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I want to climb a mountain.

Certainly, to do so implies reaching the summit, trekking to the very top and gazing full circle, all 360 glorious degrees, upon the landscape both beyond and below. After hiking in Colorado last fall, someone suggested I try to ‘bag’ a 14er – a mountain peak that’s 14,000 feet or higher above sea level. And so, my husband and I now have a trip planned this summer to hike the beautiful trails and mountains there again and, of particular interest, to attempt to reach the crest of Gray’s Peak, the tenth highest mountain in Colorado. Whether or not our attempt at mastering such an ascent culminates in a stopping point where ‘down’ is the only option, I’ll still be content to just try, where the beauty and magnificence of this incredible wilderness state will be reward enough for our efforts. Still though, the pull of that moment, imagined in my mind’s eye, spurs me forward. I want it. I want it badly. I want to climb this mountain.

I’m told many factors will come into play. Only a select few will be under my control. Others, such as the weather, are conditions that will be calling the shots that day, one that will begin before the sun comes up. We’ve been advised to leave early, preferably around five AM, so that we can reach the top and begin our descent before noon to avoid getting caught, totally exposed at the top of the mountain, above the treeline, in summer storms that can quickly develop in the early afternoon hours.

My elliptical workouts during these cold winter months, with spring hikes planned in Iowa state parks, along with healthy eating, eager enthusiasm, photographic inspiration and technical skills are my contributions to the effort and I do what I can. I have no illusions. I turn 58 next week and while not terribly out of shape, nor am I a lean, mean fighting machine. Living here in the Midwest, where bluffs and hills provide weak to moderate vertical challenges, I realize that being a ‘flatlander’ will put me at odds when it comes to the elevation and thin air of Colorado terrain. A few days of acclimation will be required before we try the climb. Storms, wind and rain might derail us. There’s a lot to consider and some planning will be required if our venture to the top is be a successful one.

So be it. It’s my mountain and I want to see what she – and I – are made of.

I’m cranky.

There. I’ve said it. Don’t ask me why, because I can’t really explain it, but since we got back from our wonderfully relaxing vacation in Colorado last week I’m in a mood. First day back I felt GREAT! Isn’t life fantastic? Lots of energy, sleeves rolled up, told husband I felt like I had my mojo back.

And then it all went south.

My first thought was that perhaps my foul demeanor was due to the change in elevation. Many of the trails we hiked in the Rocky Mountains brought us higher, ever higher, our lungs expanding in the thin air and our hearts pounding like jackhammers in our chests. One day last week we stood at a high point along the Trail Ridge Road where we towered over everything else around us at more than 12,000 feet, wind howling and bellowing, it seemed, from every direction. But now, here we are, back in the lowlands of the Midwest (Des Moines, elevation 958) and my poor body has no idea what to do with all this extra, heavier, moisture-laden air. While in Estes Park we pretty much ate what we wanted but came back at our pre-vacation fighting weights, thanks to all the hiking we did. Stuck in ‘pig-out’ mode, we’ve maintained the same eating habits so maybe that’s a contributor as well to said crankiness.

But when I ponder this further I think I know the answer. In Colorado, for one glorious week, we knew FREEDOM. We did pretty much whatever we damned well pleased and never (well, hardly ever) gave work more than a glancing thought or two. Monday morning when the alarm clock went off at five-twenty, it was truly a rude awakening and an evil reminder that our time, now, was no longer ours to call our own.

Sing it Soul II Soul: Back to life, back to reality!

Bill and I have taken very few trips longer than a three or four day weekend. This time we were away from work for ten whole days. That’s a long time to get used to being on your own schedule, being master of your minutes and hours and days. I loved it! But oh how cruel having to return to the workaday world after such a carefree existence as that which enveloped us in Colorado. Perhaps it’s because retirement isn’t really that far off but this little ‘vacay’ of ours has just made it seem even more tantalizing than ever before. I want it and I do, yes, want it now. The harsh, financial vagaries of life, however, intrude.

The state-run lottery here has a slogan that urges folks to buy tickets by (not so?) gently reminding them that you can’t win big bucks if you don’t play the game. So please excuse me while I, ahem, make a quick run to the nearest convenience store.

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My husband and I (no, NOT pictured here!) just returned from a week in Colorado. We stayed in Estes Park and had ourselves a wonderful time. Hiking the trails in Rocky Mountain National Park was more lovely, more beautiful, more amazing than I could have ever imagined. We only scratched the surface of what the park has to offer and so, like General MacArthur, we shall most certainly return – perhaps time and time again.

An interesting observation that Bill and I both made during our visit was the surprising number of elderly hikers on the trails. We encountered this lively couple on two separate outings as we made our way ever upward, navigating steep inclines, large rocks and loose gravel en route to incredible vistas, towering cliffs, rushing streams, golden aspens and roaring waterfalls. The woman shown here is 65, a cancer survivor and her partner is 80. We chatted about this ‘elderly phenomenon’ with some younger hikers at one point on the trail. They had hooked up the day before with a couple who were both 85, one of whom had had a knee replacement. The octogenarians took them through a shortcut in the trail that they knew about and the youngsters told us they had a hard time keeping up.

How cool is that?

Some of these seniors told us they had been hiking in Rocky Mountain National Park for 30-35 years which is probably key to their ability to traverse this challenging terrain with such ease. But I don’t think that tells the whole story. To a person, everyone we spoke to exhibited an enthusiasm and a joy of living that, I believe, helps to propel them forward just as surely as the hiking boots on their feet or the hiking poles held in each hand.

Inspiring? You bet. The time is NOW to get out there and enjoy life: To commune with nature, to eat healthy and be active, to keep putting one foot in front of the other whether as ‘flat-landers’ (as the couple above described themselves) or as experienced hikers in any one of our nation’s amazing national and state parks. John Muir once said “Thousands of tired, nerve-shaken, over-civilized people are beginning to find out going to the mountains is going home; that wilderness is a necessity…”

After a week spent in awe of Rocky Mountain National Park, I could not agree more.