It took me just 35 days. Thirty-five days from the day I said I was going to climb Baldy again this summer to turn that dream/goal into reality.
You may recall my blog post on March 1st called "The Power of the Dream" in which I listed some of my personal dreams and goals. One of those goals was to climb Baldy again in August when I am at Watervale. Climbing Baldy is a feat and one that I don't undertake very often. For a variety of reasons, I hadn't climbed it since 2004, and to be honest, I wasn't sure I was in good enough physical shape to do it. So I had a plan to 2-3 miles a day or more from the beginning of March until I arrived at Watervale in August and that would give me the strength I needed to climb those last two hills and survive.
What I didn't count on was being at Watervale over Easter and Dave deciding that Easter morning would be as good of a time as any to tackle this goal. I can't tell you that I enthusiastically jumped on the idea on Sunday morning. Saturday had been spent in a slug-like manner involving NPR, beer, and a nap, followed by a relatively easy and short walk, a glorious sunset, and a fantastic Thai dinner at The Fusion, where we ate way too much. In fact, my initial response was something along the lines of "Hell no! Are you out of your mind?" He assured me he was dead serious and we were leaving momentarily, so I'd better find some clothes or I'd be going in my slippers and pj's.
We set off on our hike of death, which I'm fairly certain involved a plot to kill me so he could avoid paying me back for the trip to Costco, and all was fine as long as the ground was flat. Once the hills arrived, however, I became convinced this was no longer fun, in spite of the beauty of seeing nature come back to life after a long winter.
This is the sort of first big hill I hiked. But you can see how gentle the slope was, which made it pretty easy. I'd say this reflects about the first 2/3 of the hike.
This was the first major obstacle. Notice the incline. What made it tolerable, though, was the fact that it was pretty solid dirt covered with leaves, so my feet weren't sinking into anything.
Dave pretty much ran to the top, while I took my time, coughing my way to the top (I'm still recovering from a cold last week) and not sure my lungs, still filled with cold-ick, would hold out. Once I reached the top, I knew it was all uphill from here, with just a couple level places allowing me to catch my breath before the final two hills.
Before we get to those hills, I thought this tree was cool.
At this point, Dave assured me we're pretty close to the top and I was doing great, as I grew more convinced that he just remembered that I have life insurance and he's the beneficiary.
Not one to recoil from a challenge once I've committed to it, I stared down the 2nd to the last hill determined to show it who's boss (that'd be me . . . I hoped). You'll notice it's all sand at this point. You're probably thinking that it looks easy, but I assure you that looks are deceiving. This hill actually has about a 35 degree incline, according to Dave. You also don't really see how it curves to the left. What's tricky about this is the sand and how my feet were constantly sinking. That and there's really not much to grab onto for leverage.
When I was almost at the top, I turned around to document how far I'd come. I think you have a better appreciation of the challenge I faced.
But look at what I still had ahead of me. It's almost a vertical climb. I pondered how best to do this - in the summer, I'd take off my shoes and do it barefoot, but the sand is still cold and a bit damp, so that seems unlikely. The other question was would I be able to remain vertical and not climb using my hands.
Dave was patiently waiting at the top with the bottles of water and Gatorade, so I had no choice but to take a deep breath and get up that hill.
I'm proud to tell you that I did remain upright, although I did grab hold of the tree you see on the left to keep my balance. Now, at this point, you'd think you'd be finished. That you'd reached the top. And you'd be wrong.
I always forget about what comes next: the last hill, which entirely sand without the benefit of trees or roots in the sand to give you footing. To say it is hellish is an understatement. This hill makes my calves and thighs burn like nothing I've ever experienced. Actually, I liken it to what I've heard childbirth is like - more painful than anything in the world, but you miraculously forget the pain so you do it again.
The good news is that you do have about 50 yards to catch your breath before you tackle the last hill. As you see above, there are actually two paths. We always take the one on the left. It takes you to the top of Baldy. The one on the right takes you around it. Dave offered me the option, but since I don't back down from a fight, I said I was going to tough it out and take the path on the left. I handed Dave my camera so that if I lost my balance, I wouldn't ruin it and he sprinted to the top leaving me to fend for myself. I wouldn't have it any other way.
I'm proud to tell you that I survived. And not only did I survive, but I conquered. I made it about 3/4 the way up the last hill, which is about 50 feet tall with at least a 35 degree incline, on my feet and without using my hands. I finally gave in and used my hands to assist me in the climb until my feet gave out and I literally crawled the last 7-8 feet on my hands and knees.
When I reached the top, I will tell you I had tears in my eyes. I really didn't think I could climb this dune, but I did. I accomplished, what I believed to be the impossible. I'll never run the Chicago Marathon, but I'm really proud to have conquered this challenge. Climbing Baldy always reminds me that I can do anything I set my mind to and that if I just pace myself and keep putting one foot in front of the other, I'll get there eventually. Climbing Baldy isn't about competing with anyone else or caring what anyone else thinks. It's about me and pushing myself beyond what I think I can do.
And here was my reward. That's Lower Herring Lake on the right and Lake Michigan on the left. In my humble opinion, it's the best view in all of Michigan.
Oh, and as for the pain and huffing and puffing involved in hiking Baldy, it's all forgotten the instant I turn around and see this view. You can bet I'll be back up Baldy in August. And in the meantime, I'll be walking a lot so it hurts less. I almost forgot, it turns out that Dave wasn't trying to kill me after all. He just has more faith in me than I have sometimes. And for that, I'm grateful beyond words.
I wonder what else I can manifest in just 35 short days . . .