them up. I was pretty stoked. We stood in more rain and picked up our medals and jackets. We both had big smiles across our faces. It felt like we got to be accepted in to the family of Pikes Peak Ascent 2008. Now we were all bonded with our individually unique version of the story.
The night ended with yummy food and fun stories. We woke the next morning very sore. With a few pit stops we started that long journey back home to Kansas. It rained all the way home.
The run down reeked havoc on my legs and it was a good three days before I was walking normal again, but it was so worth it.
I embarked on this adventure with dread in my heart. I finished this experience with excitement. As the story rolled through my head over and over, I began to get so fired up about taking on that challenge again. I almost liken it to needing a "taste" of that mountain top. I wasn't alone either. My side kick, my Dad, had changed his hum-drum tune as well. He sent me an email that said, "I can't help it! I want to do it again!" I Replied with my same desires and included that, "That mountain is addicting!"
Our families think we're nuts and aren't nearly as spurred to jump on the Pikes Peak train as we are. We'll see, they might come around.
So what is it? Why is this mountain beckoning us? Why is it trying to woo us once more. We both know it's hard. We know that it's scary. Maybe that's just it.
I can't describe the joy I have in knowing that I have had these priceless experiences. To know one day I'll be old and still have these memories stored in my heart. To really stand back and examine what has taken place. I have gotten to face some of the most intense challenges I will ever encounter and I've come out the other side. Plus, I've gotten to endure them with my Dad. My Dad has gotten to see me at the point where I want to quit. At the point where no good reason stood between me and giving up. He's seen me struggle, stagger, and keep going. He's seen me laugh when he knows I want to cry. He's encouraged me when I was empty. He's painted a prettier view than what I was seeing. He's believed in me when I was void of faith. This hard and scary mountain gives me time with my Dad and the amazing man he's become.
Through this experience I have grown closer to my Dad. And through these trails and trials I have gotten to see my Father in heaven through my Dad. Just as the Lord encourages us to keep going, fight the good fight, and to never give up, my Dad has done the same for me. Just as the Lord promises it will all be worth it in the end, my Dad has done the same for me.
It is so precious to have those truths illustrated in a touchable way.
Thank you Dad for believing and showing me His love from the mountain tops.
What do you think? "One More" Time?
Another Topeka Visit.
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