We started at 3:00 am. The blackness at the trail head to Long’s Peak grew even thicker as we left the ranger station and made our way into the section of the trail known as the Goblin’s Forest. The tree branches were beaded with water, and every time we brushed against one of them, miniature showers fell on our heads. Not that we noticed. All attention was focused on the ground, where tree roots lay in a constant tangle, silent, petrified snakes across our path.
Over and over, we banged our toes. Shifted our packs. Squinted ahead into the darkness, wanting to see the ink of night fade to rust, which meant sunrise was approaching. It wasn’t until we hit the switchbacks that dawn started to wash the horizon. We climbed back and forth, a literal zigzag up the mountainside. It’s normally my least favorite part of climbing, but on Long’s Peak, the switchbacks are above treeline, which meant that we had an unobstructed view of the entire progression of the sunrise somewhere around 11,000 feet.
The entire morning was a fight to keep my breath. The air was cold and thin, and my windpipe felt every breath as it warmed on the way into my lungs. The views put words like amazing and spectacular to shame. Light eventually came, and we made it past the major trail milestones: the Boulder Field, the Keyhole, the Trough, the Narrows.
And suddenly, I was facing the last section of the trail, the one called the Homestretch.
It was vertical. It required scrambling. I don’t remember if there was a rope, but I do remember the distinct feeling that if I slipped, I would die. I would take out the climbers below me, and I would do a complete and horror-filled free fall off the north face of Long’s Peak.
At that moment, I made what felt like an easy, justifiable decision. I was exhausted, shaking, sore. I was mentally shot. I didn’t need to see the top of the mountain. I was okay with the view from the bottom of the Homestretch.
So I quit.
I crossed my legs, assumed Sitting Bull stubbornness, and reasoned with Jason that I was okay. I wasn’t going to regret not going to the top. Yes, I’d stay right here and wait for him. (Where the stink else would I go?) He gave me about ten minutes to change my mind, and then, with an eye to the clouds and the clock, grabbed the camera, kissed my head, and started climbing.
For the first few minutes, I was content in my decision. I made it this far. It was lovely HERE. I didn’t need to go any further. I talked up my accomplishments to myself, and reclined a little deeper into the rocks behind me.
An eight year old boy.
Climbed the Homestretch.
In five minutes.
And dang if I was going to be bested by a scrawny-legged-eight-year-old boy.
I attached myself to the next group, and surrounded by their laughter and encouragement and excitement, I climbed the Homestretch. I made it to the summit, which was surprisingly flat. I jumped over prehistoric boulders and surprised my husband with all the stealth of a sixty year old mountain goat with a lame leg. We stood side by side, and stared at the glory of uninhibited landscape views, our eyes traversing miles in milliseconds.
This is the long way of telling you that this has been my last week of the 40-day fast, and yesterday, I told myself I was ready to quit. I listed all the reasons, and I sat by our backyard bonfire and ate pretzels and dip and savored every sweet, sour cream-filled bite.
Except for one thing. Today, (Saturday) is my last day. And when I woke up this morning, all I could think about was Long’s Peak, and a lesson I learned eleven years ago.
Flesh is weak. But weakness can, and should continue, to be overcome.
2 Peter 1:5-9 So don’t lose a minute in building on what you’ve been given, complementing your basic faith with good character, spiritual understanding, alert discipline, passionate patience, reverent wonder, warm friendliness, and generous love, each dimension fitting into and developing the others. With these qualities active and growing in your lives, no grass will grow under your feet, no day will pass without its reward as you mature in your experience of Jesus.
Saying no to the self for the sake of another, growing to understand prayer in a new, more effective way, learning to love lives half way across the world – these things are a priceless experience.
They are worth one more day.