As we were driving up to Rocky Mountain National Park Friday, on our way to a lake visited by hundreds of thousands every year, it hit me.
I was that guy.
I was the guy with a family driving up with his kids in a mini-van to visit a lake that required no hiking to get to so I could walk with thousands of others and enjoy the "wilderness." I was fighting traffic, hunting for parking spaces and hoping to see an elk.
I used to make so much fun of that guy.
I even looked down on him.
I may have given you the wrong idea with my last post. It implied that I've struck an easy balance between my need for adventure and my responsibilities as a Dad and husband. I haven't. In fact, this summer, I've struggled with it a lot.
I knew that my time in the mountains being a badass would be severely limited once I had kids. I was OK with that. I had climbed all of the 14ers and many peaks in Rocky Mountain National Park. I didn't need to get out 20 times a year. In fact, I didn't want to.
But this year, the getting out has been, well, next to nothing. I've climbed once this year. Once. And while part of that is definitely my fault, the result of trips to Maui and Kansas, part of it is because I find, more and more, that my weekends are getting sucked away by the kids.
It's exactly the thing I feared most when we discussed having children.
I didn't want to become that guy.
And now I am.
• • •
There's something about being a mountaineer. It's not really a hobby. It's more of a lifestyle. It's a belief that the sacrifices you make to do it, and that includes time, energy, money, your own body and even, sometimes, friendships, are all worth the spiritual experiences you get out of it.
If it sounds like a religion, it really is. It's the closest thing I have to one.
Neglecting this part of my life could not come at a worse time because I need the inner peace. Outwardly, I'm not getting any of it. The girls are 3. I have decided that if 1 is the loneliest number, then 3 is the shittiest. We can count on tantrums daily because even if one is content, the other probably isn't. 3 is a combination of will, ear-splitting screams and countless thrashing over nothing. Kate woke me up just a few days ago during one of them, a tornado-like tantrum from a twin who wanted to sleep in our bed, and I wrestled for an hour with her, until, at 3 a.m., she decided to go to bed.
They are very cute right now, but so are kittens before they tear up your favorite chair.
This is exactly why I took up running, and I love running, far more than I ever thought I would. It satisfies my competitive side, which, I'm sorry to say, is a reason I climb mountains, and running the marathon was one of the most challenging things I've ever done, and that's exactly what I loved about it.
But I have so many memories of being out there, and in the summer, they're much more intense because that's the time I did them by far the most. It's probably the difference between Widespread Panic, which strikes me as sort of dull, and Widespread Panic on rainbow-colored pills. Summer is when I'm high on those rainbows.
Of course, uppers would not be complete without downers, and so those emotions are accompanied by guilt for even having the audacity to feel this way. My wife needed me this summer. She had hernia surgery, and I stayed home to help her with our little demons as they had to accept the fact that mommy could not pick them up any longer. She's really the one making the sacrifice. The hernia was a direct result of carrying the twins. I'm pretty certain she'd trade with me, as this surgery was the start of a long, painful road to get her body back, while I carved mine into a machine capable of running 26 miles.
Still, I am a firm believer that life is what you make it. It's up to you to experience it. So I really concentrated on enjoying the time with my family in the national park. And maybe the mountains sent me a sign for my patience.
In Sprague Lake, as I bumped into tourists complaining about the half-mile hike around the lake and tried not to roll my eyes, one of my friends said a magic world.
I've been out, easily, more than 200 times, many times miles and miles from the trailhead, into places few people visit a year, where I'd probably have to cut off my arm and eat it if I got stuck. I've seen thousands of elk and deer. But I have seen three moose in my life. Total.
This moose, therefore, was a special. And since I'm being a bit granola here, I took it as a sign.
You can't experience things like this unless you get out there. That's why I've always made the mountains a part of my life. But maybe it's OK that many of my experiences are different now. My kids were thrilled to see such a huge creature. So was I. Those experiences are still cool.
Like any conflict, though, there's no easy solution. I'm still torn. I still feel like I'm losing a part of who I am.
Next week, for just a moment, I'll flirt with my former life. I'm running the Pikes Peak Ascent. It's a run - yes, a run - up Pikes Peak. It's a grueling, bloody event from 6,000 feet to above 14,000 on one of the most famous mountains in America. I've hiked it twice, but obviously this is different. I'm nervous about it and excited at the same time. It's the same kind of uneasy, wonderful feeling I used to get staring down a knife ridge.
I'd missed those butterflies.
Right now flirtations are what I have. Maybe I'll accept that standing on the summit of Pikes Peak, as I'll finally have a chance to leave a part of me on the mountain. It's the part of me who isn't OK with scrambling along a half-mile hike alongside tourists. And for one glorious weekend, they're not allowed.