True Life: I Survived The Incline

I climbed a mountain this morning.

I hated it. It was awesome.

 If you've never heard of The Incline, it's about 2,700 stairs up Pike's Peak, gaining 2,000 feet in elevation over the length of a mile. It's not enough to say that Olympic athletes use it as a workout. Just Google "The Incline" (seriously, it's that infamous) and here are some quotes that you get:

“It’s the one workout where people truly have to face something that is unbeatable,” the speedskater Apolo Ohno said. “It is you against yourself.”
“It’s not running,” the Greco-Roman wrestling gold medalist Rulon Gardner said. “It’s not walking. It’s surviving.”
“It’s weird,” [wrestler Steve] Mocco said. “You think of yourself as this great athlete. Then you look left, and there are two grandmas passing you. Then you look right, and a man with a long beard and a walking stick goes by.”
“Once you think you’ve done it all in terms of training, you come back to the Incline,” [wrestler T.C.] Dantzler said. “You need to scratch the bottom of the barrel, get splinters under your fingernails and dust in your eyes. You need to come back with Incline rash.”
“No matter how many times you do it, the ending never changes,” [wrestling coach Momir] Petkovic said. “Every time it kicks your butt.”
The sign says, "Warning: This is an EXTREME trail!" (Thank you, Captain Obvious.) 

Now, for some reason, this is a thing people do for fun. Or, at least, do with basically no training incentive. It's a notch on your belt, a bragging point, a must-do before leaving Colorado Springs. So, despite not having set foot in a gym since January, I decided to take it on.

These are the lengths I go to for a good story to tell, people. It's all about the experience.

Unfortunately, this experience involved a 5 a.m. wake-up call to make sure we were off the mountain before it got too hot (and storms rolled in). On the drive over there, The Incline looms over you, this bare ribbon straight up the mountain. I got increasingly nervous as we got closer, probably the most nervous I've ever been about a physical task. Not only am I out of shape, but I don't like heights. And once you're up there, there's really no escape. I was legitimately concerned about my ability to do it. (Yet I decided to do it anyway. I don't even know.)

Before. There are no "during" photos, because "during" I was concentrating on NOT DYING.

I started feeling it literally about a minute into the trail, and the amount of internal cursing I did was unbelievable. In all the advice I'd gotten prior to going ('cause hell if I was tackling this thing without doing my homework first!), I'd heard that you should wait as long as possible to take a break, otherwise you'll constantly be stopping. So here I was, barely five minutes into the trail, having to stop and catch my breath. I waved on the rest of my group. This was definitely something I needed to do at my own pace if I was going to do it at all.

Honestly, there was a point towards the beginning where I seriously doubted if I could finish. I'd pulled off to the side to catch my breath and drink some water and thought, "why the hell am I doing this?" But unless you want to climb down those stairs (haha, NOPE), there's nowhere to go but up. There is a bail-out point a little more than halfway through, and for a bit I seriously contemplated it, but I hate the feeling of "I'm not good enough" more than just about anything else in the world. (And I didn't even notice the bail-out point as I was climbing, so all the better.) I'm also incredibly stubborn and single-minded, so once I got into some sort of rhythm, I was going to get to the top if it killed me.

It was bad. I kept looking at what looks like the top -- it's actually a false summit, because Satan must live here or something -- and thinking, "I'll never make it. There's no way." So I stopped looking up. I eventually had to stop turning around and looking down, too (that whole fear of heights thing), so my world narrowed to my burning legs and shriveled lungs and the step in front of me. Just one foot over the other. One at a time. That ended up evolving into, "okay, where's the next good spot to take a break? Haul it up to there."

And then there were the steps themselves, all gravel and uneven wooden planks and jagged steel. It gets pretty steep, too, so eventually I started using my hands to help. It really is surviving. You get your ass to the top of that mountain by any means necessary. (Let me just say, it helped a ton thinking about what an awesome blog post it would make.)

And I did. I made it to the top.

Conquered! And the view was insane!
Me, Nicki and Chrissy -- the troops.
It took me an hour and 27 minutes, which isn't a good time, but I can't even begin to care. My goal was to beat an hour and a half, which I did, and not be catatonic afterwards, which I wasn't. At the top, it didn't take me longer to recover than it took me on any other of my breaks, and the trail back down the mountain was actually really enjoyable. The first bit was way too steep for my liking, but it leveled out and became a really solid walk. Plus, after hiking Masada in Israel with a broken toe, no trip down a mountain will ever seem difficult or painful!

Gotta say, I'm feeling incredibly accomplished. I may have done it slowly, but I did it. Probably won't be attempting it on one leg a la Apolo any time soon, though!

On that torturous climb up, I couldn't help but think about how appropriate a metaphor The Incline is to life. I know, I know, gag me -- but for real. If I look at the ways I still have to go, it seems like a monstrous, impossible task. But if I set smaller goals and focus on the steps it takes to get me to one before moving on to another? The next thing I know, I'm 80% of the way to the top without even realizing it (true story). And not killing myself to get there is a biggie.

Ugh, okay, no more of that philosophical junk. The Incline sucks and deserves to die a slow, painful death by climbing itself.

But I'm really, really glad I did it.

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