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.....


  1. Oh my goodness! This reminds me of when I was at Frontier Ranch (a Young Life camp) many years ago. We hiked a mountain....think we started at 11,000 feet and ended at 14,000 feet. I literally had 2 guys holding my hands to keep me on my feet and moving forward. I felt EXACTLY like you did!!! And I was last too! Hundreds of high schoolers made it to the top and here comes their slow leader with 2 guys holding me up! But in the end, it was worth it. What a view!! As you're describing your experience, I was feeling it....just like I did about 15 years ago!!! Can't wait to hear more of your story!!! :)

  2. I'm reliving this day with you, Sarah! What a day! So glad we stuck with it and kept going! One of my favorite memories by far. So glad I got to share it with you! Love you my sweet friend!