Anyone who’s been to Colorado Springs knows about the Incline, the stairway of railroad ties that seem to go on for eternity- actually, more than 2,700 steps up the base of Pikes Peak. Climbers head straight up about a mile, then rather than heading straight back down (NO WAY!) they walk or run down 3 miles of the barr trail, complete with switchbacks and a safer decline.
It’s a challenge for anyone, so when my daughter said she wanted to join us for the family hike, I was hesitant. Having done the Incline several times already, I knew what we were in for. And I wasn’t sure she could handle it. But then she told me why she wanted to try it.
“Mom, I don’t want to miss out on something that the whole family is doing. I don’t want to regret not having done it.”
With those words, my plans changed. Everything about the family climb became about getting her up that mile high hike with the rest of the family. I wanted her to experience success.
I had no idea what was in store for us, and how powerfully symbolic it would be of our mother/daughter journey.
STARTING TOGETHER- PLAN A
When I say family hike, I mean full family. My brother and his family were in town for the week, so this meant 9 of us heading out to Manitou Springs early this past Friday morning, hopping on a shuttle with some other “Incliners”, and heading to the base. There was a mixture of trepidation and excitement on the bus, and after a quick potty stop, and a final group selfie, we all set off.
The plan was to let the older kids go up on their own, since they had experience, and to have parents stick with the youngsters. My brother stayed with his son, my husband with our younger son, and I went with Brady. We made a plan to meet up at the top, everyone promising to wait for the last finisher. I anticipated being about 15 minutes behind the group, since I knew Brady would question her ability to finish during the climb. I knew we’d be slower, and I knew we’d need rest breaks, but I did not anticipate what we met up with about ¼ of the way up.
DOUBT STRIKES HARD
If you’ve done the Incline, you know that the shallow steps at the base make way fairly quickly for some steeper steps, and even the most optimistic and prepared climbers find it surprising and challenging. I knew Brady would struggle, but I was right behind her and envisioned lots of encouragement, and a sort of slow yet steady climb.
What we got instead were tears, fears, and the strongest desire to quit I’d ever seen.At one point, my wonderfully clueless and desperate daughter actually asked me why I couldn’t just leave here there, sitting on the step, 700 steps up a mountain. I almost laughed at the picture of her sitting there, a little old troll, at the edge of a mountain side, unable to head up, unable to head down, growing old there on the side of the Incline.
I would have laughed, but at that point I was too furious, too impatient, too desperate myself. And as ashamed as I am to admit this, my words and my tone became less encouraging and more frustrated and commanding. I was working so hard to stay positive, but at this point, I had no idea how we were going to accomplish this climb. We were too far up to quit, and besides, quitting was not part of the plan. IT WAS NOT PART OF MY PLAN! So I got short, I got a little loud, and she got upset. Again, this is hard for me to admit, but thankfully, this is not the end of our story.
As we continued on, Brady kept stopping to rest, to cry, to contemplate quitting. I continued to remind her that while we could go as slowly as needed, we simply could not quit. Then she would cry a little more (which did NOT help), and we would try a few more steps.
And then the first of three gifts appeared. He was wearing a red lanyard (which I quickly learned was how we could spot the Incline First Aid helpers), and he offered Brady electrolytes. We had eaten before hand, and she had plenty of water, but the mention of electrolytes lifted her spirits. I jumped on the offer, assuring Brady that we now had something special to help her through. Magic water. She took a few steps and I made a suggestion.
What if we just go 50 steps, and then stop? I’ll count. It’s a little more than 2 of our staircases at home. Surely she could handle that. She agreed, and off we went.
And that’s what we did. Fifty steps, and rest. She’d sit, I’d stand and face her (no way was I looking behind me), I’d get out her electrolytes, and after a bit of rest, we’d go for 50 more steps.
And then gift #2 appeared. He was a big guy who looked to be in his 30s, climbing at about the same pace as us. And he was playing music on his phone. Not just any music. Starship. Lynyrd Skynyrd, Bon Jovi, The Stones. The best playlist on the Incline. Brady would stop and he would pass and I’d say, “OK, B, follow the music man”. And we’d continue on. He’d stop, we’d carry on, and then break. A few times, we’d stop together, share some encouraging words, talk music, and start together. He was just what Brady (and I) needed, being such a lover of music. And I like to think we helped him along too, making him feel like part of our “team”.
Gift #3 came in the form of Dad. I believe every lucky wife has moments in her marriage when she looks at her husband and knows she hit the jackpot. This was one of those moments for me. Despite Scott’s tremendous fear of heights, he walked back down the Incline steps to where Brady and I were still making slow progress. He hugged her, gave her a high five, some words of encouragement, and then together we walked behind her the rest of the way, a few more hundred steps. Knowing that Scott doesn’t even look behind him when he does the Incline, I cannot believe he walked down for Brady. A girl couldn’t ask for a better dad.
REACHING THE TOP… AND THEN…
It took twice as long as it usually takes me to reach the top, and it took much longer than the 15 extra minutes I expected, but together, Brady and I reached the top. Our family was SCREAMING praises and celebration for her, and her aunt got video of her finishing. People we didn’t know were cheering for our Brady girl, and despite her fatigue, she sprinted the final steps to the finish.
She sat down, drank a little more, took a few photos with the family, then cheered a bit more when our music man finished a couple minutes later. We all high fived and laughed and cheered together, so much that my brother asked me who my friend was. “Who him? No idea. He’s our music man. We love that guy!”
The incline will do that to people. It’s amazing.
The 3 mile hike down the barr trail was long, and it felt endless, and Brady even puked up some water early on, but she and I walked together down the trail, just as we had climbed together. The boys ran ahead, racing to the bottom, and the adults chatted as they walked, but I found myself walking alone with my girl for most of the descent. Hearing the change in her self talk throughout that walk was unforgettable. What started as quiet relief over being done, slowly changed to the joyous realization of what she had just accomplished, which then made way for empowerment and confidence. She was so proud of herself, so filled with delight and satisfaction. I loved sharing that with her, and in fact ,sharing it all.
The night before Brady had been uncertain but overcome with a desire to try something big. By the time we reached the bottom of that hike, she was filled with confidence, pride, and the realization that she could do so much more than she had believed.
And I had realized the symbolic journey we had just taken.
HOW THE INCLINE JOURNEY IS LIKE MOTHERING A DAUGHTER
Isn’t this journey just like the one we take with our girls? We start out with these precious little sweethearts, setting up a plan for them filled with such joy and success, fully expecting that we’ll encourage them every step of the way. Sure we know it won’t be easy, but we’ll be amazing, and they’ll be great!
And then reality kicks in. Life gets hard, challenges come up, and our girls want to park it on the side of a mountain. We yell, we fight, they shed tears, and we want to quit. But we can’t. We’re too far up the mountain, and the finish line is way too far away. We simply have to find a way to keep going.
And so we do. With a little help from others- some we may know and love, some we may never see again- we find a way to walk with our girls. We walk beside them, sometimes holding hands, and we walk behind them, letting them lead at their pace. We know they can do it, but we also realize that it has to be on their terms, in their way. So we settle into Plan B… or Plan C, or Plan Q. Whatever it takes.
This is the journey of raising daughters. It’s like hiking the Incline, then heading back down, all to start the climb again.
Of all the trips up the Incline I’ve taken and will continue to take, I’m betting this might be the slowest, and least physically challenging one of all. But I’m also betting it will be the one I never forget, the most amazing and powerful Incline trip I ever take.
And I bet that every time I climb that Incline, I’ll remember my daughter, and the day we climbed the Incline together.