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A metaphor for life

Updated: Sep 22, 2019

Hiking a “14er” is a thing here in Colorado. It’s because our tallest mountains are 14,000 feet or higher, and we have to give hiking to the top of them a cool name because, well, it’s cool here.

To give you some quick context, Denver sits at 5,280 feet; one mile above sea level. So a 14er is just over two and a half times that. But it’s about half of Everest, which is 29,029 feet.

You’re welcome for that little bit of trivia, which you could also easily Google.

Now you have a sense though, that while it’s no Everest, a 14er is no joke either. I mean these are still real, honest to goodness mountains; people get lost in them; people die in them. A little preparation, therefore, is in order.

You’ll want a bunch of water - though not too much because you’ve got to carry it all - you’ll want food, you’ll want extra layers - one for warmth and one to break the wind because even when it’s 90 degrees and sunny at the base, the weather at the peak is unpredictable.

And speaking of weather, in the summertime, when the peak is most reachable because it’s not covered in several feet of snow, there’s a chance of thunderstorms nearly every afternoon. With thunderstorms comes lightning and lightning is something you have to worry about when you’re two and a half miles up in the air.

So be off the peak and below treeline by noon people; I’m serious.

Anyway, once you’re prepared, all you have left is the climb itself. And how do you do that? You do it by putting one foot in front of the other. Again, and again, and again.

I’m not going to sugar-coat it my friends, the climb can be hard. Even if you are in the best shape possible, even if you live at altitude and so are acclimated, the altitude will affect you. Think of the deepest breathing you’ve ever experienced when exercising and then subtract a bunch of oxygen from each breath - that’s what it’ll be like.

Even people in the know will tell you that there is no easy 14er.

And through all the miles you’ll slog and you’ll strain and you’ll want to (and should) stop often to rest and have water, and all you’ll be thinking about is getting to the top; being done! But once in a while you’ll look back to check out where you’ve been and hopefully you’ll realize the view changes as you climb.

You should be warned though, about the false summit because it will inevitably come. You can see it, you’re so close, just a little farther! But as you crest the ridge, damn it; the true summit is now visible. Or is it? Be wary of multiple false summits; they happen too.

Once you get there though, man, it is going to feel like the most amazing accomplishment. There is nothing - nothing! - I’ve experienced in my life that is anything like the view from the top of a 14er. It’s surreal that the world can look like that.

Here’s the thing though, the thing that people forget - even the people that do them, even while they’re doing it - getting to the top is only part of it. Now you have to get down.

And sometimes going down is harder than going up. It’s no wonder then that you don’t want to think about it during that slog. It’s a test of endurance - it’s hard on your legs, it’s hard on your knees, it’s hard on your ankles, it’s hard on your feet, which will likely be on fire by the end no matter your footwear and its state of broken-in-ness.

All this is why I think it’s the end that I love almost more than the view at the top. Sitting in the back of my truck, taking off my boots, wiggling my toes, feeling the breeze, putting on flip flops. Heaven.

So put in the prep, don’t underestimate the importance of that; then get to the top, enjoy the view, take some selfies, bask in the accomplishment. But don’t forget that’s only one small part of the experience. Try not to focus so much on the summit that you forget to be proud of the milestones you’ll hit along the way.

And definitely don’t underestimate the smaller moments of relief and the feeling that comes with simply taking your boots off.

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