by Brian Threlkeld
Each step required two labored breaths. My legs ached and my lungs begged for air, but I couldn’t believe where both had brought me. I had to remind myself to admire my surroundings. The Rocky Mountains stretched to the north and to the west as far as the eye could see. Ridge line after ridge line unfolded into the distance. My mind wandered their edges, wondering what they held in store for future trips. The summit was still a mile away, but it felt like I could reach out and touch it.
We were six and a half miles into a fifteen mile hike of Longs Peak in Colorado. The mountain swept away from our feet and at times a stumble could have had serious consequences. At 14,259 feet, Longs stands out in the landscape as the tallest peak in Rocky Mountain National Park. We were fortunate to choose a day with stellar weather, high pressure and blue skies.
Coming from all around the country, our group had been brought together by Fight Colorectal Cancer, an incredible patient-centered nonprofit with a mission of advocacy from a personal level to a political level.
We were survivors, caregivers, friends, and family, all affected by colorectal cancer in one way or another. This would be the first time we’d climb a mountain as a group, but certainly not the last.
The hike was easier for some than others, but we all eventually made it to the top. We celebrated with photos and hugs, trying not to think about the long trip back down to the safety of the parking lot below.
By the time we made it back to town, everyone was exhausted but exhilarated. We’d accomplished something a lot of us thought we couldn’t do, but keeping one foot in front of the other paid off. As the sore legs waned our motivation for another hike grew.
Ready to Climb Again
As we prepare to convene in Colorado again this July, I’m reminded of why I love hiking mountains. It’s not easy. To travel in the mountains under one’s own power requires not only physical strength, but loads of mental strength, too. And the input is all relative to the output.
When you find the motivation and the fortitude to keep climbing, it becomes easier to find those same characteristics in other parts of life. You gain literal perspective. You can see where you’ve been and how you got to where you are now. That reward system is real, tangible and relatable.
Every time I step foot in the gym or go for a training walk/run/hike, I think about the wonderful times I’ve spent hiking beautiful alpine ridge lines and how the hard work I do today will pay off next time I’m in the mountains.
As a stage I colorectal cancer survivor, I feel seriously lucky. I know many who aren’t, and weren’t, as lucky as me. I never had to endure chemotherapy or radiation, but I still have to deal with the fear that my cancer might return someday and I need to be ready for it.
When I go in for my annual colonoscopy, I visualize myself with the sun on my face, the grandeur of the mountains and the challenge of attaining beautiful alpine playgrounds. I know what it takes to scale mountains and I know what it takes to deal with a cancer diagnosis. I’m happy to say that each one has helped the other and they continue to do so.
Come Hike With Us
I hope you’ll come hike with us this summer. Come find your own way to climb the mountains in your life, and find that strength that I know you have to do it!