Tuesday, October 15, 2013

August and Everything After- Part 6 - Counting to 10

It was our first "official"break (even though I had already stopped "to take in the views" a handful of times) and the place was called "The Lake of Clouds."  It was stunningly beautiful.  We were just at tree line and the sun was officially up.  Everyone had been resting for a while by the time I arrived in all of my huffing and puffing glory.  I gulped my water down.  I had packed three large water bottles in my backpack and I swear, water had never tasted so good...but I had to be careful and ration it which was hard to do when I felt like drinking the whole thing.  The bad thing about being the last in line is that by the time you actually get there and start "resting" everyone else who has been resting already, is ready to get going again!  I snapped a few photos and tried to regain some composure.  

This is my friend, Woody.  (Sometimes I still like to call him Saint Woody because of all he did to help me and a handful of others up the mountain). He is awesome and will forever be one of my favorite people because of the way he helped me on this hike....some more on that later.  I will just say, that from this point in our hike onward, he designated himself as the last person in line for the rest of the hike.  Not because he was slow or out of shape.  Quite the opposite, he is a tremendous athlete and a great hiker.  But he just felt that it was important that no one besides him would have the distinguishing title of being "last."  Believe me, to those of us trading places along the trail toward the back of the line, this was a tremendous blessing.  What I was also about to learn about Woody first hand, was he has an incredible servant's heart and a huge gift of encouragement. (I am making this hike sound like it was a race or something, it was absolutely not and it did not feel like it.  But what it felt like was an intense magnifying glass of separation between those who struggled physically, mentally and emotionally with the physical demands of the hike and those who did not).  A few of us toward the end of the line were not used to having a hard time completing something we had actually "prepared" for...so, you get the idea.

Anyways, on we hiked.  Spirits were still high and everyone was having fun.  Upon leaving the trees, we began to have some incredible views.  You can literally see for miles when you are climbing a mountain and it takes your breath away when you stop to look up and take it all in.  The "fast" group was rapidly becoming a small moving herd in the distance...way far up ahead on the trail.  Individuals were not able to be distinguished and they just looked like ants.  The "slower" group was where I was, (clearly!) still toward the back as we spread out single file hiking upwards....Joe and his girlfriend leading the way with ease.  

The next phase of the hike is kind of a blur for me.  I remember the sunshine, the trail winding up and around rock formations, over "hills" on the mountain's side, and just the beautiful views all around us. Based on our views, it seemed like the summit could not be that much farther up the trail because we were so high up in comparison to the mountains around us, but I was way off on that assumption.  

When we stopped for a quick drink here and there, looking back and seeing how far we had come from where we had started was inspiring and also an encouragement to continue going forward, even though it was getting harder and harder to maintain a good clip of forward motion.

It was during this time, that two people in the group stopped hiking.  There was a rule that no one could quit alone.  No one would be left by themselves on the trail, it was way too dangerous.  So luckily, two people had gone far enough in their minds and stopped climbing.  I remember looking back at them from farther on up the mountain and we could see them sitting down beside the trail on the mountain savoring the view and just relaxing in the sunshine.  I was jealous of how fun that looked, but also determined to continue forward.

There were a few more group stops throughout these hours of climbing, similar to before, where the majority of the group would get to the "resting place" long before those of us struggling toward the end of the pack would, leaving us little time to catch our breath and get a drink before the "group" was ready to continue onward.... it was defeating in so many ways to walk up to the resting crew, panting, huffing and puffing, sweating and struggling, to hear "Good job, guys!" or "You can do it, Sarah..." from Joe the encourager/leader of that group (and others too, but for some reason, his voice was the one that grated on my nerves because despite all of his kindness and genuine encouragement, my pride was dying a slow painful death).  He was getting a full view of what he was "missing out on" and I had to believe it was not a pretty sight which made the awkward situation even worse in my mind and heart.  He was only doing his job as the group leader/encourager (which he did for everyone else too- not just me), but it only made me want to strangle him and start my own group. (We can and do laugh about this now but I was NOT laughing then....)

That eventually did happen...not the me strangling him part, but as the hike wound its way on up the trial, the slowest of the slow group eventually got slower and slower and slower until we became a third group.  The slowest.  It was actually a little bit freeing because now we were moving at our pace and not the faster pace of the "slower" group.  Joe was officially not in my group any longer and I was free to suffer and struggle and battle against the mountain as needed without a thought of how I must appear.  There were 5 of us in this third group...Woody, another kind hearted, encourager and self-appointed group 3 member named David, Jessica, our sweet pal Ginger and me.  These were my peeps.  They did not let me quit and I did not let them quit.  Luckily for us, none of us wanted to quit at the same time otherwise we literally would not have made it.  We gritted our teeth, gulped our water and stumbled forward and upward together.

My view for a large part of the hike...eyes down, focused on my next steps and on breathing!  I took this photo because I knew I wanted to remember it.
What I remember most about this time in our small group 3, was counting to ten.  Literally out loud.  We were so exhausted, discouraged, not feeling well and struggling, that it was absolutely all we could do to take literally ten steps and then stop for about 30 seconds and then take another ten steps.  I am not being dramatic.  This is the truth.  I have no idea what the view looked like during this time because my eyes were focused on the ground and on the back of the boots in front of me.  Just counting to ten over and over.  We lost sight of the others in group 2 as they continued on out of sight.  It was incredibly difficult but we were all determined to make it and when one of us drooped in will or spirits, the others swooped in to offer encouraging words and the reminder, "Just take another ten steps and then take a break.  You can do it."  And it was just like that that we tackled the tallest mountain in Colorado...ten literal steps at a time...baby steps in hiking for sure.  We just stayed in the fight and did not give up...and it was not a pretty sight.  Did I mention that already? Our nerves, bodies, minds and spirits were stretched THIN yet, we had a looonnnggg ways to go yet.

I remember having a hard time (I know! Literally nothing was easy for me about this hike-) with not being able to see the top.  As a planner, I like to know where we are going and how long it is supposed to take to get there, so I know what to expect and can adjust expectations accordingly.  This was not the hike for someone like me- all I had was an endless trail of struggle before me with no end in sight.  I just felt like things were getting worse and worse as we went on, and I wanted to know that it HAD to end.  I just had no idea how or when or where!  It was killing me.  Looking back, I wonder now if God intentionally clouded my view of how much further I had to go, just like he does in real life, so I would not give up seeing the reality of how much harder it was going to get before it got better.

 I knew we had to be getting closer and closer- not close, but closer. Based on the views and our obvious altitude gain, and every now and again, we would catch wind of happy clapping sounds and yelling from the top by our rock star friends in the first group who were already there that were carried on the winds like a radio coming in and out of tune.  I personally could not see beyond the next ten steps.  It was killing me to continue walking into the unknown not knowing how much farther this difficulty and challenge was going to last. I did not think I was going to make it.  I thought about quitting every two steps.  I wanted to lay down on the trail and just sleep and actually catch my breath and just never get back up.  Group 3 refused to let me. Woody countered all of my negative talk about quitting with encouragement and reassurance.

(I also forgot to mention that somewhere along this part of the hike, a man in his 50s or 60s RAN UP the trail passing us and then later RAN BACK DOWN passing us AGAIN.  It was insanity at its finest.  I've never felt better about myself!  ha!)

By this time, Woody was carrying all of my water relieving me of those few extra pounds in my back pack.  I felt like puking every time I stopped and I just remember spitting and burping a LOT.  Did I mention that all dignity and graciousness had flown off the cliff a few hours back?  Woody was an absolute saint because he only encouraged and listened and acted like nothing was happening as Jessica, Ginger and I muddled through our own battles of self-doubt and struggle out loud and with one another.  I felt dehydrated, but I was gulping water every chance I got.  It was getting colder outside now because we were so high up in elevation.  Few words were spoken among us other than the occasional talk of quitting followed by encouraging words and counting our steps again.

foggy and no idea where we were heading next on this crazy trail...how much farther??

This was by far, the most difficult physical thing I had ever done in my entire life.  Right now, it was mind over body 100%.  At one point earlier in the hike, I had swallowed my last bit of pride and had called out to Joe asking him to shout back to me when he could see the top- the finish line because by this point, I was convinced I was not going to make it and that I would probably die here on this rocky trail- from frustration, exhaustion, embarrassment, and natural causes. I needed to know that this struggle was going to end and I had to ask him to help me hold onto the rope a little bit longer with the promise of a finish line.

To Joe's credit, he did just that.  He did not acknowledge my suffering or struggle or embarrassment but just promised to tell me when things were about to get better...and later when I heard his voice calling out to me from within the cloud bank we were now hiking through, his promise that he could see the finish line (and that there indeed was one) offered that final boost to my flagging body and spirits...  Group 2 had summited.

Group 3 still had a ways to go, and like in Vegas, everything seems so much closer than it really is..... but the reality was, that now, over 6 hours into our hike, I knew we were close and that we too were going to make it.....

Thursday, October 10, 2013

August and Everything After - Part 5 - Hellloooo Mt. Elbert

As I'm navigating through this current season, I'm choosing to remember God's faithfulness to me in recent years.  It's strange, but my story with God, even though it started in my childhood, really began one August, just a few Augusts ago....

I am not sure of the exact time the alarm went off the day God changed my life, but I know it was somewhere in the early 4 o'clock hour if not earlier.  I also know I had not really slept more than 45 minutes the entire night because I was nervous.  One of the main events for this trip was a group hike up the tallest mountain in Colorado:  Mt. Elbert.  Everyone was really excited about it and we were meeting to caravan to the trail head which was approximately 45 minutes away.  It is a pretty big deal to climb what are commonly referred to as "The 14'ers" in Colorado- or the mountains whose summit's sit at an elevation higher than 14,000 feet.  There are many, and Mt. Elbert, located a little ways outside of Aspen, is the highest one of them all with a summit of: 14,433 feet. (If you are so inclined, you can read more about the 14'ers here). 

To be clear, when hiking a 14'er, the difficulty of the hike/mountain is not rated on summit elevation alone.  There are many factors that apply and there are many other 14'ers with a higher degree of difficulty whose summits have a lower elevation.  Mt. Elbert was chosen because it was a 14'er, and had a low degree (ie group friendly) of difficulty and was located near Aspen.  The trailhead even started around 10,000 feet elevation, so our total gain was "only" around 4200 feet or so.  Not too bad.  Having spent a part of every summer (practically) of my life in Colorado, I felt confident that this would be a beautiful hike only a little bit on the challenging side....after all, there was a clearly defined trail all the way to the top, it was rated a low degree of difficulty on paper and compared to some people on the trip, I had lots of hiking experience. (ahem.)

So our alarm went off early because when you are climbing a giant mountain, it is critical to start very early in order to be finished and off the mountain before the afternoon storms roll in...and they will roll in.  The weather can change in an instant and you want to be prepared- and when you are way up above the tree line, there is no shelter to be found and things can go from bad to life-threatening very quickly, so our goal was to start early.  Within our group, there were many who had climbed other 14'ers, so they had helped those of us who hadn't prepare mentally for what to expect with little tips and ways to dress etc.  The plan was for there to be two groups going up the mountain: a faster group, and a slower group.  There were pre-designated experienced hiker/leaders for each group identified, so that way if/when the two groups got separated, there were people to lead, encourage and help.  I knew that Joe was the designated leader of the slower group (not because he is slow, but because he is very patient and encouraging.  Because, lets be serious, hiking with Joe is like hiking with a mountain goat or gazelle- he is a complete natural...and I was about to learn this about him first hand.)

I was nervous for many reasons: I had never done anything like this in my life and did not know what to expect, I had not hiked in quite a while, I was profoundly out of shape and suddenly that made me feel scared, I was nervous about using the "bathroom" on the mountain, I was nervous about looking bad, I was worried about looking dumb/inexperienced in front of Joe and all of my other friends, I would be spending the entire day with Joe and his girlfriend all around me (no separate activities today!) which made my heart sink and my stomach lurch,  and since I could not slow my mind down to sleep the night before, I was starting out exhausted and I don't do well when I'm exhausted.  But hey, let's go hiking everybody!

There was a lot of drama around getting us all to the actual trail head that I'm going to skip over in the story because it does not directly add to the specific story I'm telling here but lets just say, vehicles were damaged by the "off-road" nature of the road, tires were flattened, we may have taken a wrong turn or two (which with a large caravan of 10+ vehicles on a one way dirt road, that is a pretty big deal) and plus, it was dark out and I was getting more nervous by the minute as we got closer to the trail head.  It is funny to me now to think back on how I was thinking things were not going to be "too bad" based on how the hike looked on paper when in reality, my nerves were telling me the truth the whole time!

We got to the trail head and everyone got out and began getting their gear ready, back packs were loaded up, water supplies double checked, hiking boots laced, photos taken and nervous/excited conversations abounded.  I remember at one point glancing across the clearing where we had parked and Joe and his girlfriend were hugging and laughing as they affectionately adjusted each other's packs and I wanted to gag, roll my eyes, cry and run away all at the same time- and we had not even started hiking yet! (Hello maturity!) It is hard to "hide" in a group of awesome and intentional people, but I was determined to not let any "cracks" show- either physically or emotionally.  (ahem!)

After a few large group "before" photos were taken, we all set off up the trail.  I remember feeling like we were moving at a pretty good clip as we wound our way through the thick, beautiful aspen trees. Not long after leaving the trailhead, my heart started POUNDING from exertion as we made our way up the trail.  I started off in the middle of the pack laughing and talking and admiring the beauty around us as we hiked...and then I started not talking as much and just concentrated on trying not to breathe so hard and loudly because much to my dismay, by my estimation and observation no one else seemed to be exerting themselves very much yet.  An this was after all, the beginning of our hike and by far the easiest part of the trail......not good news for me.

Soon, I gave up on trying to not breathe so loud and just let myself start gasping for air because I needed it!  When you are hiking and gaining elevation, you are losing oxygen in the air and it becomes more difficult to breathe....and you have to breathe to keep going (let alone stay alive) so I let my pride go a little bit and just gasped for every desperate breath.  (And no, I do not and have never suffered from Asthma.)

Gradually people began to pass me and were checking to make sure I was okay because by now, I was beginning to drip sweat.  So attractive and super humbling.  Not that everyone else would not also reach a point of major exertion, I was just the first. Literally....in the chilly dawn morning air, I was shedding layers, pouring sweat and panting trying not to focus on the pounding of my heart with every step I was taking and trying not to think about the fact that we were not even CLOSE to being a fourth of the way to the half way point!!!

The "good news" was that thanks to my dramatic slow down in pace, Joe and his girlfriend were out of my line of sight and the bad news was that by this point I had gradually moved from the middle of the pack to almost the very end of the line.  To say I was swallowing pride with every gasp of air would be an understatement. 

...and this was only the beginning of what I was certain was going to turn out to be one of the most difficult and challenging days of my life, but what I did not also realize at the time is that God was also writing one of my best days ever as well....  

Monday, October 7, 2013

So it's October already- what's been going on???

It is October- and September has flown by over here.  My apologies (again!) for my lack of time spent on the blog- there have been some other priorities that have arisen that have taken almost every spare moment of my free time these past few weeks!  I have not forgotten about the story I'm telling, but I wanted to give you a little glimpse of what we've been up to the past month over here... 

Joe traveled to California for work for almost an entire week.  Yes, I was insanely jealous.  It was a great trip for him, and Lily and I had fun just the two of us, and being a single parent for those few days only deepened my respect for single parents everywhere! Not a lot of free time when you are the only one holding down the fort!

....of course there was a lot of business as usual- trips to the grocery store, laundry, Costco, errands, etc. you know, the exciting things in life- But actually, the great thing about having a toddler is that even the mundane things in life ARE exciting if you are paying attention and looking through their eyes.  I've been trying to remember to do that and I love that about being with Lily- everything is fun (most of the time)...even a trip to the grocery store- especially if you get the coveted pink car cart! (I just wish we didn't have to go every single week! But I digress...)  In addition to errands, we went to the park a lot, played with sidewalk chalk, started up all of our regular fall activities again and had several play dates too.

I had a little mini-reunion with these two lovely gals with whom I have been friends with since kindergarten! I'm serious- we sat at the same table in our kindergarten class and have been friends ever since.  By our calculations, its our 34th anniversary of being friends! It was such a fun evening and we closed the restaurant down with our talking and laughing!

Late in August, my Great Aunt Jean passed away at the age of 93 and we held her funeral a couple of weeks later, allowing for family from all across the country to travel to town.  She was an amazing woman and the matriarch of our family- the last of her generation to pass for us.  She was ill, very ready to go and passed quickly for which we were all thankful.  We spent a long weekend celebrating and honoring her life with lots of family get togethers, meals, football game watch parties and getting her apartment cleaned out.  Her funeral was in a beautiful old church and was followed by a family dinner and our family's traditional balloon release in her honor.  (KU colors to boot for our family's oldest Jayhawk!)  Everyone's spirits were high and we all enjoyed getting to see each other despite the circumstances.  This side of our family is spread out in Seattle, San Diego, Colorado, Kansas, Wisconsin, and DC, so having almost everyone together was a gift.  We will miss Aunt Jean terribly, but we cherish all of the legacy and love of family she has left behind.

Getting ready to release balloons up to heaven for Aunt Jean...
Balloons to heaven...

We love you, Aunt Jean!
This was taken right before I got married.  My grandmother is on the left (she passed a few years ago) and her sister, my Aunt Jean is on the right.  She was always like another grandmother to me.  I love this photo of the four of us. 

One of the family dinners...

Almost the whole crew- only a few are missing! 

The next weekend, we had some of our family friends visit from Oklahoma City for a long weekend.  My friend from college, Jen, and her beautiful family came and stayed with us.  It was a full house, but we had a great time just getting our two families together and hanging out.  They have a son who is about 2 weeks older than Lily and a little gal (seen above) who is about seven months old- and as an added bonus, the weekend they stayed with us, she started crawling!  Lily was in heaven having the two of them around to play with...

...we visited Deanna Rose of course...

...here is my beautiful friend, Jen.  I swear she has not aged a DAY in the 20+ years we have been friends! Being around her this weekend just made me realize how much I miss her! She is like a sister to me and I love seeing her so happy and getting to spend time with her beautiful family.

...there may or may not have been discussions of a future engagement for these two...we both may or may not have already given our blessings!  Ha ha  Seriously, they were SO CUTE together. It was so surreal and hilarious to see them doing the exact same things even though they had never met before...funny little toddler pals.

...a glimpse of the amazing men we married and our little babes- 

...As I mentioned, throughout the month there were countless visits to the park...Lily's all time favorite thing to do...here she is loving every minute during a park visit with the Jacksons.

...we even had an official kids table! It was a delightful weekend with lots of play, laughter, college football, side walk chalk, water tables, boutique shopping, stories, walks, Starbucks, parks, noise, naps, and good food.  We love the Jacksons and have officially started a campaign for them to move to KC!

A glimpse of my one of my favorite places on the planet!  
Another big event this month was the massive flooding that took place in Colorado.  My family's cabin was fortunately unharmed in the flooding, however the darling little mountain town where it is located was not so lucky.  We watched daily from afar as the incredible damage was revealed.  The big-picture impact of the flooding is tremendous.

Down the mountain a little ways from the cabin...almost into town... (Photo credit)

One of the main highways into town...gone.  (Photo Credit)

The other main highway into town... (Photo Credit)

It goes without saying that we were so fortunate to not have sustained any damage to our property, and we realize so many were not as fortunate and our hearts are heavy for them.  Among the damage, one of our favorite little ponds to visit went from looking like this: peaceful and serene full of clear mountain water...

Lily visiting in July


to this:

a gentle mountain "stream" became a rushing river...and now the pond is gone and where it used to be is now a giant pile of debris and silt...unreal. (Photo Credit: my dad)
Not only is the lake completely gone, but it looks like it was never even there! I know this is small potatoes compared to the damages incurred by so many people impacted by the flooding, but for us having just been there, seeing this photo among all of the others was shocking.  Our prayers have been with all of the people affected and we continue to follow closely the stories of rebuilding and community fellowship that have been birthed from this tragedy.  

Among everything else going on this month, we also discovered some beautiful fairy houses built by a secret "fairy" in the woods near our house.  They were an absolute hit to say the least....sheer delight and completely enchanting.

So yes, all of this stuff has been keeping us really busy, but perhaps what has been keeping us the busiest and taking up every spare moment we have is one of the things we have not yet shared here on the blog...something that had us taking photos like this one...

and this one...

Here is a hint...

More details to come!