Saturday, July 15, 2006

The old man and the mountain

Picture I shot on the way up Mt Humphrey’s, the tallest point in the state at 12,635 ft. The good news is that I did get a second wind. The bad news is I got in the first quarter mile.

I remember hiking with my family when I was younger. I couldn’t help myself. I was always the one out front. Frequently I found myself waiting impatiently for my sisters to catch up. If only they could have seen me hiking today. I’m relatively out of shape and hadn’t spent enough time in Flag to get acclimated to the altitude. But I didn’t let that stop me! The hike starts out at about 8,000 ft and winds up over 4,500 ft in less than 4 miles. Do the math… it’s fairly steep. About half way up I had to take a break. I’ve hiked hundreds of miles over the years… I don’t ever remember a break feeling so good. It’s amazing how nice a flat hard rock can feel. At about ten thousand feet I was taking breaks every 50 steps or so. Not good. An elderly man of about 65 passed me. Then a dad and three or four boys around 12 passed me. I’m not making this up… about the time I thought there was no one left behind me a chipmunk passed me. That’s the truth. I looked down at him and his little two inched legs and started thinking of those stupid story math problems I had in grade school. Remember those? If a chipmunk has four, two inch legs and passes the man with three foot legs - who will reach the top of the mountain first? I couldn’t calculate it though. I didn’t’ have enough oxygen. At about the tree line I was taking breaks every 15 steps or so. I would have taken more but there was a group of girls behind me and there was no way I was going to let them pass me.

With a few hundred feet left I thought I was home free but that’s when the flys moved in. Lots of them. Have you ever seen the movie, Hildago, where they are out in the desert and a swarm of locusts comes over the hill and blacks out the sun? Well, this wasn’t like that but that was kind of an interesting scene... Anyhow, lots of flies descended on me. I began to notice some of the people who were coming down from the top. (cuz they were all there ahead of me). All of them had jackets on even though it wasn’t cold. Several of them had hoods and a few had handkerchiefs over their faces. By the time I reached the top I realized why. You can’t imagine how many bugs there were. My plan had been to collapse and wait for some guys with a lama or something to walk by and offer me a ride back down. Or maybe someone with a Sherpa. (My friend, Lynn, told me recently about Sherpas. I need several of them) But no lamas or sherpas came and it didn’t matter. I couldn’t stay! Between spitting flies out of my mouth, dragging them out of my eye and swinging at them madly I could only endure about five seconds to stand on the tallest point. For five seconds I was higher than anyone in AZ. Maybe in NM to… Hmmm, does NM have a mountain taller than twelve/six? In fact if you take out CO, CA, WS, UT, ID and MT I was the tallest person in the country. Furthermore, even if you didn’t take out those states… what are the odds that there were people standing on mountains at that same time that were all higher than I was? I may have been the highest elevated human being in the country! I had previously only thought of myself this way in a figurative sense… Now it was true!

But only for five seconds because I turned around and went straight back. You’ve heard it said (or maybe you’ve experienced it) that going down is often harder than going up. In this case that wasn’t true. It was definitely better going back down. I was so happy to have gravity on my side. I kept repeating to myself, “Yes, gravity is my friend. Gravity really is my friend.” I had lost so many brain cells at that point that it’s all I could think to say to myself.

Well, I’ve made a short story long but six hours later the event was over. I was back in the convenient store buying large quantities of Advil. How many 500 miligrams tablets can you take at once? Come to think of it I’m very sleepy…

I hope my sisters don’t read this…



jtc said...

I felt half way through your story like I needed to start praying for you... at least you had the conquering feeling (although brief) of beating the mountain... good for you!

Middle age is when work is a lot less fun and fun is a lot more work

Inside every older person is a younger person wondering what happened?

lvglvg said...

Have you heard the song Gravity by Shawn McDonald? Anyway...bravo, its great to climb a mountain to get a fresh perspective.

jonathan foster said...

lvglvg - i forgot i had that album. i listened to it again last night. very nice. thanks for the reminder.