Taking the Stairs
There is no elevator. No shortcut. No free ride. Sometimes the only way up is step by step powered by sheer will.“There it is. This is where the Olympic Team trains.” my mother announces. The five of us squished together in a Toyota Prius, nudge one another. Groggy from the drive, I gaze up to see the trail carved straight up the side of a mountain. My eyes grow wide as my jaw drops. With each glimpse of the peak, nervous anticipation builds as during the accent of a massive roller coaster when you realize there is no way out, and the big drop is inevitable.
We wind our way on the narrow two lane road through the Rocky Mountains and exit the car. At 6,500 feet in elevation, already oxygen deprived, we step single file through the brush and trees along the narrow dirt path where we climb over boulders, and jump over fallen limbs. As we round the base, the massive staircase unfolds before us. The endless passage ascends into the clouds like a giant beanstalk, the top hidden from view. It is rightly nicknamed, “Stairway to Heaven.”
Outstretched before us is the challenge to rise over 2,744 wooden railway ties while embarking on a one mile vertical accent. Embracing nervous energy and excitement, we accept. Early on, the wooden barriers are wide enough to allow three of us to match strides side by side. I find comfort in the tempo as my pulse begins to soar, and my breathing becomes labored. We encourage each other to achieve small goals, rewarded with a sip of water or stretch to calm screaming calves. I stabilize myself on a narrow ledge as I turn 180 degrees to view progress. It becomes disturbingly evident the passage is void of railings, or flat surfaces to rest. Looking down at the steep drop, I feel suspended in air. Nervous a gust of wind could send me back to the bottom, I quickly turn my eyes forward and upward.
Midway my mom announces we have hiked the equivalent of the Empire State Building. “Only one more Empire State Building to go! This is Bailout Point. Any takers?” Doubled over with my heart pounding, and legs shaking, a little downhill is inviting. I took my hands off my knees, placed them on my hips and smiled at my mom. “No way. We got this.”
Three quarters of the way to the summit my lungs are burning as if filled with kerosene. The steps grow narrow, the grade steeper. The route now becomes an obstacle course with oddly stacked railroad ties, rocks and tree roots. I put my hands on a large boulder to hoist myself up. Much energy is spent for such a small advance. “When did these shoes get so heavy?”
The summit! A surge of adrenaline allows me to hop up the mountain like an asthmatic mountain goat. Almost there. What? A false summit? The mountain lied to me. With disappointed I mutter out loud, “Are you kidding me, still a quarter mile to go?”
The toughest 100 yards of the journey now lie before me. My legs are burning and my heart beat sounds more like thunder. The apex appears as a target. I take a deep breath, and think to myself, “I’ve got this.” With restored energy, I begin running, then burst into a sprint. “Ten more strides, 9,8,7…I can do this….3,2,1 YES!” As I reach the summit, I thrust my arms straight into the air while accepting high fives and hugs from others at the top. Standing on the edge of a cliff at 8,500 feet, the view is literally breathtaking. I am on top of my world. To accomplish the goal, I just need to start, and keep taking one step at a time.
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