Tuesday, August 4, 2009

Don't give up, or, "How I topped-off my summer vacation..."

I had a friend who told me of a mathematics course she had in college. She was late to class, and when she arrived the professor was lecturing on theory. On the board were two equations. She wrote them down and that night she was able to solve one, but the other seemed impossible despite hours of ciphering. The next day she got to class early and while handing the professor the assignment, told him she was only able to solve one equation and wanted to know the formula for the other. The professor told her both equations were examples without solution. He then checked her work and found she had, in fact, correctly solved the impossible. No one told her so she was able to solve it. Years later I heard the same story in a seminar being used to point out every problem has a solution, even what seems impossible to most.

I, over the past three days have attempted to tell the story of my walk up the hiking trail of Pike's Peak, the Barr Trail. My blackberry has begun to freeze-up and lose most postings except for the shortest of script. At a friend's home I stayed with, I was stopped by a problem with the computer. Every word I would write would turn to Arabic when I pressed the space key. I lost yet another post earlier today when my hostess wanted to play me a song and did not "save as draft", and hours of writing was lost. Each time the content has been different, down to the titles. I will attempt to get my story out and get it on line. I am just as curious as you may be to see what I have to say: the above story and title were not in any of my previous attempts.

Last week when I wanted to walk up the road to Pike's Peak the ranger told me I couldn't as I would impede traffic. He said "they" may let me walk the trail on the East face. I had just finished walking over five-hundred and fifty miles for diabetes in honor of my Mother and Uncle and was determined to celebrate my Uncle's birthday by reaching the top of the peak; a symbolic gesture to his achievement of managing diabetes for decades, and being there for his relations, his children, and grandchildren. Until "they" told me otherwise, I was going to get there (to the summit). Call it stubborn pride, love, dedication, or being late for class and not hearing the professor say it could not be done. I was going to get the World to the top.

Friday morning at seven I put on my backpack, unleashed the World from the back of the van, leashed Nice (the dog), and hit the first steps up the trail. I was just in front of a large group of soldiers who were at first willing to help get the world to the top but their mission did not allow the time needed to get over this mountain. After a few yards they had to pass. I would lift the World on the pole railings or the rocks and shrubs as they passed in small groups. There were also many runners training for this month's summit run and marathon who had to pass. Hikers, families, and dogs passing also. All of whom had their mission: to get to the top of the mountain. And I had to get the six-foot-wide World out of the five-and-a-half foot path with post rails on one side and rocks and shrubs on the other, out of the way for every one. This meant rolling it up the rocks or atop the rail sometimes using my head as anchor to allow them by.

No part of my task was easy. The world was twice its usual weight from the rain the night before making it very heavy. I was keeping Nice (the dog) close while dogs and their owners passed still holding the World up. Many of the runners were irritated at the obstacle on their path. The bolts on the rails gouged paint from the canvas surface of the World; as did many rock and boulders. The first three miles had railings and the World was always too wide, causing me to roll up on the top rail without losing it over the side, or to squeeze it by each set of post bolts every eight feet. The altitude kept me out of breath as many who passed asked "Why?", "What?", and "Where?"... all asking as I teetered on the edge of the rail or while I was holding the world against a bolder or tree. I could hardly breath or answer having taken less than two days to get used to the altitude.

Nothing I had done in life had been this hard. I was having doubts about getting to the summit. The World was too wide for the path, and so many people were going by. I was exhausted. I asked a man going by how far 'till the railings ended, and said I was thinking of just deflating the World and carrying it up on my back, after he had told me these railed turns went on for three miles. I'm not sure what he said to encourage me, but it was enough to calm my oxygen deprived mind and I resolved to round the third turn...

Soon I got into a steady pace of pushing and then stopping to get air, the effort with the pack, dog, and maneuvering the World through the trees, rocks, and rails had me breathing as if I were running a race. Once when a woman pushing twins in a baby carriage could pass me, the concentration was extreme, and I rolled the World on the top rails past narrow boulders and tree trunks. One false move and it would tip off the side. Occasionally a passer-by would help me in an especially hard situation. Then they would disappear up the mountain, leaving me with my ever more scarred World, my dog, and my doubt. Lack of air and constant heaving from exertion was second to the task of maneuvering the next boulder.

I was given misinformation by an old German the day before who had said he had made the ascent 600 times. He told me it was nine miles and it was more like twelve. People were running to the top and back in a few hours and hiking with packs in eight to ten hours. I had enough food, water, and dog food for a day and a half. The man had told me the Barr campsite at the half-way point had lodging and supplies. He said they had meals also. With the hard labor of moving the World up the mountain, I took to asking some hikers on the decent if they had any spare water. Though I was trying to conserve I needed more than I had brought and would have run dry by the end of the first day. At five o'clock I called my brother after having to let some air out of the World in order to force it through a group of boulders that formed a tunnel that I could not get through (A man had tried to help and just got it wedged-the World needs TLC) I asked my brother "What was I thinking?" He said "As long as you're having fun." I lied and said yes. I had many funny moments and conversations up the mountain, few fun moments. As the first day came to a close I met three young men who had passed with their husky earlier in the day. They had been bumped from their reservations at Barr camp and had decided to come back down before dark. As they walked away I asked if one of them might sell me one of their bed rolls, it was getting cold and the blanket I had would be enough, but I thought it better to be safe rather than dead. One was willing, and they also gave me their bag of dog food as well as an orange and a couple food bars. It was getting dark and thunder brought a light rain. I was a mile and a half from Barr camp with no hope of shelter when I got there. The young men's information led me to think the camp was not the bounty of help the old German had led me to think.

I camped under a pine tree and covered myself from the rain with the small 4' x 7' tarp. We quickly fell asleep. We were first awakened by two men just as it was approaching full darkness who commented I looked comfortable under my plastic and pine bed. I was. Later I was startled awake by Nice (the dog) bolting to the path into four men with head lights who were walking at night up the mountain. He had pulled from the loop of the leash out of my sleeping hand. And, having scared them thoroughly, was wagging his tail with pride and leaning against them as we talked. They also commented on my comfortable sleeping arrangement. The next wake-up call was a nice woman who was going up alone for a summit sunrise. She had seen only the glowing green eyes of Nice the dog (who apparently also looks like a mountain lion in the dark.) She had her knife drawn, but as I woke up again, she was getting the proud wag from Nice and was soon the leaning post of my attention-deprived companion. The nice woman offered to help get the World further up the mountain in the dark with the use of her head light just as a wind and rain became stronger. I thought about it, and even got to my feet, but the wind and my wobbling legs fatigued from the day sent me back under my cover. A little after four I woke finally to the darkness and began to gather my things when Nice began to growl at a light coming down the path. It was the nice woman from earlier who had been soaked from the rain and had napped awhile in the outhouse at Barr camp before heading back down. She said she would try again in a couple weeks, more rested and prepared for the ascent. She shown her light as I pumped some air into the World and got my pack loaded up, another example of our getting help just when we need it. Since beginning this journey from Kentucky months ago we have had so much help for which I can't thank people enough.

I made the mile and a half to Barr camp around seven, the air ever thinner in the darkness before dawn. My exhaustion caused me to stop several times to rest. Once I was almost falling asleep when Nice kept nudging me. He usually is content to lay there when I stop. At his urging I plodded up the dark path. A man passing offered to help at one point just as it became light. He helped for a few minutes before wishing me luck, and, like several good people on the climb, disappeared up the mountain trail. When I got to Barr camp I had coffee and leftover pancakes and garlic biscuits, rented a water filter, and filled my bottles from the stream. The folks were nice to me and I heard of the four men who were sent away in the night. Their lights shinning as they asked to come in and get warm. The woman who ran Barr camp told them to put on more clothes and move along. Wearing shorts in the alpine darkness pleading for help got them no quarter from that well seasoned hostess. I politely thanked her for the pancakes and the filter and made my way up the second half of Pike's Peak. Six miles to go.

Here I will stop until I get to another place to write and I hope to complete the telling of the climb. I have not seen my home in months and am not half the way back. Again I ask for your patience.

Until then, be well.


Anonymous said...

Erik – I congratulate you on your non-trivial accomplishment. Only those who have struggled up that mountain know what a feat you accomplished.

I wish we had known your story when we came across you on the Barr trail that weekend. We were curious enough that we looked up your website upon our return and learned much more about your crusade. I will anxiously await the rest of your post before I tell you all of the reasons that I thought (at the time) you were crazy and how you could have died up on the mountain (and you would have been far from the first if you had).

I was one of the leaders of the Boy Scout troop that passed you early Friday morning on our way up the mountain and then again Saturday on our way back down when you had just reached the A-Frame/timberline.

Had we known your situation and needs better - we would have given you food, water, possibly shelter, and some better advice (useful advice - as opposed to the "old German’s" advice –which in reading your blog – may have been technically accurate but definitely misleading in your situation). Our troop makes the trip to the top of Pikes Peak each year and we have become somewhat familiar with the mountain. Most first timers make the same comment as you made "this was the hardest thing I have ever done" - and that is without pushing a big ball up the mountain.

As a Wilderness First Aid instructor once told me - "you may love the mountains - but it does not care a bit about you". We hear reports about people (tourists and locals alike) getting in trouble on that mountain every month (sometimes every week if not every day) because they are ill prepared. Preparation and information is the key to such an undertaking and unfortunately you were not adequately prepared (neither physically, or “informationally” - even though you at least did a little research). Conditions on the mountain can change in a matter of hours (as you experienced) and winter conditions (e.g., blizzard conditions) can be experienced anytime of the year above certain elevations.

I am glad you are back safe and sound (we were wondering how your trek ended – sorry to be blunt but we assumed reasonably well since we had not read about you in the paper) and I am sure you will remember your accent for the rest of your life. I will check back to read the rest of your post later.

Best of luck on your future – and if you ever attempt another mountain with your world ball again – give a call to the local Search and Rescue as they will know best how to help accomplish your goals and keep you safe (since they have seen almost every mistake ever made on a mountain).

Also it takes at least 3 days to acclimate to the altitude here – 6months to fully acclimate – no surprise you were a bit short on O2…

Anonymous said...

Erik--Your climb is not only inspirational but motivational as well. We passed you on Saturday, both while we were going uphill, and again a while later as I was injured shortly above the A-Frame, you, Nice and the World were about 1/2 mile from A-Frame going up, and were in need of water. We were the passerby's that gave you the water. Had I known your story, I would have done more for you than give you water... even though I had torn ligament and muscle in my hip on our way to the summit.

Your accomplishments in climbing this mountain are amazing, since it takes down so many hikers every year. I found on the trail that lots of people (the Barr Trail regulars) were quick to pass, not paying attention to the beauty of what Pikes Peak has to offer, but also the rich history it shares with the surrounding landscape. They were eager to reach the summit, as everyone is, but if there is one lesson, even my husband and I can take from this, slow down every now and then, and ask a fellow human if they can be of assistance, not just for the uphill climb, but the downward stretch too.

Thanks for sharing your story, I can't wait to hear the rest and how you finally made it to the summit! :)