Last week I caught myself thinking more and more about Wheeler Peak, the only 13,000 foot peak in New Mexico. So many people in my circle have climbed it — many more than once. Until recently, I put that accomplishment in the drawer that is labeled, “Things Other People Do but Not Me” like learning how to ski, and water ski, and tango and travel to the equator, and take statistics and roller derby and rock climb, paint water colors and jump out of airplanes. Notice how many of these things involve physical challenges and discomfort?
My sisters and I had no brothers to egg us on in sports, even though my father would have loved to have had one jock among us. It took my husband a long while telling me stories about the players before I cared enough to watch a game for three hours, but once I got the hang of it, I became a diehard Red Sox fan, 1800 miles away and a couple years after I left Boston. Funny how living there for 25 years never piqued my curiosity.
Poor Dad was engrossed in every ball that moved on TV, from golf to bowling to football, basketball and baseball, and I would sit on the floor beside him in his favorite chair, my eyes glazed over, trying to find where the football was NOW, never mind which team had it.
Hiking, since I live just a five minute drive to Carson National Forest, is something I enjoy, but I’ve never made a project out of it. Up twenty or thirty minutes, and down in half the time, and I’m happy. If I can get a good view of the town somewhere on the trail when I’m sipping some water, all the better. But make a whole day of it? What’s the point? It hasn’t been until very recently that I saw any value in sweating at all. Actually, it was my nurse practitioner who told me I might get better reads on my blood work if I tried exercising until I sweat for 30 minutes a day, so it wasn’t something I thought of all by myself.
I found a buddy to walk with me (faster than I would by myself) at lunch time once a week; I bought a punch card for a cardio and weight exercise class with my favorite teacher in town, and I’m committed to two yoga classes a week. Those changes have become part of my life now for the last eight or nine months, and I do feel better.
But Wheeler Peak? Really? No one is more surprised than I am.
The truth is I feel getting to the top of Wheeler is a rite of passage for me, a way of claiming my residency in Northern New Mexico. And while I know many people in their seventies who hike at these elevations regularly, I don’t think I’ll ever join their ranks. Still, I want that peak experience for myself. I want to earn the privilege of that panoramic view; I want to fill my lungs with the air at that altitude, and know the feeling in my heart that tells me, “I belong here.”
I bought Taos Hiking Guide by Cindy Brown, who is our resident expert on the subject. I’ve already started training, which for me means planning a longer than usual hike near Ski Valley every week and another practice one with my buddy that is strenuous and mostly uphill. I will do this all through the month of August.This will remind my body that I’m serious about this. I still don’t know if I can do it, but I’m going to act as if I can. And I know I can do the next training hike up to Gavilan which is about twice as long as the one I took a few days ago. If all goes well, I’ll try Wheeler in early September.
I’ll keep you posted, my friends! I’m reminded of a plaque my Dad had hanging in his room that read, “Man’s reach should exceed his grasp, or what’s a heaven for?” Robert Browning wrote those words. They’re good ones.