Monday, November 12, 2012

Conquering The Mountain... Both Literally and Figuratively

In the summer of 2002, we took our last family vacation, at least in the traditional sense. We usually tried to take a vacation every couple years, my parents would take turns choosing the location. Frequently we didn't stray too far from home, but my dad always had an itch to go west, out to God's Country, as he and my grandfather both called it. (Specifically in reference to Colorado and the Rocky Mountains.) Our destination was Oregon, where we were going to visit my dad's oldest sister and her clan, as well as get our first glimpse of the ocean, any ocean.

This last vacation occurred during what was, arguably, the last summer of my childhood. It was the summer before my senior year of high school - the following summer, I would be working as much as I could and getting ready to head to college. It was also the first vacation we'd taken since my parents' divorce a few years prior. I think on some level my mother resented the fact that my dad was taking us on a trip that she would have no part of, but she mostly kept her peace.

If you've never been to the Pacific Northwest, let me tell you this: it's beautiful. Sure, it can be rainy and cold, depending on the time of year, but I think the weather there is most closely what I can conceive of as being "my" type of weather. (I like cloudy days, you know. Because I'm weird. Unfortunately, I don't think I could live in a cloud year-round, because winters here are bad enough - I'm cursed with a sensitivity to Seasonal Affective Disorder and I need some Vitamin D or whatever it is the sun gives you to make you not want to sleep all the time and never come out from under your blankets.) But it's where nature is at her best, and everywhere you look is a breathtaking view.

One such view is a place called Multnomah Falls. It's right in the heart of the Columbia River Valley and it's one of the largest waterfalls I know of, the largest in the state of Oregon, if nothing else. (I'm really quite too lazy to read the Wikipedia article I just linked for you.) There's a paved trail you can hike to reach the summit of the waterfall - it says it's a mile but that doesn't really account for all of the switchbacks and the steep incline. About a quarter mile of the way up is a footbridge with a pretty decent view... but if you want a sense of accomplishment, you go all the way to the top.

We climbed to the top of the falls on our vacation in 2002, my sister, my dad, and I. It was July, so it was pretty hot, and we were a sweaty mess by the time we got to the top, but we made it. I have that memory stored away in the back of my memory bank and just recently found the photo album in a visit to my dad's house. (Which is why I can so accurately pinpoint the year - my younger self was much better at labeling her photos than her successor.)

When my boyfriend and I decided to take a trip out to Oregon this fall, Multnomah Falls was a must-stop. I think he was a little disappointed that I'd been there before (up until we left, much of the trip was a surprise - I knew we'd be visiting his aunt and grandmother and what sort of stuff to pack, but the details were largely a secret) because that would take away some of the novelty of seeing it, but no matter. I decided I wanted to take another picture at the top of the falls.

Given our tight itinerary, I kind of thought it had fallen by the wayside and we were just going to stop by Multnomah to see the waterfall and the fall foliage and then scoot along. But no, the BF told his aunt to slow down so we could hop out, we were going to hustle up the mountain, we'd meet them in the lodge when we were done. I was strangely excited about this. I should have known that he would have figured out how to make it fit. For starters, he loves to hike. I, for one, don't know if I like hiking or not, because I've never really done much of it, but I'm going to have to get in much better shape before I can really figure out if I do or not. I've gained back all the weight I lost last year, but that's another post for another day. It is what it is, for now. For seconders, well. I wanted that picture and he was going to see to it that I got it.

We started up the trail and I knew immediately it was going to be much harder than I thought. The first bit was easy - up to the footbridge, which I suspect is where most people stop. After that, the trail took a steady incline and I immediately began to question whether or not I was going to be able to do it. For some reason, because it was a paved path that many a tourist has climbed, I thought it would be relatively easy. Maybe because the last time I did it, I was an agile, in-shape seventeen year old, though I'm willing to bet it sucked then too and I just couldn't remember that part.

When I saw the 1/2-mile marker, I was vaguely hopeful, until the BF reminded me that it didn't really account for all of the switchbacks, and I was a little bummed to realize that he was right. Distance and elevation were not the same thing. So I started looking for the switchback markers instead. There were eleven.

I saw the first marker at "Switchback 2 of 11" and almost quit right then. I was hurting already and we were only at the second one? But no, had to keep going. I missed #3 and so was pleasantly surprised to see #4. The first four or five feel like the longest. I was quite pleased to see that the last three were pretty short. Eight to Nine seemed to go by in a blink. Just as you're not supposed to look at your watch when you're running, I suspect you're not supposed to track your milemarkers when you're hiking - but I am one of those people that needs to know her progress, needs to know exactly where she is. It's often a motivator for me to keep going, to see the numbers increase.

As we progressed up the mountain, despite the cool dampness of the day, I was getting increasingly warm. I was down to my tank top by the time we reached the end, which is something I would have refused to be seen in if I'd been anywhere else, but I wasn't going to see any of these people ever again anyway, so who cared? It was a minor issue. The major issue was getting up the mountainside and/or not falling OFF of said mountainside.

More than once, I had to check my pace. I was trying to go fast so I could use momentum to keep me going - I was afraid that if I got too tired, I'd simply stop. I did take a couple of breaks - mostly to catch my breath and adjust to the altitude, and never for more than a couple minutes. There were also a few pauses for pictures, because as previously stated: it's a breathtaking view of nature, especially from high up.

Before I knew it, we were at the top, and it was exactly as I remembered. I put my hoodie back on and took my hair back down, because dammit, this was getting photographed and I wanted to be able to look back at these photos and not cringe about how I looked - I wanted to look at the picture and remember how triumphant I felt.

I can ultimately pinpoint four reasons why I succeeded: First, I wanted that damn picture. Second, I didn't want to let the BF down. Third, I didn't want to let myself down - I wanted to prove that I could do it. Fourth, well, I'd come too far to turn around, so I might as well keep going. Which reason was forefront in my mind varied, but they took turns, and they got me to the top of the mountain - ten years older and about seventy pounds heavier than when I'd done it the first time.

But I'd done it. I didn't quit, and I made it to the top. After that, I felt what must be on part to the alleged runner's high. It was glorious. Just like my thirty-two minute run about two weeks prior, I was starting to feel like I had it in me to accomplish things. It's a boost I needed, having fighting my way through some existential cobwebs lately. Maybe, just maybe, I'm back on track. And it only took climbing an effing mountain to get me there.


btchonheels said...

Great post, I love that you posted both pictures! :)

Ashley, The Accidental Olympian said...

I love that stretch of road. We always drove it on our way from WA to Adam's parent's house in Bend. Damn you OR I miss you...

Tori said...


Hiking is the best. You and Ashley should come visit me in Washington and we can all go hiking together!

Terra said...


But I'm proud of you, lady! Those moments of triumph are the best!

Steph A said...

Yay, good story. :) I like that you took the photo in the same spot ten years apart. For the record, i think you look way better now! :)

Kelly L. said...

Aww, thanks lady.

Kelly L. said...

What? No. You're the one with beautiful hair. Do you not remember me creepily stroking it in Vegas?

(Also: thank you.)

Kelly L. said...


Kelly L. said...

It's gorgeous. If I had to uproot myself and move away, it wouldn't be the worst place to end up...

Kelly L. said...

Thanks! I'm glad I was able to FIND the old one.