After exploring the river crossings of Little Rock, conquering Tucker Creek Trail in Conway, and completing a 5K at Garvan Gardens in Hot Springs, I wondered what I could do for my next challenge. Pinnacle Mountain immediately came to mind. Having grown up in the area, I’ve always been aware of the park and its trails, but I’d only been to the park a couple of times. Several years ago, I started up the “easy” trail with a group of friends, but that ended seconds after it began. So today I set out not to reach the summit of Pinnacle Mountain, but to see what my limits were and to find out what training would be necessary to eventually climb Pinnacle Mountain.
I was resting on a large rock when I took this photo. I posted it to Facebook with the following comment:
This trail represents my [weight loss] journey so well. Some folks before me worked out the path, plenty of folks along the way are here to encourage me and help me find my way, but the only way to reach the summit is through my own effort and perseverance.
At the time, I was only a third of the way to the top, but I had already been acknowledged by several climbers for taking the initiative. I guess they don’t see 350 pound folks on the trail very often. One helpful couple explained that the paint stripes are there to show you the way. I was on the Yellow path, unbeknownst to me. Another woman offered me water, which I declined. Many folks said, “You’re almost there,” even when I wasn’t. Further along the trail, one person who I surmised to be a volunteer authority figure said, “Sir, are you OK? I’m going to keep an eye on you.”
I was undergoing a self-prescribed stress test of sorts, just to see what I could see. It’s an interesting experience to set out on a journey with the understanding that completing the trip is beyond your reach. How do you decide when you’ve gone “far enough”? When the trail turned from steps to boulders, I questioned whether I should go on. I acknowledged that each step forward would have to be retraced going back, and I wasn’t sure when I would, as we say in the south, “give out.”
It was somewhere near this point that I started thinking about the movie Gattaca. The main character, Vincent, would often challenge his brother to see who could swim farther into the ocean without turning back. As a child, Vincent always lost. When Vincent challenged his brother as an adult, he won, explaining that this time, “I never saved anything for the swim back.” Today, I also saved nothing for the “swim back.”
When I reached Marker 9, I stopped to rest. The higher I got, the more motivational the other climbers were. There were plenty of “You’re almost there’s,” a handful of “You can’t stop now’s,” and the occasional, “I’m so proud of what you’re doing.” One guy said, “You made it 90% of the way!” I replied, “90% is still an A, right?” We both chuckled, and he marched on. I had thought seriously about turning around at the top of the stairs. I questioned the safety of continuing when I saw a dog get its paw stuck between some rocks (not to mention the flashbacks to 127 Hours). I decided to go forward simply because I still could.
When I reached Marker 10, which I understood to be the last one, I once again stopped to rest. There was another hill to climb before reaching the summit. The “90% guy” saw me sitting near the marker and said, “Hey! You made it to 100%!” I replied, “Yeah, but I want extra credit.” With that, I got up and finished the climb.
I was a sweaty wreck, but I was “King of the World!” I visited with some of the other folks, took pictures for a couple who didn’t have anyone else to hold their camera, and eventually realized that I was going to have to go back down the way I had come up.
This scene was one that I had overlooked on my ascent, but that I was able to rest and take in for several minutes on the way down. While I was sitting here, a woman rushed past me, paused, turned around, walked several feet back toward me, took her earbuds out, and said, “I’m so glad you’re doing this. I just wanted to tell you how I climb this damn mountain… two minutes at a time.” She then put her earbuds back in, turned on her heel, and bounded down the trail.
On the way down, several folks were debating which was harder, going up or coming down. I rested many more times going up than coming down, but I felt much more out of control on the way down. Gravity sucks. Going up, you can lean into the step, losing balance only when the rock turns out to be unstable. Going down, each step is made on faith. Several times, I stumbled. Once, I scraped my leg. In my opinion, the descent was much more taxing than the ascent.
A final observation that I’d like to make is that the climbers lower on the trail seemed to show much less respect. Whether it was respect for the trail, respect for the atmosphere, or respect for the fellow climbers, the difference was palpable. So what does it all mean? I’m not sure yet. It means that I’m going to have to pick a new challenge. It means that I’m capable of doing more than I thought I was. It has shown me that there are some truly wonderful people on the hill, and there are some creeps. I’m glad I did it. I don’t think I’ll do it again soon. I will, however, do my best to be one of the nice people on the hill.