The mountain was directly across the small highway from our motel in Southern Colorado. Most of the others were planning to swim or watch movies or play cards, but a handful of us decided that the best way to spend our free afternoon was to challenge our bodies and minds. We wanted to do something specific to that place. Being from Nebraska, we had a uncertain amount of skill/knowledge related to scaling elevated surfaces (none), and so we skipped across the two lane highway that separated us from the base of adventure and began our ascent.
I was fourteen at the time, and my mates weren’t much further along in years. What I remember of that afternoon is fragmented: bloodied calves from thicket scratches, water supply running out at midpoint, someone weeping from a twisted ankle, a close call near a rocky ledge, birds circling overhead, fear of losing one of our teammates, joy in finding her again, and the adrenaline flood that fueled our last hour of exertion when we realized that the sun sets earlier in a mountainous region. I recall screaming at the top of my lungs when we reached the summit in the spirit of “I’m Sparticus!”, and feeling the reverberating echoes awaken a sense of self that I had not known in my few years of living. The climb had seemed effortless when we were planning–the idea generated by our lack of experience, optimism, and thirst for adventure–and we were far off the mark in gauging the difficulty of the climb. But surveying the world from that peak in the San Juan Mountains at such a young age, I was forever marked with my first understanding of determination, the glory of triumph, and the power of linking arms with comrades and sojourning together.
I remember doing that hike because I wanted to experience the land around me. I wanted to be enveloped in something greater than my normal teenage world could afford. I wanted to trust my body, internal compass, mental strength, and accomplish something big. We ended up catching a ride down the mountain from a kind elderly couple that could see we were worn thin. The responses from the people who had not been on the hike varied. Some could have cared less, others were distraught that we had gone off for so long without supervision, and a few seemed regretful to have missed out on it. Adults seemed to mark the entire week-long trip that we had taken as a blight–that so many things had not gone according to protocol that somehow all of the good internal work that was happening inside of young souls was discredited. But the week was made epic in my mind because of what I had learned on that afternoon hike, and I consider that grueling experience of climbing a mountain as my first tangible lesson in a rhythm that carries on day-after-day. Often I am reminded of that optimism, thirst for adventure, determination, camaraderie, sense of triumph–and as I feel the reverberating echoes in my soul–I continue on up the side of this mountain.