Now I know I was built to last

(This is going to be image-heavy)Friday afternoon, around 4 PM, Drea and I left for New Hampshire.  It was a four hour drive that turned into something like five and a half hours because of Friday afternoon traffic.  We had fun on the drive up, as much fun as two people can have who are stuck in traffic and tired, and at least one of whom is terribly anxious.  The whole time, the climb was in the back of my mind, and I kept thinking, what if I can’t do this?  What if I get hurt?  What will happen?

We got to the hotel around 9:20, and guys…the proprietor was a dick.  He reminded me SO MUCH of our old landlord, Derrick, who used to just barge into our apartment for one reason or another (and who, Drea was convinced, was a sex offender).  He yelled at me when he found out we had two extra people in our room, and insisted I pay an extra $40.  I didn’t say anything because I was just so tired.  But when we finally got INTO our room, I burst into tears.  Drea had to sit down and hug me and tell me, yeah, it’s going to be okay.  You are GOING to climb that mountain tomorrow.

I don’t know why I was psyching myself out so early.  I usually take the Crazy Bruce approach to things like this.  “What’s the worst that can happen if you fall short?”  Is anyone going to die?  No.  (Well…funny enough, when Drea and I were getting water at base camp, the boys saw a list of fatalities, which included some 20-year olds, recently, on the trail we were taking.  Scary).  I had used this approach when Drea had been worrying about falling short on Katahdin.  But I couldn’t do it for me.

After she calmed me down, and we called Jess, Drea and I went to the gas station to get some provisions and batteries for the air mattress pump.  And when we got there, we beheld the glory that is New Hampshire gas stations:

Beer, cider, and wine in the gas station.  WHY DON’T WE HAVE THIS IN CONNECTICUT?!

Matt and Paul got to the hotel around 12 AM, Sam arrived close to 2:30 AM.  As I guess you can probably imagine, I didn’t sleep.  I was way too jumpy, too scared.  When the alarm went off at 6:45 AM, I was relieved.  One way or another, it would be over with by the end of the day.

We hit a Dunks before getting to Pinkham Notch, and then…we began.

Sam was there, too, but I took a terrible picture of him and Drea at base camp so I didn’t post it here.

We took the Tuckerman Ravine trail, which I’ve taken twice previously, so I knew exactly what it entailed.  The first two miles are nothing but straight walking, on boulders, which can get tiring, but it’s nothing compared to the latter half of the trail.  By about halfway, it was evident that Drea and Paul were in the best shape, and me, Matt, and Sam were lagging badly.  I think Sam was mainly lagging because of me, not because he needed to…but I was glad he did (more on that later).

We finally got to Tuckerman’s Ravine, which is just…beautiful.

(Yes, Paul’s in a utilikilt)

Hard to believe, but that bowl of the ravine?  We climbed that.  Seriously.

Climbing the Ravine was the worst for me.  I was seriously hurting by the end of it.  Every time I had to lift my left leg above my hip, it just burned.  I started crying a little at that point.  Sam held back and kept saying “You can do this, you know you can.  I know it hurts but you can do it.  It’s less than 2 miles, you’re already halfway, you can do this.”  But it was a nasty, nasty leg of the climb.

Finally we hit tree-line and got to sit for about 20 minutes and just breathe.

You can’t tell, but that hill behind Drea?  That’s the top.  A lot further away than it looks.

There was still .80 of a mile left.  And I could not have believed that it could be worse than the Ravine.  It wasn’t, but at that point, I was so tired and sore that everything was pretty terrible.  At this point, the hike becomes a boulder scramble.  You have a lot of points where you need to use your hands to scrabble.

Drea is optimistic.  I, on the other hand…am not.

We started the boulder scramble.  Paul and Drea pulled far ahead, and the three of us who remained, lagged.  At this point, I was almost exclusively crying.  I had to stop to rest over and over again, and I felt terrible.  On multiple counts.  My pelvic bones ached, I was embarrassed to be crying, and I thought other hikers looking at me were thinking things like “God, what a baby, it’s not that bad of a hike, get over it.”  What I didn’t know at the time was that Drea had gone up ahead, and was telling almost everyone who talked to her that her friend who had broken her pelvis was climbing behind her.  One person said to her “She is the biggest badass on this mountain.”  When I found that out later, that felt pretty great.

I need to insert here, because it’s important, I guess: I had seriously underestimated the gravity of that fact.  Like I did when my aunt told me back in ’05 that I was ‘lucky to be alive’, I had just brushed it aside.  I knew that it would hurt, I KNEW it wouldn’t be easy.  But I never thought that my pelvis would be the thing that stopped me on the mountain.  I thought it would be me.  I never thought “You know, you might just be physically incapable of doing this.”  Until I got to the boulder scramble.  There were a bad few minutes where I told Sam “I don’t think I can do it.  It’s not endurance, I just don’t think I can physically finish this climb.”  Of course, when you get past Tuckerman’s Ravine…you really have one of two options.  Get to the top, and take the bus down.  Or go back down on your own, which hurts probably more.  But I wasn’t really thinking that in the moment.

We finally got to the point where I could see the top.  We could see the orange weather poles.  I knew from experience that you see those poles, and then as you get closer, they fall out of sight again over the ridge…and then you see them when you hit the top.  So I knew we were getting close.

And then the worst thing happened.  I put my foot down on a loose rock, and I wrenched my ankle.

That was the worst.  I burst into tears and I just kept saying “No, no, I am so close, I can see it, it’s right there, no, this isn’t happening.”  Sam, the perfect Boy Scout, whipped out a couple of handkerchiefs from his pack and set my ankle, binding it up.  He said “You’re right, we’re damn close and you’re going to do this.  I know you are.”  He immobilized it perfectly, and I was able to keep going.  Turns out, in the end, it was just a wrench, not a sprain (thank GOD), and I was able to keep going.

But the last leg was bad.  I was sore, I was tired, I was hurting, I couldn’t stop crying.  Also, the wind speed was 50 MPH near the summit, so that was working against us too.  I almost felt like God was saying “You want this, but do you want it badly enough?  You gotta work for it.”  Hikers kept passing us, and saying “You are so close, you can do it.”  A man in his sixties patted me on the arm and said “I’m a Giants fan, Patriots, and I’m pulling for you.  You can do this.”  Drea and Paul appeared with a sign they had made with one of the gift shop bags, that said “Go Meg!  6,288 feet!  30 got nothing on you!”  But I was just…I couldn’t do it.  I could see the top.  But it still felt so far away.

Drea and Paul and Matt and Sam hung behind me and kept talking.  Drea said “You’re going to do this.  For yourself, for all those people who doubted you.  Everyone who said you couldn’t do it.”  And I gave it one more surge, one more push, and stumbled over the step into the parking lot.

And I burst into tears.

I stumbled around in a circle for a minute, gasping, crying, staring all around me, and then I sat down on that rock and just sobbed.  Drea sat next to me on one side, Sam on the other, and it was one of the best moments of my life.  I did it.  It was painful, it was horrible, but they were all right.  Once I was there, it all went away.  It was perfect.  Drea asked before she took that picture, and I felt kind of like “Well, I’m bawling my eyes out, do I want to remember this?”  But I did.  Paul said, when he saw it “there never was a more genuine moment”, and that’s pretty accurate.  I had nothing left to give.  But I was there.  And it was perfect.

And then, we summitted.  Because the summit is actually further away than just the top.  But the last leg was easy.  I did it with all of them.  Yeah, I limped my way up.  But I made it up.  Which is more than many people ever do, as Drea and Sam kept pointing out.

They let me summit first.  Even though by rights I should have gotten there last…they let me summit first.  I have, without a doubt, the best friends in the world.

This is the picture I sent my parents.  Who had no idea that I climbed the mountain until it was over.  I wrote “This is what I did today!”

Three times.  In 1994 (age 10), 2002 (age 19), and 2013 (age 29).  And guys, three times will be it.  Three is enough.  I knew when I reached the top, and I knew the next day when my pelvic bones were on fire…this will be it.  I will never summit Mt. Washington again.  But it doesn’t matter.  I did the climb.  I did it when it mattered to me.  I had to know if I could do it.  And I did.  I summitted Mt. Washington for a third time on a pelvis that had been broken in three places.

I couldn’t have done it without these guys.  They pushed me, every step of the way.  Because this was never just another climb to me, and they knew it.  This was something I had to do.  I had to.  I knew in my heart, if I didn’t do it this year, I’d never do it again.  I had to do the climb.  And I did it.

My parents were shocked.  My dad was jealous!  He said I should be proud of myself.  He couldn’t believe I did it.  A lot of people, I guess, couldn’t believe I did it.  I’m okay with that.  Like I said…I didn’t realize what a big fucking deal breaking my pelvis would be on my ability to climb.  When I summitted at age 10, it was nothing.  No pain.  At 19, sure, some pain, but I could handle it.  At 29…everything hurt.  I really would not have finished the climb without these guys pushing me.  This is the last time.

But I did it.

That is something that nobody can take away from me.  No matter what happens to me the rest of my life, I did this.

I’ve been beat up and broken down,
and I’ve been there a thousand times.
I may have walked through the worst in hell, my friend,
and we’ve all got our reasons why.
I’d give my life for the things I had,
and it all flies by so fast.
I may have walked through the worst in hell, my friend.
Now I know I was built to last.
– Redlight Kings, “Built to Last”
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