A FUNNY THING HAPPENED ON MY WAY TO EVEREST
My latest book, HALLEY, awarded 2015 Jefferson Cup Honor for Historical Fiction, awarded the Moonbeam Silver Medal for Young Adult Fiction, and awarded the 2016 Frank Yerby Award for Fiction. Available at: NewSouth Books: www.newsouthbooks.com/halley and Amazon.
The first picture is of the whole gang posed in front of the dining hall at LeConte Lodge. The second picture is Faye on the trail. The third picture is Faye at Alum Cave Bluff which is the 2 mile mark with 3 and 3/4 more miles to go.
Ever noticed how easy it is to resume a strenuous activity after several years of sedentary living?
Neither have I!
My husband and I began hiking soon after marriage. Not the whole Appalachian Trail, mind you, though we did sections of it. We always found trails near wherever home was and vacation usually involved hiking in the Smokies. When our sons were born we introduced them to backpacking early. We were a physically fit family. You might say we had a “healthier than thou” attitude.
Years passed. Benjamin and I thought we would be one of those couples who could still hike the 5 and 3/4 miles to LeConte Lodge when we were 90. The plan was working for a while. In 2011 we trekked the 9 miles down into the Grand Canyon and spent two nights at Phantom Ranch. All the way down we had seen signs warning to allow twice as long to make the return trip. Forewarned, we started right after breakfast on departure day. As we passed people decades younger than ourselves we almost pounded our chests. The return took us only fifteen minutes longer than the trip down. Yep, we were still tough. We still had it.
Confession: if we had been on that trail 30 minutes longer, we probably have collapsed and died. Confession Number Two: We had the advantage of an overcast day. Once or twice we even had a fine mist of rain. If the sun had been out full force we would have been slowed to a creep. But still…
Fast forward to 2018. For my birthday I planned a family hike—including sons, daughters-in-law, and grandchildren—to LeConte Lodge. The reservation was July 13. “Better get in shape” I warned everyone. As for Benjamin and me, we were going to put in extra time at the gym and begin doing local hikes as soon as the weather warmed. But you know about best laid plans. Of course senior “Patch-and-Mend” kicked in. I had my left big toe operated on in February. In March I tore the meniscus in my left knee and had to have repair work in April. Then there was physical therapy. Then Benjamin tore his meniscus and went through the same routine of surgery and therapy in July.
“Well, so what if we don’t make our record time of two and a half hours to LeConte,” I told Benjamin. “Our average time of 4 hours wouldn’t be bad,” he agreed.
We arrived at the Alum Cave Trailhead nice and early on July 13. We saw our son David’s SUV in the parking area, so we figured we’d pass them soon, pounding our chests as we did so. We did not see Ben’s vehicle. “At least we won’t be last ones up,” I said. Little did we know! Ben had parked hours before in the overflow parking area down the road.
So we started out at a brisk pace. I was barely out of the parking lot when my steps began to falter. Just hadn’t caught my wind, I told myself, sitting down on a handy log. Thirty minutes later I was still gasping and resting, gasping and resting…
By the time we reached the halfway mark—where the real climb begins—Benjamin was offering to carry my small pack, even though he already wore a thirty pound pack on his back.
I was tempted, but I had my pride.
Then he suggested I might want to turn back.
“And let the kids and grandkids know I gave up!” I wheezed. “No way!”
So we climbed, and climbed, and climbed. Over rocks, through streams, up log stairways, clutching safety cables for dear life.
Finally, finally, I recognized the last uphill stretch just ahead. Unbelievably, we had only about 100 yards between us and the almost level boulevard that would take us to the log cabin Lodge.
Only a couple more rests and the climbing would be over. It had taken us only seven hours.
Maybe next year I’ll do Everest!
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