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From the Top

It might as well have been the moon.  Surreal to a degree that supports the possibility it didn’t happen at all, I’m suspended in a slow motion movie without sound. Maybe I dreamt it.  A thick haze has spread its blanket and laid full claim to my reality today, the first day home since August 28th (2009).

But it did happen. There are pictures and witnesses to collaborate the fact I summitted my first mountain. I look at the pictures, study them, feeling the somewhat detached wonder and elation for another’s achievement. A second glance to enjoy the enviable satisfaction on her face, and I realize, oddly, the face is mine.

Grand Teton

Grand Teton Summit, Grand Teton National Park

Of Multiple Sclerosis & Why I Did It

Reasons

I decided to climb a mountain because it’s been on my list of things to do for years. And I love crossing things off a list. I’ve been known to ADD things (already done) to a list, only so I could take the immense pleasure in crossing them off.  Something about making those strike-throughs is SO gratifying. I realize that’s wacked, and wackier still is publicly admitting such.

That doesn’t really answer why I did it, does it?  I did it, because I could.  Flippant.  Okay, here’s another try: I did it because I could and another in my life, a beloved other, can’t.  Truth.

My sister has Multiple Sclerosis.  Before the disease, SHE was the adventurous one. Climbing trees and riding a bike around cow paddies and over dirt roads like a mad woman, she was one fearless child.  She’s my inspiration in life. Her spirit and passion and resolve are lava-like – hot enough to have frightened the disease into not having stripped away all her physical capabilities.

The disease is afraid of her. That’s not to say it hasn’t won in some regards.  SHE can’t climb a mountain. SHE can’t hike into the backcountry. She can’t take an Animal Tracking course or ride a bike. Some days she can’t climb 2 stairs.  And some days, she struggles to get from her bedroom to the living room.

It seems only right that because I can and she cannot, I should.  So I do.  And she’s right beside me every grueling step of these hare-brained, a bit out there escapades I relish.  When I feel myself getting lazy and making excuses for not having done anything physically challenging in a while, I sense her kicking me in the pants. She’s my mental barometer against too many bon bons and a soft city life; against taking my health for granted.

My hope is that at the end, my physical exploits will have been enough for TWO healthy, adventurous explorers whose good health wasn’t squandered on cushy hotel rooms and pointless shopping trips.

I climbed a mountain because it is my job to make up for the strike-throughs in her life not made by her own hand. Damn them all.

Me & Lisa

Two Explorers

It’s Not About the Summit Anymore

Dreams, ya know? You remember those, right? Like cayenne pepper in the back of your throat, or a hangnail on a dry cuticle, they nag at you.

Given the proper combination of elements, dreams become spewing blow torches of fuel, of oxygen and fire. The flame is constant and hot, paralyzing even in the warmth of its seduction. They have the power to ruin lives. Or to make a life unforgettably and without measure, extraordinary.

Conditioning for the Grand Teton summit bid has continued in Jackson, Wyoming.  In the actual environment the climb will take place, my body aches from the intensity that cannot be duplicated in a gym. Here, I’m faced with the reality of what it is I’m attempting. Confronted daily with a view of Grand Teton standing at 13,770 feet, an iteration of the dream has taken place.

It’s not about the summit anymore. I WILL be disappointed should I not summit. Six months of my life have been dedicated to strict training and diet. Fear has been and continues to be battled. But I will stand at the base of the mountain knowing I pursued this dream with all my might.

The external/physical risks are great. But they’re minuscule, insignificant even, in light of the greatest potential trauma. Failure at the attempt, while painful and disappointing, would be nothing compared to the internal trauma of not having made the attempt at all. A dream without pursuit is a trauma that breeds regret.

Within days of the attempt, the bid for the summit has become a technicality.

Post Work-out

The Attempt

Don’t tell me you’re not capable of the same dedicated, passionate pursuit of your own dreams. You are.

“Our deepest fear is not that we are inadequate. Our deepest fear is that we are powerful beyond measure. It is our light, not our darkness, that most frightens us. We ask ourselves, who am I to be brilliant, gorgeous, talented and fabulous? Actually, who are you not to be? You are a child of God. Your playing small doesn’t serve the world. There’s nothing enlightened about shrinking so that other people won’t feel insecure around you. We were born to make manifest the glory of God that is within us. It’s not just in some of us; it’s in everyone. And as we let our own light shine, we unconsciously give other people permission to do the same. As we are liberated from our own fear, our presence automatically liberates others.” — 1994 Inaugural Speech of Nelson Mandela

The Necklace

The necklace is of gold, like most dreams. Tiny and delicate and really no one ever notices it. Not even me. It’s become part of me, connected at its ends by a clasp that has never failed. The clasp must know should it come undone, I would follow.

The pendant falls at the concave curve that lies so neatly below the adam’s apple and in between the clavicle. For 7 years now it’s rested in that place made famous by The English Patient. Such a part of me it’s become, the significance of it faded into obscurity.

In spin class today splatters of sweat displaced by it were felt on the underside of my chin. For the first time, I became aware of it swinging, rhythmically striking that curve. Clarity struck me like the pain in my quads. This necklace hanging so perfectly and beautifully unintrusive at my suprasternal notch represents the current epicenter of my life. And I’d forgotten about it.

During six months that have revolved around long, sweaty workouts, recovery, showers, and trying to make it as a freelance writer, a dream has unfolded.

The necklace is a line engraving of Grand Teton.  It’s been given a nice scrub and polish since the revelation.

The Necklace

Depression: A Mountain or a Molehill?

From my journal on the Grand Teton climb:  “Overwhelmed is how I felt atop the summit of Grand Teton. The exertion required to get there, and the grandeur of the view that greeted me were immense. I was humbled by the magnificence of the perch I’d managed to reach. And while the achievement was of personal significance, the powerful impact of such natural beauty served to abruptly put me in my place – I understood in one glance my INsignificance. There are few things that can so readily and with such sweeping conviction reveal what it is to be mortal.”

So now that’s off my chest, you must know the wonder of the climb has worn off. Completely. I’m in a weird place right now, lost, a bit depressed even. I can appreciate what Lewis felt after the expedition was over; mine of course on a much lower scale.

It seems the preparations to summit Grand Teton went long enough for “normal” to be altered. After a year of intense focus on the goal, I’m struggling to redefine what “normal” is post summit, post 5 and 6 workouts a week, post all that build-up.

Imagine a year’s worth of foreplay, then one great round of sex, the guy leaves for Antarctica (didn’t even spend the night) and you never hear from him again. Kinda like that.

Friends have said it’s time to start thinking about what’s next. I’m still tired, so thinking about what’s next doesn’t appeal to me in the slightest. Although I must admit Everest’s South Base Camp has wedged its way into my brain more than once.

Should I pick up where I left off on the fried foods I love so much, the fast food I am/was addicted to, the chocolate, mashed potatoes and gravy, biscuits, bacon and grits?  What about drugs? I’m not above their usage. I mean pharmaceutical companies spend billions developing drugs for every malady known to man. Is this a “malady”?  I can tell you for certain, the first time I feel the slightest twinge of a hot flash, I’ll have no qualms about using them. No question. They’ll shorten my life?  Generations of women in my family have lived to be near 100. So I die at 90.

Well that was a therapeutic tirade.  I feel better. Mountain or a molehill?  It’s just a molehill. This too shall pass. In the interim, how ’bout a cheeseburger?

A molehill cheeseburger

who needs drugs when these exist?

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The Grand Climb

 

Tammie DooleyAbout SRT... I’m a traveler, writer and photographer for whom the open road frequently summons. Adventurous solo road trips are a staple for me, and a curiosity. So I created this website to share them and inspire you to step out and give them a try. Welcome!

A soul that sees beauty may sometimes walk alone – Wolfgang Von Goethe

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