It is about heart…it is about courage…it is about a personal challenge.
Hiking, running, walking, or crawling up the Incline is tough…nothing easy about it. Sure, it’s not Everest…but it’s tough. Some people do it daily, some do it once in a lifetime.
Imagine thousands of steps, 1 mile straight up… 2000+’ elevation gain…. average of 40% grade and a high of 68% grade. Imagine starting at 6574′ and climbing to 8585′. Some do it under 30 mins, running. Some take 3 hours.
Sam was thinking about these facts as he sat on 3127th step, contemplating life, the value of oxygen, and how lactic acid acts as it courses through a leg when pushed to the limits. As he raised his sweat soaked head up to see two middle age women continue up the incline past him, this retired Marine knew he had to draw a line in the sand. This line was important because following the ladies was a poodle.
“I don’t mind being passed by two fit women like you but I have to draw the line with the poodle”
Exemplifying the spirit of the people who climb the incline, the poodle owner responded, “Would it make you feel better if I pick him up and help him up the steep sections?”
Once a Marine always a Marine…with pride intact, Sam lifted his tired body up and continued on to the top.
This chance meeting between a poodle and a marine is not too remarkable by itself, but now consider this fact. This man broke both bones in his leg in an office-sporting event on May 9th during a spirited Frisbee football game. Limping off the field, he made an incredible decision to ride his motorcycle home, shifting with a broken ankle. A cast for 8+ weeks, rehabilitation, and spirit and here he was about to summit the incline on his first try, Sep 29th.
Screw the poodle… Semper Fi
Consider Terry on his third attempt…consider what failure on your 3rd attempt would do to your morale. Twice before, he had barely hauled himself up to the half waypoint. Twice before he was forced to sit by Barr Trail waiting for us to descend from the summit. He would not give up; he started walking around the neighborhood daily to gain fitness. Since he and I both live in the same neighborhood, I would often see him walk by my house on his quest. I peered between the shutters of my windows as this man tackled the miles around our neighborhood. Between his 2nd attempt and yesterday he even climbed Pikes Peak via the CRAGS trail with the encouragement of his three sons who can run circles around him.
Terry started about 45 mins before the main group…he labors the final steps to the summit — the 60% grade. As the sun begins to set, Terry tops out, thrusting his hands into the sky…his Everest summited. His goal is reached…he can say he has been there, done that. He has the T-shirt.
He immediately begins talking smack to the remaining climbers.
But is allowed… because he made it to the top…
Sitting at the top watching Terry summit, is Ron. He has a bond with Terry; something in common. It was his third attempt as well. Twice before he had also been humbled by the incline and twice before he made a commitment he would make it up. The man gave total commitment to getting up the incline…he gave up ice cream and trips to Coldstone. In addition, he gave up cake, cookies and other sweets. It had been 3+ weeks since his last attempt and in the interim had shrunk to a ghost of his former self. A fire was burning inside this man and lack of ice cream was not helping.
This man loves challenges and continues to amaze me…deciding in his 40’s to start riding motorcycles. Some start on small motorcycles…Ron bought and rides a Honda Gold Wing, bigger than the first house I grew up in back in Indiana. And he does it well.
This man earned his summit as he watches Terry stagger up the final steps. Ron’s has also conquered the Incline…. I suspect we are all headed for ice cream today, but his fire will persist as he looks out for his next personal challenge.
There are some first timers on this day as well…Nick, Glenn and Marty. All retired military, these men have lived their whole lives in excellent shape and today they prove the incline is just a small bump overlooking Colorado Springs. Nick and Glenn work steadily up the incline, gaining appreciation for its challenge. Steady progress means a summit in about 45-60 mins. These guys are in the in 44 minute range, give or take a few seconds. As they reach the top, they both admit it is a tough as we described.
Marty is on another plane, maybe another planet. Strapping his knee brace on at the trailhead, you can tell this guy is in shape. You wonder why he doesn’t play the other sports with us, Frisbee, kickball, et al. Too dangerous he has told me repeat ably… “I could get hurt”
Seeing Sam drive away on his motorcycle on May 9th, I can relate…I’ll give him that.
Today is not dangerous, unless you misstep and tumble down a 60% slope, or you accidentally lean back and fall over, or you encounter a lightning storm (our attempt #1…circa Jul).
With no danger factor, Marty’s self-proclaimed goal is to beat me. He even made a secret pact with Luke, our incline leader, to pace him on pace that would beat my normal middle of the road 41-42 mins. But alas, Luke was climbing with me this day bringing up the rear, so Marty was on his own.
In retrospect, the incline effort is individual accomplishment so he was on his own this day. He did in the 34-35 min range…enough said. Outstanding time on a first attempt. Some say he was not even breathing hard, others said he was breathing like a DC-10 on takeoff from La Guardia. Whatever is true, he smoked the fastest time up, setting up a future challenge between Luke, Todd (who has done it multiple times with us) for the office trophy.
….if we had an office trophy… but still, great time on his first try.
Luke, our resident fitness leader/guru and incidentally a retired Marine as well, was kind enough to pace me up as we brought up the back of the pack starting some 15 mins after the last climber had departed. We had no Marine – poodle encounters on our climb, but the first friend we catch up to is Austin. Austin works for another agency, but we have adopted him and he is a great friend. As Luke and I pass him, he is stopped, slightly bent, and breathing hard… Austin is not at the half way point yet. I point out one bail out option at the 1/2 point where Barr trails comes over to greet the Incline. You can slip off the incline here and beat feet home. While I offer this option, he grunts, “I’ll make the top… pride”
I point out the half-way point again and continue up.
While Luke and I debate Austin’s chances, we come upon the last member of our group, Emmett. Emmett is young, personable and well-liked by all members of our office. He is an honorary member of most divisions of our office. Witty, funny, and always positive.
He has none of those traits at present.
The incline is getting his attention today…the mood is subdued as Luke and I pass.
We offer that 1/2 point option to him as well, but the thought is not acceptable well. This guy is tough and committed. We access his chances as only slightly better than Austin’s.
Luke and I continue up, he pacing me, putting up with my pauses for oxygen as we near the top. As we summit at about the 42 minute point, I immediately see Terry and give him a bear hug of congratulations, the same with Sam, although as a marine he feels a bit uncomfortable with a former AF guy hugging him. 🙂 I find it unbelievable he made the top on his leg! Seeing Ron’s smiling face makes it complete! All of the guys have made it! Nirvana!
After you get your breath at the top, the views are magnificent, especially with the aspens changing to yellow on the mountainside. The first question after I can focus on something besides my breathing is are Emmett and Austin still ascending?
We peer over the edge but at distance it is hard to determine who is still coming up. We think we see Austin and then we think its Emmett. We yell…Emmett raises his hand in a salute of sorts. He is going to make it. We yell encouragement, we yell taunts…. Emmett is in his own zone; taking one step at a time…he is going to make it! I step down about 100′ from the summit to greet him and he is doing great. As the guy that everyone likes, he summits to a roar of hoots, claps, and more taunts.
An individual Challenge has turned into a team sport…
Dusk is around us, slowing enveloping us in its arms. Being on a mountain in the dark is not a place to be when you don’t have all of the clothing/equipment you need. There is a 3+ mile hike down the mountain awaiting us. No one heads down as we see Austin’s head appear above the false summit. The false summit can suck the life out of you; Sam said he was completely demoralized when he got over the false summit to see what remained. Emmett said he almost turned around.
As I peer down the incline I see Austin completely over on the trail…it looks like he is on his knees. Is he crawling? No, just getting air…I head down further, regretting each step down because I know I have to go back up. 5-10-12 mins later, Austin and I make contact.
He looks a bit rough…an air evac may be in order, but I smile and say, “Man, you are kicking this Incline’s ass today and looking good”
He does not acknowledge he even knows I am there at first, but then he gains strength. Austin and I slowly work our way up the last 200′ – the 60% grade section. Step by step. The man is reaching deep on his first attempt.
As Austin takes the final step to the summit, spontaneous applause erupts with cheers. The sun, setting now over the north ridge of Pikes Peak, slices through the pines in razor sharp lines. These razor lights reflect on the faces of a group of friends highlighting the pride, professionalism and courage of all who met and conquered the Incline challenge.
I can still picture those faces as I walk towards Coldstone and ice cream today….
Beta: 1 mile straight up