Conquering the Incline- at Manitou Incline

The first week I moved out here to Colorado (soon approaching a year!) I set a personal goal for myself- to climb the Incline in as short a timeframe as possible. When I first moved out here I was still adjusting and getting settled so I told myself by spring I’d do it. Once spring approached, COVID shutdowns happened and I lost my job and went through an extremely rough patch of anxiety and depression. I felt insecure and unsteady, terrified honestly. A fact I hid from most of my loved ones because I didn’t want them to worry about me. In true “me” fashion I internalized my struggles and kept it to myself so as to not be a burden to others. Yup, super healthy mindset right? Yeah, no. So my personal challenge of conquering the Incline was put on hold as I was overcoming other unexpected challenges that popped up.

As thing started getting better for me and my situation changed and I put my eyes back on the prize. You’re mine Incline, let’s do this! Because of COVID restrictions you have to make an appointment to climb the Incline. The first attempt was unfortunately thwarted by bad weather, extreme heat and approaching storms. No biggie! We’ll try again later. The second time was halted because of the devastating fires and smoke, not the safest climbing conditions. Understandable, third time is the charm. The third attempt was on Thanksgiving and unfortunately the slots for reservations filled up uncommonly fast. I started wondering, is this some type of sign NOT to attempt this. Does Universe know something I don’t? These are the paranoid thoughts running through my mind, why does my attempt to do this keep meeting resistance? So 4th time is the charm? We’ll see. We book out spot… looks good so far. Day of, weather is gorgeous! So no weather issues. It was in the low 60s and sunny (typical Colorado late fall type of weather). Ok, we’re ready and we’re doing this. My legs will hate me tomorrow but we’re doing this. I am doing this for myself, to prove my resilience. This year has thrown so much at me. A new environment, new home, building a completely new life, the loss of my beloved Nixie and the deep grief that still lingers from it, the loss of many important friendships I never thought I’d lose,  the loss of security and stable ground, financial stressors from job loss, setbacks galore. I have overcome a LOT this first year in Colorado so dammit, I’m doing this! I’ll take you on, stairs, come at me. I’m doing this for my own personal empowerment. My sense of self-confidence had taken a HUGE hit this year based on several factors and this is just for me. To prove to myself I can do anything and I am stronger than anything Universe throws at me.

2,768 steps. 2,000 ft. gains in elevation. That’s the Manitou Incline. Several portions of the Incline get so steep that many people end up getting on their hands and knees to crawl up. The toll is takes on your legs is intense. In the steepest parts you need a break after 10 steps sometimes, not to mention the air keeps getting thinner the further you get. By the halfway mark, my lungs were burning and heavy. My legs felt like they had sandbags tied to them. But I honestly felt motivated to do it. I’m’ the type of person who struggles to pace myself. I suck at pacing myself. I’m the type who psychologically I just gotta push through it. So on the steeper parts I probably pushed myself too hard and should’ve taken more breaks. But my psychological response to seeing such intense and dramatic steep stairs in front of me is just take a deep breath and push through, get through it as fast as you can before your muscles even have time to realize they’re on fire. That’s what I did. NOT the best way to do it and I would never recommend that philosophy to anyone else because it’s dangerous to push yourself that hard and fast but it’s just how I process things. I’ve always been that way, push through it. In general, I am a very resilient person but I DO have a tendency to push myself too hard. I do not always go easy on myself, I tend to hold myself to a high standard. Ironically when it comes to others I tend to be too lenient with crap I put up with but that’s another story. As I’m climbing the more tumultuous parts of the Incline I keep saying to myself, “Don’t stop, keep going. 10 more steps, yes, you can do it! Ok take 10 more! Good!” I kept taking the steps 10 at a time to make it “easier” for myself to fathom. When it break things up into segments it’s easier for me. I do it with the work day as well on rough days, I divvy up the work day into segments comparing it to movies or TV shows. Sounds so weird, right? I tell myself if there’s 2.5 hours left in a work day, “Ok, the movie Armageddon, that’s all this it!” I like to divvy up challenges into easier, smaller segments. So taking 10 steps at a time I found myself getting up faster and able to push through easier because I wasn’t looking at all the 700 or whatever steps left to go, I only looked at the next 10. Thankfully, I do have long legs so the steeper steps were easier for me than if I didn’t.

Along the trek up you start talking to other climbers. As you all take a rest at little undesignated “Rest stops” you sorta get to talking although struggling to breath. You huff and puff together, you try to have the best conversation you can through heavy breathing. There’s a feeling of unity with the other climbers, we’re all in this together. Everyone is encouraging each other, it’s truly amazing. That’s the Colorado spirit and mentality though. People here are more united with each other and it’s less of a “me” culture than what I was used to in the Northeast. Us over me out here. People are clapping for each other, saying “great job”, it’s awesome! Great vibes! I met a family during several of my rest stops that were carrying unicycles on their backs- the whole family. How they managed to climb that WITH a unicycle on their back, I’ll never know! The kids were beasting those steps it was incredible. I started talking to them inquiring about the bikes. They were planning on unicycling down the mountain once they got the bail outpoint. WHAT?! Impressive but terrifying. I can’t imagine biking down those trails let alone doing so on a unicycle. I can’t even ride a unicycle on a flat perfectly paved road. I gave huge props to them. I was there as they reassembled their unicycles and took off on the trail and wished them luck. Ok, this family is badass! As we get to the top I notice an elderly woman, probably mid to late 60s, ahead of me close to the top. She was struggling. She was crawling on her hands and knees and had a walking stick to help. Her family was with her helping her. Everyone who was already at the top as well as those of us behind here rallied around her. I honestly had tears in my eyes because it was so brave to watch her. She was so determined and she never gave up even though she was having a rough time of it. She was in front of me so I slowed down until she got there and I saw up close what a badass she was. She and I actually got to the top at the same time. Everyone cheered for her. It was so inspirational. I only hope at her age I can be that much of a badass!

Then we had to get back down. We took the 4 mile hike down the Barr Trail. The Barr Trail views are, in a word, brilliant! Absolutely stunning. The mountain views framed with the trees, the snow at the top of the higher peaks- it is quintessential Colorado! AS I looked at all of it I kept saying to my friend how grateful I was to live in a place so beautiful. You absolutely don’t get views like this back east, not even close. It often doesn’t even look REAL! The pictures I take don’t even come close to doing it justice. Colorado looks gorgeous in photos, but it really needs to be seen in person for people to really get it. It’s just breathtaking. It’s always a spiritual, transcendentalist experience for me. The mountains and tress, all of it, always lifts me to this greater plain of existence, this higher sense of purpose, the better sense of self. It’s like you look at the view and it fills you with this immense sense of peace and bliss. True joy. THIS is real life, this is what’s it is about. True happiness comes from simplicity, in a moment like this. This Incline hike was a truly spiritual experience. It was invigorating and empowering on all levels- physically, mentally, emotionally and spiritually. It’s in moments like this where my best self comes out. I got to that top of those steps emerging as a renewed, more enlightened version of myself. Just back to basics, the real me. Now I feel like I can do anything and I cannot wait to conquer my next challenge whether it be a mountain, a trail or something completely beyond the natural world. I’m ready!

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