Alone & Alive With My Thoughts

If I see another rock, I think I’m going to scream.

These rocks are everywhere, getting in the way, climbing over them, hoping they don’t give way to a potential sprained ankle or nasty fall.  The trail was laden with these annoying and distracting protrusions.  I want to spy every inch of scenery; the wild flowers, the trees, the grass, the streams, but those damn rocks made that so difficult as it caused me to constantly watch my step.

Don’t trip.  Don’t sprain anything. Your knees. Pay attention to your knees.

I was with my favorite loved ones. We were there supporting and pushing one another onward.  There were words of worry and frustration and anguish from all of us, but our hearts kept us one through out the trek.  My mind took me to places within my own solitude while my heart found solace in the fact that I had others with me.  But you can only be by yourself in your own mind.  Its just you.  No one else is in there with you.  Every step, I felt my heart beating harder and faster.  I could even feel it thumping in my ears.  My mind starts it’s questioning.

Is that a good thing or a bad thing?  What are you doing to yourself?

Every few steps I’m reminded of the progress I’ve made; how far I’ve traveled from the car, from the trailhead, from the last time I stopped to catch my breath.  And then I look up, to as far as I can see.  My mind continues it’s questioning.

Holy shit! Seriously? Do you really think you can go that far?  I have no freaking idea, but I am going to try.  And by the way, shut up! I can clearly see that I’ve got a long way to go.

I trip. F’ you rock!

Our alarm clock went off at 5AM.  We were still on St. Louis time and had only been in Colorado about 20 hours.  Dana sent out the, “WHO’S READY??????” text at 6AM.

ME, ME!  I AM!

My back pack was packed, clothes laid out, food prepped. Time to load up. Yesterday’s wrong turn on a ONE WAY 11-mile drive along a mountain side in the Rocky Mountain National Park still had my nerves in a bit of an anxious bundle but our hike today didn’t involve a giant piece of machinery that would take us all along with it if a wheel took a loose rock or any of those other awful things my mind was envisioning. I was more excited than nervous. I wasn’t just going to see a mountain; I was going to HIKE up a mountain with the hopes to summit to the very top. To the PEAK!

But I’m just a small-town girl from flat Missouri.  Where it’s a mere 623′ above sea level.  By the time we arrived to our Colorado destination, we had ascended another 9000.’  Everyone felt a little difference with the higher altitude – sudden movements created a bit of dizziness or nausea but nothing too alarming.  Today we’re HIKING from 10,000′ to 14,022′. Get it? 14er:-) What’s to be anxious about.  Sure the air has about -25% humidity and way thinner than what I’m accustomed to but you can certainly hike 7 miles give or take.

Maybe its that thin air that made it easier to get lost in my own mind. Me and my thoughts. YIKES!  I was in the great wide open mountain side, at times wanting to belt out my best Julie Andrews “…the hills are alive with the sound of music…”

Ha! I can’t sing when the air is normal. The thin air is really getting to me.

We keep trekking on.  Rick is leading the pack, always 15-25 feet in front of us. I had a hard time wrapping my over-active mind around that.

Funny, he was the one that was the most UN-impressed with our 14er bucket list goal.  We don’t call him “Bat out of hell” for nothing.  So slow the heck down, pleeeease.

It took what felt like forever getting past the tree line. Trees can’t grow past a certain elevation due to colder weather conditions.

Yes! No more trees to maneuver through.  Oh my God.  This is AMAZING! The green hill side. The wildflowers.  So freaking beautiful.

I can’t wait to get a closer look at the basin just up ahead.

Dammit!  Damn rocks. Watch where you’re walking, Amy!

“Rick, WAIT UP!”

“Come on, Cletus (or Woman, or Jo)!” he’d yell back.

We stopped to snack.  I ended up carrying my Ziploc bag full of veggie straws for some time. Take a couple steps, eat 2 straws, repeat.

I could feel my heart pound a little more and I could hear my muscles cussing me out as we approached the last 750′.  The wind picked up significantly.  I looked back.

Oh my God, look how high we are; how far we’ve traveled.

I looked toward the peak.  The wind slapped me with its giant ice cold hand.

Shut up, lady and keep walking.  Go catch up with your bat-out-of-hell husband. Okay, fine. I will.  Right after I put on my gloves, wool cap and another thermal dri-fit long-sleeved shirt.

The sun was bright (and burning Rick’s scalp) all day.  We were all soaking wet from the grueling exercise which wasn’t helpful in the freezing wind.

Food. Extra clothes. Water. Let’s get moving.

Look! Marmots (ground hog looking rodents that like to get their pictures taken).

Amy, keep walking.

We kept climbing.  And the wind continued its attempts via 35-40 mpg gusts of ice cold freeze outs to knock us down or stop us in our tracks.  But we kept going.  Just with more breaks.  We made it to 13,500′-ish.  Barely.  I felt tears on the brink.

I can’t do this. This f’ing wind. My muscles. It’s too steep to keep on.

We found a spot on a couple of big rocks that blocked out the wind but not the sun. We sat and thawed ourselves out for a bit and contemplated the remaining 500′.

“Did you see where the trail went?  I can’t see it.” I wanted to cry. “I don’t know if I can do this,” I said to Dana.  We just looked at each other and nodded in agreement and some despair.

Will our trip be a failure if we don’t continue?  But, dying isn’t an option for you, Amy.  Shut up!  I’m not going to die.  Right?!

We didn’t have to say a word. Our eyes spoke, “I want to keep going. We came all this way. Let’s keep going. We can do this.”

I was so scared. There is no more trail, more like a faint path in the loose rock from hikers prior. Rick continued leading the way.

Thank you God, for him.  He’s been right in front of me the entire time.

“300 more feet, Amy. You can do it.”
“200. I’m right here.”
“Just a hundred more…” he called back to me.

“Rick, I don’t think I can.” The wind is so violent again. Actually it’s worse.  It’s put me on my hands and knees now, in fear of losing my balance. I’m doing what’s called scrambling. I call it praying. For this to be over. To be alive when I get to the top. The emotion is building.

I hope who ever is up there is okay with this blubbering lady. I hope I don’t rain on their bliss.

I don’t remember the moment I crested the summit and went from my hands and knees to my feet on top of the mountain. But I remember what my eyes saw the moment I felt I could stand.  It may have been through tear-filled eyes but that made it no less amazing.

I saw a vast world from a 360° view. I saw for miles and miles. I saw myself and realized I was just a tiny spec of matter on just another protrusion from this earth.  My 5’4″ stature had absolutely nothing on this 14,000′ mountain. I saw my husband, my King. I saw my best friend and her husband. I saw the couple we met earlier and their dog, Banzai, enjoying a celebration glass [water bottle filled] of wine. I saw a few fluffs of white clouds against the clear blue back drop of a sky.  I saw valleys and numbers of other peaks and reflections from the bodies of water strewn about. It was like an intricate tapestry or patchwork quilt – nature’s majesty.

I hugged them all tight. I cried. I couldn’t help myself. What I just did was grueling, breathtaking, magical, scary, liberating, painful. We don’t consider our life and all that defines us when we’re contemplating pushing on despite the intense fear and uncertainty. Once again, I’m alone in my thoughts.

Amy, what did you just do? Look around you. Do you really see this? Do you even know where you are right now? Hell, yeah! I’m on the top of a mountain.  I kept going.  I climbed an f’ing mountain. Do you have a clue? I mean really? Clue? What clue?

I’ve just been reminded of how much I’m ALIVE.  I’m even more alive at this very moment than I’ve ever been.

Do I have to leave?  You probably should start heading back.

Tears filled my eyes every time I’d replay what just happened those last few hundred feet.

Why am I so emotional? That was so scary and overwhelming yet I feel this sense of peace. Contentment. Calm. How can I feel so strongly about this adventure? I mean I love the water not climbing mountains. Everyone knows my home away from home is Aruba, the ocean. I’m an Aries, a fire sign. Water is what calms me.

But there is something much more powerful to finding calm while in the storm. Like that storm taking place in my mind those last 500′.

The trek down didn’t take as long but affected those muscles that didn’t get as intense of a work out on the way up.

Son of a nutcracker! Stupid rocks. I almost wiped out.

“You okay, honey?”  I’m okay.

But if I never see another rock, I’ll be totally find with that.

Us couples split up. They stopped to change, we kept going.  Like Rick’s ever going to stop.

We made it to the trailhead. Thank you, Jesus! Only 2 more miles to the car.

“Oh honey, I just want this walking to be over with. I’m done aching and sweating. Screw it. I’m just going to jump in that river.”

“That’d probably be pretty damn cold.” Rick’s right again.

Rick and I stopped often to readjust our packs and take off the extra layer of clothes that made us sweat all over again. We’d spend those moments leaning on each other, sharing sips of water and helping repack our back packs.  We held hands and found comfort from the aches and pains in each other’s arms if only for a brief moment.  We’d catch each others eyes as we broke from our hugs.

“That was the hardest thing we’ve ever done together,” Rick said to me. “I mean we’ve been through some really hard stuff, but nothing like this. I’m so proud of you, my Queen!” He kissed my forehead. He kept leading. Searching for my hand at times and looking back to confirm I was still right behind him. I was.

My emotions are everywhere.  My mind wanted rest too. And food and about 5 beers. Yes, beer!!  Like always, I searched for a comparison to what I just did.  But nothing really compares, at all.

The hardest thing I’ve done prior to this is having a baby (three times). You know what? That really is a decent comparison.  When I was expecting, I read and planned and watched videos and sought advice from other moms. But when I was in that delivery room, suffering from exhaustion, anguish and fear, I questioned if I could go on. But something pushed me. Something from deep within. That life beyond myself. The life that drives you to keep to going, to keep pushing.

Then there’s that blip in time when I don’t remember the pain or when I made that very last push to when the doc is holding my baby. That life.

And at that moment, I realize NOTHING, not one damn thing, could’ve prepared me for what I was about to lay my eyes on. This new life changed me. Forever.

None of the planning, reading or advice could’ve prepared me for that day on that mountain. That day my life changed. Again. My husband and I birthed a new life that will forever be a part of us – TOGETHER. Writing this, I chuckle.

Really, Amy? A new life? Seriously?!  Well yeah, seriously!

My eyes see differently now. My intentions have clearer meaning and I have an insatiable longing to BREATHE. To FEEL. To push FORWARD. To SEEK LIFE OUT.

Alone doesn’t have to mean lonely. Solitude doesn’t have to suggest isolation. I find strength and thought-provoking emotion and LIFE while being alone in my thoughts. Its all of these things that remind me that I am ALIVE.  All thanks to that mountain.

Feel free to peruse around my 14ER TRIP PHOTO ALBUM.

Photo credit:  Zach Smith fellow (and way more experienced) 14er.  Thanks for allowing me to use this incredible shot, Zach. Climb on, friend!

I inspire hope bringing families together! Blissfully married to @rhawkins18 & immensely proud mom three young adult children. Loves writing, laughing, dancing, crossfit, photography & hats!