It took 39 years and 364 days, but I finally decided to climbed a mountain

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The Inspiration

Not quite a year ago I learned of Guadalupe Peak, the highest point in Texas wth an elevation of 8,751 ft and a prominence of 3,029 ft.  That makes it about a third less of Mount Everest, and if you were to list it compared to the highest point in each state, it would come in fourteenth.

But what really captivated me was the stainless steel pyramid at the summit. It was put there by American Airlines in 1958 to commemorate a stagecoach route that passed south of the mountain. It also displays a U.S. Postal Service tribute to the Pony Express Riders, as well as a Boy Scouts logo. At the base of the pyramid is a summit register contained in a metal ammunition box.

There was something about that pyramid that was calling my name, and I couldn’t stop thinking about it.  Anyone that knows me will tell you I’m not a fan of the outdoors, and I have this bad joke, which no one ever gets when I tell it, “There’s a reason why God made the indoors.”  But for some reason, I wanted to shake things up a bit.

Their website states the round trip distance is 8.4 miles and should take six to eight hours.  To be honest, I don’t think I’ve ever been on a mountain and have never hiked.  I’ve never attempted anything like a 5 or 10K or any kind of marathon or any running event.  When it comes to cardio, I do what I can to avoid it.  Despite all of this, I just felt like this was something I had to do, it was a calling, I had to touch that pyramid.

I contacted my closest friends to see if they wanted to make a guy trip out of it, but there really wasn’t any interest, so I put it off.  But then my birthday started to creep up and I started to think about all the things I didn’t accomplish in life, things that I was disappointed in when it came to my past, and thought it might be kinda cool if I was able to climb a mountain and reach the highest point in Texas before I turned 40.  Sure, it doesn’t compare to some of the great mountains in the U.S., but the journey was on.

Note: Click any image to see a larger version.

Logistics

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Guadalupe Peak is in far West Texas and pretty much in the middle of nowhere.  The closest hotel is in New Mexico.  The two closest airports are in El Paso, about an hour-and-forty-five-minute drive, and Midland, which is about a three-hour-drive. If I was to drive from Lewisville, it would take close to eight hours.  Fun Fact – Guadalupe Mountains National Park is off U.S. Route 180, which goes through my hometown of Mineral Wells.  It was a bit of a shocker the first time looking at the map and seeing that, I had no idea.

Guadalupe Mountains National Park has no lodging or any showers, but flush-toilet restrooms and potable water and there are numerous campgrounds.  As much as I don’t like the outdoors, I thought about camping and starting the hike before sunrise.  Interestingly, the forecast showed afternoon temperatures in the high seventies to low eighties, and high sixties to low seventies at night, so sleeping outdoors wouldn’t be all that bad despite bad allergies.  But, how do I get there?

Preferably, I wanted to make the climb on Sunday, August 30, my actual birthday and be home so I can spend time with my kids.  But looking at all my options, it didn’t look feasible, and WifeGeeding demanded to be part of this trip.  Not to mention, DaughterGeeding is now in kindergarten so we needed to have the kids home at a decent time on Sunday.

Driving and camping didn’t seem like it would work, no matter how we tried to plan it, and we really don’t have the funds to purchase airline tickets, but I reached out to a team lead I used to work for at Southwest and she was kind enough to get us a buddy pass which allows us to fly for free if the space was available.  We looked at flight options to both Midland and El Paso, and WifeGeeding stated her best friend (since childhood) is now living in El Paso.  She works for the FBI and she was transferred from D.C. earlier this year, and she offered us use of their vehicle, CamelBaks, and lodging at their new casa.  For you handful of Baylor Law grads that read this blog, she’s one of your own.  Random Fact – El Paso and Guadalupe Mountains National Park are in a different timezone than Dallas, for the longest time I thought all of Texas was in one timezone.

Our flight options were very limited with what was available and us working things out with our children.  Beggars can’t be chooser, and I’m very thankful for this opportunity, so we gladly made reservations for an early morning Saturday flight and a very, very early returning flight on my birthday, Sunday, August 30.  In retrospect, this works out better because instead of climbing a mountain and reaching the highest point in Texas on my actual 40th birthday, I got a chance to accomplish that feat before I turned 40 and arrive home early enough to spend time with my children.

After school let out on Friday we drove almost two hours to WifeGeeding’s East Texas hometown to drop the kids off at their grandparents, who were gracious enough to watch them on such short notice.  On the way home, WifeGeeding said I had to check out the new Buc-ee’s, which seemed like the Super Wal-Mart of gas stations but cleaner and nicer.  We only got a snack there as we were on our way to Pecan Lodge for some great BBQ, which didn’t disappoint.  They worked out some kinks in wait time. The last time we were there the line was just out the door and the wait was close to an hour.  This time, the line was the same, and I thought it was about 15-minutes before we got to the register, though my bride would tell you it was closer to ten.

The Journey Begins

We arrived at Love Field about 45-minutes before our 8:35 AM flight, and were pleasantly surprised at how well Love Field has been renovated, it’s pretty darn classy.  Thankfully there was room on the flight and after a breakfast purchase, we were on our way.  We spent the last three days making sure we were well hydrated and full of good nutritious foods for the trip, sans BBQ.

The hour and forty-minute flight to El Paso was much better than a car trip, and I thought I spotted a restaurant at the El Paso airport that serves placenta, but I just didn’t read it close enough.  Once we walked out of the airport, WifeGeeding’s best friend and her husband, met us curbside at passenger pick-up in two different vehicles.  They kindly gave us the better of their two vehicles, two CamelBaks full of water and ice, Gatorade, energy bars, gummy electrolights (it’s what plants crave), and a few other items.  Her husband insisted on driving us to the road that is a straight shot to the national park and then turning over the car.  I thought this was a great idea and told WifeGeeding to ride with her best friend so they could at least spend a little time together.   They turned the vehicle over to us at a CVS, where we picked up a few other small supplies like sunscreen, stopped at Whataburger to get a little more food in us, and we were on our way.

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There’s a lot of nothing on the way to Guadalupe Mountains National Park, and other than having to have our vehicle inspected at Border Patrol Checkpoint, the trip wasn’t that bad.  There were a few large spots of nothing but white sands, and at one point I felt like I should be driving a 2004 Pontiac Aztek.   And in all seriousness, and I wished I snapped a picture of this, but I spotted a tan RV in the middle of the desert with nothing around it.  But I didn’t spot any man in whitey-tighties and a lab apron.  We lost radio and cellular phone reception early, which was actually nice, it cleared the mind for what was ahead.

We arrived at Guadalupe Mountains National Park close to 12:15 PM Mountain Time, changed clothes, made a very necessary pit stop, and paid a total of $10 at the visitor center for our hike.  The ranger gave us plenty of safety warnings and stated there was a 30-40-percent chance of rain, and as disappointing as it might be, to head back down if it started to shower because of lightning.  We could see dark clouds ahead, and were hopeful they would avoid us.

The Climb

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NPS.Gov – The trail is very steep, but is well established. Some areas are exposed to cliff edges. It is rated strenuous, with 3,000 feet of elevation gain. The round trip distance is 8.4 miles, and generally takes 6-8 hours.

You will encounter the steepest part of the hike in the first mile and a half, as the trail switchbacks up the first steep slope. The views will get better with every switchback you climb. After about a mile and a half, the trail will become less steep as it passes a cliff and then turns around to the north-facing slope.

Leading up to this event, I tried to prepare myself physically, but I was still fighting off the tail end of stomach bug and was battling a hip pointer and my bum knee.  I know the trail is described as “strenuous”, but I thought they might just be rounding things up for liability concerns or what have you.  They weren’t kidding that it was strenuous and that the first mile and a half was the steepest.

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It was a big surprise at how rocky the trail was.  When I read it was a rocky trail, I just kinda thought of pebbles in a lot of dirt and such, but didn’t put together that most of the trail is full of ankle-turning rocks, uneven and around three to five inches wide and long.  Oh, they were painful and it was hard to maneuver around them, and I couldn’t help but think what our soldiers in Afganistan are going through in those much worst mountainous and rocky terrains.  I’m glad I invested in a good pair of hiking shoes with thick gripping rubber.  Hiking on something thin-soled would have been havoc on my feet.  Thankfully, I remembered an old Barry post that talked about the greatness of Merrell shoes, and I’ve been breaking those in for the past month or so.  Man, did those serve me well.  I need to research some of the geology of the area.  During our climb, I thought the trail was full of broken glass, but it was actually full of quartz, and when the sun hit them, they sparkled.

As I stated, the first mile-and-a-half is very steep. Within the first fifteen minutes, my heart was beating out of my chest and I was out of breath.  I was embarrassed and didn’t want to stop for a break so soon into the hike, I didn’t want to admit how fragile I felt in front of WifeGeeding after all the planning we did to get to this moment.  Thankfully, about fifteen minutes into the climb, she asked if my heart rate was high because her’s was.  I told her mine is insanely high, thanked her for asking, and said it would be a great time to a rest.  She’s a trooper, very healthy, and does a boot camp workout three times a week at five in the morning.  I thought this would be fairly easy for her, so it felt kinda nice to know that it wasn’t just me suffering so early in the climb.

After the break, the climb was back on, but we kept wondering when it would get less steep and easier.  Occasionally we’d greet another person that was on their way down, and they all looked so happy.  WifeGeeding would ask how much longer until it gets less steep and they’d just tell us we still have a ways to go.

It’s not even an hour into the climb and I had a lot of give-up and quit in me.  I’ve kept this trip a secret from many because I didn’t want anyone to give me that look as if I couldn’t do it, just like my neighbor who watched our dogs asked, “Are you sure you can do this?” People have doubted me all my life, and I’m afraid I’ve given them plenty of reasons.  There was also a part of me thinking about “well done is better than well said.”  It’s one thing to say it, it’s another to actually do it. I’ve failed and quit enough in life, and I wanted this climb to be a defining moment, a chance to leave my failures and shortcomings behind.  Every time I got to a point of exhaustion and quit, or when my calves started to cramp, or when there seemed to be no end in sight, I started to go over things that have bugged me over the past thirty-nine years and three-hundred-and-sixty-four-days, thinking each was a motivation, and as I thought about them, I was dropping them and leaving them behind on the trail, one by one –

  • Those things I said to my parents that I can never take back.
  • Not having a better career and making more financially so I can better provide for my family.
  • That pass I didn’t catch for a for-sure touchdown in a high school football game my freshman year, which would have changed everything and gained the coach’s confidence.
  • The time in college intramural softball when I was the last person at bat, took the pitch without swinging for a strike three on a full count, leaving the tying run at third, and winning run at second.
  • Never obtaining a PhD.
  • Never entering the military.
  • The times I was bullied, and the times I did the bullying.
  • My low SAT and GRE scores, and the score I got on an Air Force officer’s test.
  • All the insecure and overly romantic things I did to get a girl’s attention.
  • Never having a decent body.
  • No one understanding my intentions.
  • Being made fun of for being half-Asian and all the Asian jokes that go with it.
  • Flexing my Internet muscles.
  • That job I never got.
  • All the times I bought things not for myself but for what I hoped others would think of me.
  • The lies that I’ve told and the things that I’ve stolen.
  • That time I didn’t get the recognition.
  • Following the crowd despite having reservations in my heart and not being brave enough to ask questions.
  • Having the confidence to say I disagree.
  • All the times I didn’t keep my honor and lowered my standards, like when I purchased that Milli Vanilli tape or sat through RockyV.

The list could go on and on and on, but you get the point.  The climb was tough, but I did my best to keep my humor.  I told WifeGeeding if I die on the way up, to cremate me and spread my ashes at the top, completing the journey for me.  I went on to say how that sounded like a very Texas politician thing to say, “When I die, take my ashes to Guadalupe Peak, and from the highest point of Texas, throw them up so I can fly all over this great state and see it from God’s eye.”

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Even though WifeGeeding was with me, I lead most of the hike and climb so there was a lot of just me and nature, it was full of solitude and me thinking about the past three-hundred-and-sixty-four-days. I made sure not to get too far ahead and stopped often for her to catch up.  This was actually a good thing as I tend to push my body too hard and end up suffering for it later.  But this actually had another benefit, when you hike and climb, you have to stare at the ground to be sure of your footing.  If it wasn’t for the rests, I wouldn’t have stopped to take in the views and just listen to the peace and quiet of nature.  Interestingly enough, I’m not sure I’ve ever been on a mountain before, and so for the first time I got to hear mountain wind.  You’re probably thinking that the wind just sounds like regular ‘ol wind, but the wind that was going through these mountains was a peaceful sound I’ve never heard before, it was almost spiritual.  A whole, “Be still and know that I’m God” moment.

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And of course, there were a few U2 lyrics that were going through my mind that kept me motivated:

“Where The Streets Have No Name”

  • I want to feel, sunlight on my face
    See that dust cloud disappear without a trace
  • We’re beaten and blown by the wind
    Blown by the wind
    Oh when I go there
    I go there with you
    It’s all I can do

“Kite”

  • I’m not afraid to die
    I’m not afraid to live
    And when I’m flat on my back
    I hope to feel like I did
  • Who’s to say where the wind will take you?
    Who’s to say what it is will break you?
    I don’t know, which way the wind will blow

“40”

  • He set my feet upon a rock
    And made my footsteps firm

And as the hike and climb got longer and longer with no goal in sight, I modified the song “40”, singing “how long must I climb”.

Vertigo (no the song) did get the best of me a few times.  There were some very sharp drop-offs and some very narrow paths.  I don’t normally cramp and was keeping well hydrated, but I read that’s a side effect from my blood pressure medicine, and my calves started to get the best of me.  I was so close to the top, I didn’t want to give up and was wondering how might I get down if I’m still cramping.  And just when I thought I couldn’t push myself anymore, I saw the mountain top and the metal pyramid, and the adrenaline kicked in.

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I have some video of me and WifeGeeding making it to the summit together.  A few steps before I got there I told her that I’m going to wait for her and hold her hand so we can do this together.  I should post the video, but you’ll tire quickly of all my labored breathing.

But we did it, and we did it together.

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And just to make it legit, I added our name to the record book.  We started the climb about 12:45 PM and reached the summit around 4:00 PM.

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Here’s what I wrote in case you were curious.  Don’t judge me on penmanship, phrasing,  or grammar, I was too tired for anything to come out well.  About 29 other people had their names recorded for that day, the most interesting being from Israel.  Also inside was a small booklet from the Outdoor Gratitude Log Project.  Here’s the first page of the project and what it’s about, and read some entries here, here, here, here, and here.

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As for what’s on the side of the pyramid, click here, here, here, and here.

And yes, the view was fantastic.

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And then I had to tell WifeGeeding I had an ulterior motive for her accompanying me, I wanted to dance with my wife at the top of Texas.

We spent about a half hour at the top until another couple arrived and thought it would be prudent to give them their time alone at the top to soak it all in.  They were a very friendly young couple and I offered to take their picture, but oddly, they acted like that was the last thing they wanted.

The trip down took us about two-and-a-half hours, and in some ways, harder than ascent.  Our feet were sore, not so much from the hiking, but from the impact of all those rocks and loose surfaces.  It was also painful feeling your sore toes hit the end of your shoes on almost each step, and fatigue played a factor and we are both lucky we didn’t wipe out.  I think we cheated death a few times.  I was never so happy to see a parking lot in my life, but it was one long journey from actually seeing it to getting to it, and it never felt so good to take off a pair of shoes in my life.

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I used some apps on my smartwatch and phone to track steps, elevation, total hike time, actual hike time, average speed, and all sorts of other stuff, but I’ve already gone in too much detail for today.

On the way back to El Paso, I caught this cloud which cause a shadow to go up instead of down, it made me think God was giving a high-five since the shadow looked like a hand.

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The tip back to El Paso took longer than expected due to rain and slow cars on the two-lane highway.  As my father taught me, when someone lends you their car, always return it back with a full tank, and I held true to his lesson.  WifGeeding’s best friend lives on the opposite side of El Paso, which added another thirty-five minutes to our journey.  We arrived at her house close to 10:30 PM.

WifeGeeding’s best friend and husband are both laywers and moved from the DC area, so they were able to afford a better house than what they had in DC.  It’s in a gated community in a brand new sub-division, and as I entered their home, it remined me of the home of Walt’s business partner in ‘Breaking Bad’ that struck it rich – it was one huge floor plan with lots of open space done in an “El Paso” and “Albequerque” modern achitechture.  It was just beautiful.  Unfortunely, our flight was scheduled for 5:45 AM and there wasn’t much time for chit-chat, but were thankful she was gracious enough to drive us to the airport at such an early time.

Others have climbed this mountain and have climbed ones greater and grander, but this was a personal accomplishment that I’m proud of and have taken some life lessons away from it.  I literally could only put one foot in front of the other at my weakest and most vulnerable times.  This hasn’t inspired me to climb any other mountain to spend more time in the outdoors, but there’s a bit of fulfillment in saying that I did something out of my comfort zone.  And I can’t remember the last time I spent the entire day television and Internet free, which was kinda liberating.

Well, that’s enough for what happened the day before my birthday.  I had some really cool stuff that actually happened on my actual birthday, Sunday, August 30th, and I’ll give you those details tomorrow.

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