Starting in the dark the excitement and nerves could hardly be contained–it was happening. This wasn’t just a bucket list item, this was a personal win and a moment to savor. When I put “hike a fourteener” on my official Next List over two years ago, I didn’t know that it would take multiple attempts and therefore multiple disappointments before being able to give a victory smile. I guess weather and ankle injuries will do that. As a Colorado native I am a little embarrassed to admit that although hitting many a trail, I had never hiked an actual “fourteener.” Apparently conquering a 14,000+ foot peak is a requirement to live in this state…or so my lovely friends keep shaming me to believe. This ever elusive bucket list item has just seemed to continually mock me. My last attempt to cross this beast off my bucket list ended in defeat on a rainy morning and pancakes at the local diner. It happens.
This morning was different.
This particular morning included darkness, a headlamp, two peaks to tackle, careful arrangements for an overnight babysitter, some much needed 3:00am coffee, 8.5 miles of stamina, a giggling sister and a thoroughly annoyed brother-in-law. These, coupled with hitting the trail head at 5:00am, a few homemade energy balls, a thoroughly loved and worn-out set of my favorite athletic shoes, a borrowed headlamp, and some cooperative weather all blended together to make a recipe for success. Well, kind of.
About three quarters of the way up the first peak we saw what every hiker absolutely dreads…wet, dark clouds. Thunderstorms are a hiker’s enemy. Word on the street and the recommendation from every beginner fourteener book out there is to start early (as in o’ dark thirty early), go slow and steady, drink lots of water, and be off the mountain by noon. We were following all these “rules” and yet there we were staring at a weather cell rolling over the very ridge we were headed to. Crap!
What I like about the lovely souls I was doing this little bucket list adventure with is that never once did it come up in conversation to give up and turn around. They knew how much this meant to me and unless the sky was lighting up with electricity, we were moving upward and onward. My sister took a picture before we entered into the fog and I have to admit, although it looks like I need a major dose of V8 juice and my hair’s a disaster, it’s one of my favorites. It captures my very first fourteener and the last moment of visibility before continuing up 30 more minutes of switchbacks and losing any chance of mountaintop views.
As we summitted the first peak in all-encompassing fog, I couldn’t help but giggle at the Godwink as it lifted and rolled over within minutes of reaching the top. The views that had been hidden opened up for our enjoyment right at the perfect moment. It was breathtaking. Looking out across the vast expanse of God’s creation, I smiled…we were only halfway done. There were two fourteener peaks to tackle on this particular endeavor. They’re called Gray’s AND Torrey’s peaks for a reason. Oh no, I couldn’t just do one. We intentionally chose this trail for the sole purpose of bragging rights of hiking TWO fourteeners in one day. If I was to join the ranks of a “true Colorado native” I was going to do it right and make up for lost time.
Although a great idea, the high and adrenaline rush was not enough to sustain me on the trek across the saddle and up to the second peak. Ashamedly, I was running out of gas and energy balls weren’t working. Instead of continuing the berating inner monologue of being out of shape, I decided to focus on a quote I had heard from one of the local geezers I’d recently been out hiking with.
"How do you conquer a mountain? Ten steps at a time."
"How do you conquer two mountains? Same way."
Brilliant in it’s simplicity, I decided it was time to do just that. Except I was going to hike two mountains with this philosophy. This stinkin’ mountain was going to be conquered ten steps at a time. Trudge ten steps, rest five seconds. Trudge ten steps, rest five seconds. This philosophy may not have won me any medals or accolades, but sure enough it got me to the top of peak two. Don’t discount the possibility of success coming in silly mantras, quotes, and internal monologues.
Standing tall on the top of Torrey’s peak at 14,275 feet I couldn’t help but smile as I realized this was #20 on my Next List. Stunned, I couldn’t believe that two summers ago I was encouraged to create a rotating bucket list–starting again with a list of 30 things and adding on another item every time I crossed one off. Brilliant idea! That way I will always have 30 things to choose from! Just two summers later I was standing on top of a mountain crossing off the twentieth item on my second bucket list. (Years ago I created a 30×30 list–a list of 30 things I wanted to do before I turned thirty. I can stand here today and say I was blessed to have crossed off 29 of those thirty items!) Combine my new rotating Next List with my original 30×30 list…and I now have 50 bucket list items under my belt. That’s 50 answered prayers! God is so good.
Looking at my two different bucket lists and the ups and downs each item holds, I am grateful for the opportunity to stumble through these dreams, even when I don’t have the first clue what I’m doing. Especially when I don’t know what I’m doing! Almost every one of the 50 items on my combined bucket lists I figuratively started in the dark, stumbled and huffed and puffed through, wanted to quit, had multiple opportunities to give up and turn back, or couldn’t see the end. And every one of them was worth it.
What’s the mountain you want to climb? What’s the thing you need to conquer?
I’m no one special and have no magic powers. I do however know a big God who holds the bigger picture. Do I know what I’m going to do next? No. Most of the time I don’t have any idea of what I’m doing, let alone how it’s going to happen. The “how” is usually where I get tripped up. Slowly but surely I am realizing that it’s not really up to me. My role is to realize that God has given me specific dreams, desires, and things to do and believe Him for. My other role is to resist the urge to bury them in excuses, discouragement, and exhaustion. With open arms I’m to give them back and release them to Him and trust His timing…and just keep taking one step at a time.
Even if it’s in the dark.
(Thanks for the adventure. Fourteener–check. Ok, the heckling can stop now.)
Ashlee Bratton – author of the book “Life Before The Lottery: Living Beyond The Bucket” is a professional photographer, freelance writer, and at times an inspirational speaker with a bachelor’s degree in speech communication and master’s degree in business administration.
Along with completing 29 of the 30 things on her 30×30 list, her writing contributions include numerous publications such as Vail’s EAT magazine, creating a 56 page Visitor Guide for a mountain ski town, blogging and guest blogging, being featured in multiple newspapers and e-zines, and various other projects.
Currently, she keeps her camera in hand in Southern Colorado, is a complete and total foodie, and takes plane rides for fun. She likes things that go.