My ascent up the Incline on Thursday, April 14, 2016 was probably my most memorable yet. I woke up that morning feeling determined -- today was going to be a great day. The weather forecast matched the sentiment, with a 76 degrees & sunny prediction. Let's do this, Thursday. Bring it. I always carry two liters of water in my Coleman hydration backpack, but with the heat being turned up this spring, I brought an extra 24 oz. Contigo water bottle, just in case. Made a peanut butter sandwich to eat during the four-mile descent on the Barr Trail, packed a granola bar, & hit the road.
Just so you know, finding a decent parking spot is just as difficult as conquering the Incline itself... but, on this particular Thursday, the parking attendant flagged me down & said he just had a spot open up. My good karma had finally paid off with a wonderful parking spot, I'll take it! Hallelujah, Amen.
Sunscreen applied & shoes tied, I made my way to the trailhead. Although the mental preparation began in the car as I was driving towards the mountain, approaching the "starting line" was giving me another round of intense focus. This was going to be my fifth ascent since April 2015 & every time previous has been intense. Difficult. Exhausting. The same mental prep & pep-talks that go into a long distance run happen for the Incline. A few steps in & I was already breathing heavily, sweat forming little (read: large), sparkling (read: smelly) beads all over my skin. I always have the same questions & observations as I'm making my way to the top:
What was I thinking?
Why am I doing this?
I'm too out of shape for this.
I love the Incline. This is fun. Right...?
Everyone is passing me.
People at the top can probably hear my gusting breath all the way from here.
Dear God, why am I doing this!?
I try to turn off my negative thoughts & instead focus on the positive. As athletes make their way back down the Incline, I tell them "Good job!" and smile. On the rare occasion when I'm passing other athletes, I tell them, "Keep going! You got this!" Some people return the friendly exchange, others ignore it -- and I'm perfectly content with either reaction. The people I encountered on the trail on 4/14 are the reason behind this blog post in the first place.
The Incline is a community of fitness gurus, first-timers, daredevils, & adventure-seekers. Office executives & fast-food workers, blue-collar, white-collar. Old folk, young folk. We are all there, together. People encourage me as they pass, I encourage others as I pass them. People have even complimented my tattoos (shameless plug: check out Max Egy at The Bohemian Tattoo Club in Kokomo, IN). We laugh with each other sarcastically in the shade about how "great" we feel. We high-five each other. We cheer for the people who talk themselves out of giving up. I have literally stepped side-by-side men & women who were listing all of the reasons they should quit, but myself & other climbers encouraged them to keep going. I have shared my extra waters with these strangers, even though I consider these people to be my friends--knowing full & well I may never see them again. No matter your fitness level or age, when we climb together, we are friends. We are a community. That is what I love about the Incline -- the people & the hearts within those people.
Complete & total strangers, locals & tourists, Incline virgins & Incline sluts, all have one thing in common: we are determined. The most frustrating question I get asked after completing the Incline is, "How long did it take you?" and "What's your fastest time?" People often roll their eyes & laugh at how long it takes me to reach the top, and I used to take that personally. But now, I swiftly remind them that the Incline isn't about how fast or how slow you are... The Incline is about your heart & determination. Every time I have ascended those steps, I want to quit. Every time. Two-thirds of the way up the trail, there is even a Bailout. You can literally just step off the Incline & onto the Barr Trail, leaving behind the agony in an instant. The temptation is there, like a dangling, juicy burger in front of a dog, every time I reach the Bailout point... but I have never bailed. I know I'm not fast, but I know I am determined. Reaching the top of the Incline is one of the most fulfilling experiences I have ever had & I refuse to have the accomplishment diminished based on the figures of a stopwatch.
In life, you will get where you're going in your own time. Don't compare your life's timeline to those around you. Do your best & remember that life isn't a competition. Life can be bumpy & dirty, hard & defeating, but that doesn't mean you should give up. Sometimes you just have to take a break. Breathe. Give it another try, pace yourself differently, go easier on yourself, be patient. Accept the advice & encouragement that is offered to you, even if you're only half-listening.
Don't give up when life gets tough, because life gets tough for all of us. You can't build strength without the struggle. Hang in there & remember to take life one step at a time. Don't believe me? Meet me on the Incline, I'll show you.
Want more information about the Manitou Springs Incline? Awesome! Have a visit to the Incline Friends website & consider making a donation: http://www.inclinefriends.com OR visit them on Facebook: www.Facebook.com/InclineFriends
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Megan Elizabeth is a storyteller based in Kalispell, Montana. Take a peek at her blog & portfolio, drop her a line, & follow her story on Facebook & Instagram.