Sunday, April 18, 2010

The Peak Payoffs of Persistence

Last night was one of those nights when my taste buds far outpaced my stomach. Randy and I were celebrating 15 years of marriage in glorious Estes Park, Colorado when we found ourselves in Mary's Lake Lodge where ever y dish was more magnificent than the one before. Gorging on hearty homemade, multi-grain bread, succulent crab cakes, and savory seafood stew, I found I had no room left for even a chocolate covered strawberry. And now, the morning after, we faced a bad food hangover. Our distended bellies kept us up all night and threatened to ruin our plans for a great day of hiking up Lily Mountain. As we lay in a way-too-comfortable bed, we faced our first decision of the day: to give into the consequences of our poor choices and roll back into our food-induced coma, or to start the day anew and get the blood flowing again. Like all things that first appear like an insurmountable challenge, the most important task is just the commitment to give it a go – we put the feet on the floor and started moving.

As the glorious Colorado sunshine beckoned us outside, we packed up our wiry mutt Apache and started out to the trailhead. April hiking at 9,000 feet above sea level can be a little unpredictable – warm air temperatures don’t necessarily mean you won’t be fighting snow and ice the whole way up the mountain. The climb wasn’t epic – just an afternoon jaunt up a decent piece of vertical, but with the slush, we found ourselves sliding back a food for every two we advanced.

At high altitudes, fatigue comes quickly, and soon the burning quad muscles and labored breathing reminded us how hard we were working. We passed another couple who had pulled off to the side of the trail. The less than ideal conditions had defeated them and they were refueling before heading back down.

“One foot and then another.” I reminded myself not to get discouraged as my hiking boots sank ankle deep in the slush with every step. Randy, Apache and I lumbered on until we reached a cascade of boulders that required us to scramble up using both hands and feet and lots of concentration.

“This is it!” I thought, “We must be close to the summit. One more push to the top.”

The dog inspired us with his bold leaps up the snowy crevasses, and we followed his lead. Getting good hand holds where we could, we pulled ourselves up one boulder at a time. And then, in an instant, there it was – the breathtaking 180 degree expanse of snow capped peaks breaking through to the stunning cobalt sky. The rush if it all poured over me as I stood on the summit looking at the steep drop of on all sides. The strong heart beats were now sprinkled with exhilaration, and I remembered, “Oh yeah, this is why I do this.”

You don’t get the rush when the journey is easy.

When we can conquer the negative voices that tell us that the million little things that aren’t going are way are going to crush us, the taste of our victory is even sweeter. I closed my eyes and took a big sip of the moment to savor the reward in every cell of my body, so that when I need it I can remind myself later: when I am frustrated by the hassles of daily life, I know there is great payoff in persisting to the peak.

For more about great places to hike in Colorado with dogs:

Sally Spencer-Thomas
"Up on the High Wire: Mental Resiliency during Tough Times"
  • Be Bold
  • Belong
  • Be Well
  • Believe

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