Memories of an Olympic feat

Published 11:32 pm Friday, August 26, 2016

Not often will you see a photograph of me all stretched out in a Marilyn Monroe kind of pose with my head propped on my hand.

But there I am on a cropping of rocks with nothing but a stretch of mountains behind me and blue skies overhead. That photograph is proudly displayed on my refrigerator, not because it’s a proof for Playboy Magazine. No. Something much more amazing than that.

What appears, at first glace, to be a feeble attempt to be glamorous, is actually a shot of an old gal that’s too worn out to stand upright or even hold her head up.

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But the photograph is there because it is the crowing moment of the greatest physical feat, other than giving birth, I have ever accomplished.

I had just reached the summit of Ajax Mountain in Aspen, Colorado.

And, somewhere in the distance, I could hear the playing of the National Anthem of the United States of America. I had gone for the gold and I had won. I had climbed the mountain. I was a champion.

I had not intended to climb an 11,000-foot mountain that day. What my daughter described as a fun hike was nothing short of torture.

Four of us started the “fun” hike. Ten minutes into the climb there were two of us, my tyrant daughter and me. “It’s going to be fun,” she said. “It’s not far to the top. The view from up there is incredible.”

For a while, it was an okay hike. But then things changed.

What had been a wide, wooded trail turned mean.

The footpath was no longer wide. It shrunk. There was no place to put down both feet. Heel to toe. Heel to toe. And, something had happened to one side of the mountain. It was gone. There was nothing over there but air. The overlord said the ground was down there and, if the clouds rolled away, I could see it.

The trail gave way to rock infested switchbacks that switched quicker than a lizard changes it colors.

No longer could we walk upright. We were on our knees crawling over rocks, up and over boulders. I wanted to go back but the tyrant was behind me blocking my way.

Several times we had to hang over the side of the mountain or crawl under a rock to let descending hikers pass. I mouthed, “Help me!” but they were Yankees. They didn’t understand. The air was getting thinner. I was gasping for breath.

Two young men came meandering along the trail with air packs on their backs. If only I had an airpack maybe I could breathe, I said to my oppressor.

“Those are not airpacks,” the overlord said. “They are Water Buffalos.”

Water! Water! I needed water. I couldn’t breathe and I was dehydrated. I was going to die up there and be shoved off the mountain like a dead sailor pushed off in the deep ocean.

The sun was giving up on the day when we finally reached the top of Ajax Mountain.

I thought for sure we would encounter vendors up there with tee shirts that said, “I Survived Ajax Mountain.” But no one was up there except me and my tyrant overlord.

“Sit up, Mama, and hold your head up. I’ll take your picture.”

I couldn’t sit up but I propped my head up the best I could. I could hear the National Anthem playing and the crowd cheering but all I could think about was how in the heck am I going to get down from here.