Don’t get me wrong…I love nature and exercise but I like it to be fun…like frisbee or tennis or anything that isn’t torture! I do like hiking but some people take it to an extreme...like my husband used to do. One of my husband's favorite places to hike, when we lived in Colorado, is called ‘The Incline’ which is described by the Visit Colorado Springs website as “not for the faint of heart”, is rated ‘extreme’ and recommended for advanced hikers. The 2744 steps you must climb to reach the top were once railroad ties. It rises roughly 2,000 feet of elevation in just under a mile up the side of Pikes Peak, ending 8,550 feet above sea level. The trail is the remains of a former 3 foot narrow gauge cable railway whose tracks washed out during a rock slide in 1990. Runners, military, Olympic athletes, and hiking enthusiasts from around the world including the legendary speed skater, Apollo Ono, have all gone to The Incline for training or simply for the challenge. I, not an Olympic athlete, also climbed each of those 2744 and lived to tell about it. But our marriage almost didn’t survive!
Of course, I’m exaggerating but only slightly. My husband climbed regularly for reasons I’ll never understand. They say Enneagram type 9’s are the most connected to nature of all the types and he is living proof. His spirit comes to life when he’s outside and I’ve seen him stand still on a mountain top, stretch his arms open wide, close his eyes, inhale a long breath of air and whisper…”Ruach” on the exhale. Ruach means “breath of God” in Hebrew. I don’t want to take away from that powerful visual but when I finally got to the mountain top I had almost no breath left. The only words I could eek out when I saw my husband standing there with such a look of pride for my accomplishment were…”don’t talk to me.”
About 2/3 of the way up the Incline is something called a “false summit”. The Incline isn’t a couple’s walk so he, being from the mountains of West Virginia and 6’5” with long legs and I, being from sea level Texas, 5’2” with small lungs, had parted ways early in the trek that day. Having never experienced this hike, barely able to take another step, I saw this false summit and willed myself to get to the top. When I took that last step and saw the most horrifying truth, that I had NOT reached the actual summit, I began planning my revenge on my sweet, unsuspecting husband. I prayed because I felt defeated and cussed because no one could hear me except God and I’m pretty sure he said.”bless your heart”. I just couldn’t take another step. I sat down and considered my options. There were actually 300 more steps to go. This false summit is also a ‘bail out’ point offering a reprieve for those who know they can’t make it to the top. Here, the Incline Trail meets up with Barr Trail and I could have just stopped right there and began the walk back down the mountain but I looked up and saw my husband, standing at the actual summit, waving and saying…”You can do it, baby!” Ughhhh.
I got up and I did it. I made it to the top! I was mad as a wet hornet when I took that last, excruciating step and I didn’t want to hear how great I had done. I just wanted to lay down and never do that again. My very wise husband knew I was both mentally and physically exhausted and gave me the gift of letting me just be with all of the feelings. Who knows if it was actually wisdom or just self protection but we just sat together on a big rock in total silence as I cried for a couple of minutes. We drank our water and when I was ready, we began our long, slow descent to the bottom of the mountain. My heart rate returned to normal and we took our time, together, stopping to take in the majestic beauty of the same mountain where the poet, Katherine Lee Bates, was inspired to compose “America the Beautiful” in 1893. By the time we had reached the end of journey, able to breath easily and knowing there were cookies at home, I was able to reflect on what amazing things my mind and body were able to do even when it seemed impossible.
Do you want to know the craziest thing? I climbed that Incline again a couple of months later. I knew it wasn’t a race so I paced myself. When I needed to stop and rest, I did. This time I wasn’t caught off guard when I reached the false summit. I knew I could choose to keep going if I wanted or, if I needed to get on Barr Trail and go back down having given all my body would allow that day, there would be no shame in that decision. Most importantly, this time I knew when it was over I would still feel exhausted but not defeated. The mountain is never going to soften just so I don’t have to feel the struggle. The reward is allowing the mountain to make me stronger.
No one forced me to hike The Incline. It was an invitation I was free to accept or reject. I may not have known how hard it was going to be but I knew it was no walk in the park! I went willingly. As author and activist Glennon Doyle reminds us with her inspiring and often quoted words…”We can do hard things.” YES, we can! I love that simple mantra but I also know when I feel forced, I’m resistant. When I am intentional with my decision, when I willfully accept the invitation to do those hard things, I give my mind permission to embrace what lies ahead knowing it will be hard. It becomes a sweet surrender.
As inspiring as my experience with The Incline might be, it is quite unremarkable compared to the bravery of someone who choses to make the inward journey...to dare and ask 'what am I truly capapble of and what's standing in my way of finding it?" Many who first discover the Enneagram say they feel a little beaten up and defeated so you may wonder, why would anyone go further beyond discovering their 'type'? This inward journey seems like a big mountain to climb!
Why willing take this journey? I believe it's because this is the nature of nature...it's the pull of the universe to grow and discover. As the spiritual teacher, Eckhart Tolle says..."Growth is an act of grace bestowed by the evolutionary impulse that animates and enlivens all of life." This evolutionary impulse is what pulls us inward because we all... long to be fully alive!
This is why we climb!