When you reach the summit of anything there is an exhilaration that can be overwhelming. It can punch you in the gut with honesty. It can make you reflect on choices in our lives we are both ashamed and proud of. You can be filled with an enormous relief and excitement and also a deep sadness. We realize how small we are, tiny in the large world we live, and also how many things we set upon as children that never were fulfilled or imagined. It’s not all glory, it’s an awakening. It’s clearing of mental cobwebs in sweat and tears and pain that can make every emotion within us pound our psyches like an orchestra.
Somehow in my long four hour trek last weekend I found myself pushed like I hadn’t been before. I was angry at my naivety of my fitness level and arrogance. I was stunned that people who appeared less able-bodied blew past me. I wondered what the hell I was doing, several times, it all sorts of colorful foul language to myself, my girlfriend, and the damn bees that swarmed me repeatedly up the mountain. I channeled the voices of every motivation movie clip or sound bite I could remember in my life. Quotes from great philosophers, authors, motivational speakers, movies, and Yoda played through my head instead of IPod music. “Try not. Do, or do not.” I heard the little green bastard scold me as I struggled up different portions of the trail. Like young Luke my arrogance was overwhelming. And just like old Yoda, old men sped by me up the hill.
Three miles into my ascent I felt amazing. I was running confidently and with purpose. I didn’t see what the big deal was about this trek. The hype seemed undeserved. Who can’t handle this? By mile six I realized what I had gotten myself into. The perpetual climb up trails that never seemed to level was infecting my false bravado. I was getting pummeled by the climb. That imaginary finish line that was around each corner was never there. I kept waiting for the incline to stop but at every turn would watch it only increase. It was like a scene out of Inception. The floor became the ceiling above me. I was hoping I could wake up but found myself just in another dream inside a dream with myself being played by Screech from Saved by the Bell. Where was the casting re-write? I thought I could easily have been Tom Hardy. Dustin Diamond??!!
By mile ten I was cursing the existence of mountains. What was the purpose of man to climb these things? We invented elevators and escalators to avoid this. Technology enabled us to not torture our bodies with such ignorant pursuits. Hell, even the old settlers had stagecoaches and horses. Yet you keep moving. Realization sets in that there is nothing else to do but move forward. No one is going to do it for you. It’s you versus your subconscious. The voices of don’t and failure against the motion of progress. Those voices are always there, mine just happen to sound like the munchkins from the Wizard of Oz, but helium-throated negativity is still a downer! And I’m going up!!
And up and up..and up. You realize by mile 12 and the promise of the Mt. Ashland Ski Lodge that up is eternal. The road leading to the lodge is no oasis of comfort but more unending Eternia that must eventually lead to Castle GreySkull. Oh how I wish Battle Cat hadn’t abandoned me on mile 7, but I must move forward.
The lodge was finally reached and a nice reprieve but I knew that the hardest part was yet to come. The entire run/hike was built around the final hurdle of the journey. I would have to climb to the top on Mt Ashland, the white weather ball that had glared down at me from Lithia Park in its brilliance. It seemed insurmountable, unattainable, yet was closer than ever until I turned the final turn on the trail and looked up at where it actually was. Holy Sh##$$%$&*(__()@#%$#! Beeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeepppppppppppp.
This was a test of the emergency broadcasting system…
It was a straight vertical incline that looked almost like a ride out of Disneyland, if Disneyland found masochism fun for the whole family. This was the Matterhorn on steroids. This was the Alps out of the Sound of Music minus the singing children and the music and general happiness. 12.5 miles of hardship led me to half a mile of straight physical brutality. What made it even more intimidating were the people who has passed us miles ago who were still only half way up the final mountain to the finish. Dear God, what have I done?! There was no secret elevator passageway. No rope climb option. It was scaling, scaling rocks, hands and knees style. The dream inside the dream now spun upside sown with Yoda and munchkins singing and Skeletor glaring down at me.
All you can do is keep climbing. You must silence the singing, the doubts, the acid-trippy visuals and keep moving forward. Ten minutes later you look down and see the same bewildered face from someone else that you made when they are looking up at you. Twenty minutes later you are near the top the finish line beckoning. The altitude sucks you dry, the length exhausts you, but the finish is worth the pain. You are there, finished, four hours later. Someone tells you the top guy finished under two. You want to hurl that person off the mountain, but you are too tired to even lift your arms. They have a masseuse at the top for muscle relaxation, but where is the psychiatrist?! Oh, that’s what the beer is for? I share a keg with my green friend Yoda and Skeletor.