Pikes Peak Challenge 2010!

9 hours, 13-miles, and 7,515 vertical feet later Pikes Peak is done and done!

The Pikes Peak Challenge is an annual fundraiser for the Brain Injury Association of Colorado to raise money for brain injury awareness and prevention. Pikes Peak is among the renowned "fourteeners" in Colorado–mountain peaks that exceed 14,000 feet above sea level. (That's 2000 feet above tree line.) In other words, for born and bred Bay Area sea level me–that's really f*ing high! (Thanks Google Earth for the dramatic blood red 3D rendering and depicting the trail in all its intimidating detail and daunting ascent.)

Participants in the Challenge pledge to raise $150 and hike this trail shown in red known as Barr Trail. Due to the outstanding and incredibly generous contributions of several friends, family members, and mysteriously anonymous persons I was able to raise $665 for the cause! Totally amazing! (THANK YOU! High five! Fist bump! Booty smack!) I honestly didn't think I would make the $150 minimum myself and was prepared to cover the difference out of my own pocket. But thanks to the above donors and the gentle encouragement and expert coaching of my excellent fundraiser sweetheart boyfriend, I way waaaay waaaaaaaaaaay exceeded my own expectations–by more than 400%! (The secret, apparently is that in order to get people to contribute money to something–you need to ask them. Shhhh.)

If it looks like the hike was long and difficult, it's because it was! Knowing that so many people believed in the cause and supported my participation was an indispensable motivator. If I had a dollar for every time during the hike where I fleetingly imagined or wistfully schemed about how I might elegantly extricate myself from this mountainous commitment-THAT could be a fundraiser!

The hike was also incredibly beautiful! I promised folks some pictures so here they are!

This is my boyfriend Eric at the trail head. He's how I got into all this business. I asked him very sweetly one day many months ago, "Honey, what would you like for your birthday?" And he replied without hesitation, "I'd really like you to climb this mountain with me in Colorado. It's a fundraiser!"

We're still in the first year of our romantic togetherness and I naively agreed with abundant lovestruck enthusiasm–"Sure, I'd love too!" –even though I had no idea really what I was committing to do. (It's the beard. I am helpless to resist.)

Because the hike is so long and the conditions on the mountain highly variable, the challenge begins before sunrise. Here I am at 5:30 am in my windbreaker, new backpack (My prize for collecting over $600 in donations!) and–yes–my sun hat.

About the hat, since everyone comments on the hat. It arrived one magical Saturday morning at the Brooklyn Flea Market shortly before we departed for Colorado. I had been searching for a good sun hat all summer here in NY and at last it found me. It has a bit of provenance to it having been designed by Frank Olive, a somewhat notable NY milliner so it makes a good NYC souvenir. But really I bought it because of the shape. And, of course, the flowers. And, it's real straw. I'm almost thirty-five now and think about wrinkles more often than I used to. A good well-liked sun hat is something everyone should have. And it made perfect sense to wear it on the hike. I was surprised that not everyone was wearing a wide brimmed flower covered straw hat on the trail. What could be more suitable? If I had a dollar for every friendly comment about the hat during the hike–that could also be its own fundraiser. It's a good hat.

Here are our kick-ass team members, Megan and David. (Can you tell the sun is just starting to rise?) Their pro. Native Colorado-ans and frequent Rocky Mountain hikers. They whipped Eric and I quickly into shape for this thing–thank goodness–by taking us on a rigorous training hike the weekend before. Megan is apparently the off-spring of some serious mountain hiking blood. (I think her mom might be a superhero.)

The sun is up! If you look just over my head in this picture you can faintly see the top of Pikes Peak in the distance. The red line on the map ends up there. At this point the whole notion of climbing to the top of that rocky smudge in the distance from my present location ON FOOT is still entirely abstract. As far as I am concerned, we've just been taking a walk in the woods in the dark for an hour and now the sun is rising. Time for a granola bar!

Here are Eric and David at Barr Camp. It's about 9:30 am. The previous four hours were characterizes mostly by the ontological confusion inherent to hiking vigorously in the dark during the hours in which one is customarily cozy and curled up in a warm bed. Which is good. It would have been much more difficult had I been more awake or conscious of the fact that I was hiking 7 miles before breakfast. Barr Camp is approximately half-way up the trail and considered a point of no-return hence, I'm guessing why, the very serious 'tude the Brothers Talbert are sporting here. After Barr Camp, the only way off the trail is from the top. So this would have been the last ideal place to faint or sprain something or develop altitude induced hallucinations and catch a 4WD ride off the mountain to quietly take myself out of the Pikes Peak game.

The trick I realized was to rest–as often as necessary but not for too long. Rest is surprisingly restorative. Drink some water. Snack a bit. (Those were the best tasting free pretzels and animal crackers of my life!) Take in the amazing view and all the beautiful colors. Think to oneself, "This looks nothing like New York City. Wow." After a few minutes it gets easier to put the previous hours and miles behind and focus on the ones ahead. In some sense it's like any long project that requires patience and endurance. You break it up into smaller and much more manageable pieces, eat a little, appraise, enjoy, and keep going! (I think Eric looks good in green.)

And what a beautiful state! Colorado is like if Montana and New Mexico met somewhere in the middle. At this point we are just about to pass the tree line. The trail will get much more rocky and no more shade! Good thing I've got my trusty sun hat. The alpine tree line appears because after a certain elevation the temperatures become too cold or the climate too snowy to sustain tree growth. The good news is that this means were are getting closer to the finish!

Eric and I took a nice long break at the tree line. I didn't want to get so caught up in trying to finish that I forgot to enjoy the gorgeous scenery. Though we're starting to look (and feel) pretty tired now we're still smiling! The truth is I smiled the entire time, no matter how tired I got. And Eric was a very supportive companion.

From afar these flags beckoned like a magic fairy circus. While my rational mind understood that we likely had more than a mile left to go. My emotional mind (and body) irrationally hoped for a lucky fairy coup d'etat of both geography and physics. I really wanted to hear the words "Only one mile left to go kids!" from those friendly staff people. 'Cuz a mile ain't nuthin'. Thus far, one mile equaled a mere 4% of all the hiking my ass had done all over Colorado. And once you start the last mile you can actually tell yourself it's less than a mile to go. But no. The flags and lovely cheerful people and free candy meant two miles to go. Yikes! But still smiling!

I wish I had taken a picture looking up the mountain at this point because visually it was seriously daunting. I borrowed this picture from another hiker's website to give you some idea. (I think those pink arrows are pointing at people.) Very steep. Other worldly. Very rocky, few plants, and everyone on the trail is seriously tired. (I started, in a desperate psychic effort to reduce the effects of gravity, to pretend I was a Mars colonist.) You could discern the trail switching endlessly up the mountainside by following the colorful clothes of the hikers like a string of ants.

By this time, I am extremely, deeply, tired. My knees ache. My back aches. I begin to suspect that increasingly strange sensations throughout my body may be the onset of altitude sickness or hypothermia. ("What are the symptoms again?") On a deeper level of awareness, I know that I am all right. Awesome even. Things hurt, but I am not injured. ("These are the symptoms of a healthy someone one who has been walking uphill for many many hours since 5:30 this morning.") I am reluctant to rest because it is becoming more and more difficult to start moving again once I stop. Inertia is not my friend. Momentum is my friend. Still smiling! What a dork! I am having so much fun. (And admittedly also on the verge of exhausted tears– a rare and profound combination.) It's true that I discovered a new source of motivation and inspiration–Looking down the mountain side and behind me on the trail and I would tell myself, "At least I'm no longer where those folks are back there." The little (and petty) things start to go a long way. We are also in the grace of some seriously perfect high altitude hiking weather. Sunshine, but not too hot. Breeeze, but not too windy. No rain! (According to the lady who sold me my hot chocolate at the summit cafeteria afterward, the Challenge is notorious for bad weather.) Apparently these were some of the nicest conditions ever! Lucky us! I'm guessing maybe it was the hat?

And truthfully, in spite of the discomfort and fatigue, it also becomes clear that the hike is all going to end. We're going to make it to the finish. And once it's over–that's it. It's over. Which is a little sad. Because the hike itself was such a joy. Eric and I organized and worked toward it together for months. And the experience allowed a generous many beautiful hours out of doors and outside of modern time and daily life together with someone I love for a significant cause. My only task all day long was to just keep walking. It was a challenging, but altogether simple and wholly rewarding, singular task that allowed me to learn from and deepen my own understanding of my body and myself. Once it was over, there would be e-mail to check and laundry to do. Less sky and groceries to buy. Airports and routines, recession, and traffic, and vacuuming.

It wasn't so much that I wanted to finish as that I really wanted to sit down. For a while. And not have to get up. For a while. Like these guys.

So that meant finish!

Yay! Thanks for reading along. For those of you wondering how I've been spending my summer in New York City–it's true–I've been hiking in Colorado!

P.S. Check out a fine example of the Pikes Peak Camera Club work here. Love, *E