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Got oxygen?

July 21. Get up and take a 6.5 mile walk this morning. At one point I see a large coyote trotting along perpendicular to me. When he crosses my path he stops in the middle of it, a couple of hundred feet in front of me, and casually turns his head to watch me for several seconds. Then he nonchalantly resumes his trot, undoubtedly with some very important coyote business on his mind.

Next I prepare for the drive to Pike’s Peak, something I’ve looked forward to for more than 20 years. The last time I attempted the climb, all traffic was being turned back about halfway up because of fierce winds at the summit. I’m disappointed to learn from the camp host that in the intervening years the road to the top has been paved. A little too much civilization for me. (An aside: there’s talk of paving the road to Chaco Canyon, thus spoiling the ambience for those who take the trouble to go there.) Anyway, I pay my $12 (yikes!) and begin the 19 mile drive to the top. It’s quite a road, even if paved. Many places I can’t see past the edge of the road straight down, and can only imagine what lies below. There are numerous hairpin turns that I can barely make with my 21- foot long  F-350 (which I fondly refer to as The Queen Elizabeth.) I have the steering wheel completely locked to the right or left, depending, as I navigate them. The vistas around every bend are achingly beautiful but I can only glance because, you see, the drop-offs hold my attention.

Storms at the summit

On this day there are thunder storms scattered all around, especially to the south of the mountain, adding a whole dimension to the awesome beauty. The summit of Pike’s Peak is a jumble of footlocker-sized chunks of granite. There is a weather station in one building and a surprisingly crowded gift shop and snack bar in another. Lots of folks have arrived via the cog railroad, so there may be approximately 200 people at the top. It’s somewhat breezy with a temperature of 50 degrees, which I find surprisingly mild. Because of lightning, every 20 minutes or so a staff member gets on the loudspeaker and warns everyone to stay inside the store for safety or, if heading to their car, make a dash directly for it, head down. As she pointedly reminds us, at 14,110 feet we are the tallest object around.

At that altitude I’m feeling a little dizzy, especially when standing up after stooping to examine some item on a lower shelf. I actually have to grab onto something to keep my balance, similar to my Lighthouse hike. Age…I hate it. And to think they run a marathon to the top of Pike’s Peak and back annually. I’m told that only athletes who live high in the mountains year round have a real chance of competing. Some others…flatlanders…well, they literally die trying.

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