I know it’s been awhile, but I’ve been busy conquering a mountain. A mountain you say? Yes. I conquered a mountain.
From the time I was old enough to look out of the window and take note of what was outside, Cucamonga Peak has loomed large over my very small life.
For 57 years, this mountain has given me assurance that some things are unchanging. And when I am gone and come back, Cucamonga Peak means I am home.
This peak and I go so far back that I long ago considered it mine. It may stand tall over millions of Southern Californians, but it’s my compass that Cucamonga Peak provides a true north for.
Now imagine my surprise when that flat topped source of a lifetime of comfort began taunting me.
“Beat me. I dare you.”
It’s no secret in this diary that these mountains have done nothing but teach this city girl respect. And terror.
Remember that time I was on an icy ridgeline and narrowly escaped sliding to my death 6 Things I Learned On the Trail – That Everyone Else Already Knows? Or how about the rattlesnake that was kind enough to teach me what one sounds like when they are mere inches away from my exposed chubby leg People are Funny, Rattlesnakes are not?
And all of these occurred before I ever got to set foot on the actual peak of my desire.
Why would a perfectly normal baby boomer who lives in a perfectly normal house, with a perfectly normal husband (ok, that one might be a stretch) keep self administering the pain and agony associated with hiking?
All I can do is tell you what I tell the women in my Bunco club, “It quiets the voices inside my head .” Then we all have a little laugh.
But the joke is on them. It really does quiet the voices in my head. The manic pace that thoughts race through my brain. The sheer speed and randomness make it impossible for me to grab hold of one and make sense out of it’s origin.
The only thing worse than those manic thoughts are the tired old thoughts that come back over and over again to crush me under their weight. To sneak through a crack in my carefully crafted wall of defense to demoralize me.
Besides, it might be rude if I answered the Bunco ladies question of why I hike with truths. Like; “I just don’t find cleaning my house over and over again fulfilling”, or this one “Having faced my own mortality, I would rather walk while I still can”, or the ever popular “Trapped on a ship with 5,000 other people is much like sitting in traffic 24/7 to me.”
That last one is super snarky I’ll admit. But since I’ve never really said it out loud, it doesn’t count.
Besides, for the life of me, I really don’t know why I wouldn’t rather be sitting in a stateroom waiting to be pampered by food servers rather than punishing myself on the slopes of a mountain that may not even like me.
But I wouldn’t.
So I hike, but I have no illusions about my limitations. I am used to being the slowest one on any given trail. I make myself feel better by remembering that just 3 years ago, I wasn’t able to even make it around my block. But still the mountain taunts. It doesn’t care about me and my little woes.
So last week I pack my 10 essentials and head up the same old worn out trail I have huffed and puffed up many times now. But today would be different. All the right elements (I didn’t even know what they were before they actually occurred) came into alignment like planets to the sun. 1. A couple of women my age played leap frog with me (meaning we had the same skill level) up the Ice House Saddle trail (that leads to 5 different peak trails) with me and were headed up to Cucamonga. 2. I made it up to the aforementioned saddle in new record time (for me), which meant it was still early enough in the day to actually consider making an assault. 3. I could still breathe after 3.4 miles and 3215 ft.
So I texted my husband that I was going to take on Cucamonga (for some freakish reason, I have phone coverage at the saddle) and on I went. The two ladies who shared my skill level were long gone once I finished my protein bar and considered actually taking on the mountain. I was alone.
So it was just me vs. the Cucamonga Peak trail. And it proved to be all that I had read about it. Painfully steep, terrifyingly narrow, with drops so far down I couldn’t see where they ended.
But both the manic and familiar destructive voices were silent. Only my breathing and balance mattered.
I adopted a mantra “if they can do it, I can do it” that kept cadence with my feet. Once in a while, I allowed myself to stop and take in the vista. The wonderment kept me buoyed to have the faith that I would make it.
Of course, I made all the same mistakes. On the most narrow and terrifying parts of the trail, I froze instead of keeping my pace. But each time I would find the nerve to steady myself and move forward. Without falling. I can’t help but think that God has great influence in saving me from myself.
Being the slowest one up the mountain (except for a couple that quit early on, and thank you for that), has it’s surprising advantages. The view ahead is sometimes good too. But I digress.
I caught sight of one of my greatest hiking fears (besides bears), forest fire. But it was far enough in the distance to not be a threat.
Long past the point when both my legs and lungs had given up, I kept going by sheer will power. I could not quit. The damage done to my psyche would be irreparable. I made up my mind that even if I had to spend the night in a hollowed out tree, giving up was not an option.
I had to rest after each 30 or 40 steps on the last mile. The switchbacks went on for miles in that last mile. I felt like after every one of them the summit would be in sight, but just more switchbacks met my expectations. Even the seasoned hikers that seemed to fly by were groaning under the ascent.
After seven hours, the two women who had originally inspired me were on their way down. One said, “I thought we lost you at the saddle”. At this altitude, I couldn’t get enough oxygen to my brain to understand what that meant. All I could do was smile. It must have been painful to look at because she went on to say, “you are only 50 ft. away from the top.”
So like Dory from Nemo fame, I just kept swimming. And 50 ft. later I came upon the summit that had either comforted me or taunted me every day that I called the Inland Empire home.
But this time, I was the champion.
There were others at the summit so I refrained from actually collapsing. Well I collapsed, but I executed it in slo-mo style so it appeared that I was in control of my knees. I finally found the energy to ask a fellow peak bagger to take a photo of me. Even I wouldn’t believe it without proof. I had ascended 5,407 ft in 6.4 miles (according to my gps). I bagged one of the highest peaks in Southern California.
No matter what happens in my life after this, I have only to look out of my window to remind myself what I am capable of. I shall wallow in this bliss for a very long time.
Until next time dearest.