Long’s Peak – 14,255′

When my dad was a Boy Scout, he climbed Long’s Peak in Rocky Mountain National Park. He frequently retold a story from the hike. At the peak, it was bitterly cold and everyone was tired, hungry, and thirsty. They had some plain, chocolate Hershey bars, and they were going to break them apart to share. They were… but it was so cold and they were so tired that no one could break them. As a kid, this didn’t sound like an experience I wanted to re-live.

But we did anyway. When I was 14 years old, the summer before I headed into 9th grade, my dad took our family to Long’s Peak. We brought along a friend of the family, D. D was a long-time friend of my dad’s. He taught grade school gym, my dad taught grade school music, and they shared office space. D was tall, boisterous, and still in pretty good shape. When my mom ran out of gas at the boulder field, my dad stayed with her; and D, my younger brother and I continued the climb to the peak.

When we reached the keyhole (a narrow passage before the summit), we were already sun burnt, tired and terribly dehydrated. But the keyhole is at something like 13,995’. You can’t say you’ve climbed a 14er if you just make it to the keyhole. After climbing on all fours for most of the rest of the route, we finally reached the top. We were above the clouds. We could see for miles, and the view was stunning.

By the time we had descended it was getting late. We must have stopped for some fast food before driving to Cheyenne, where one of my cousins would be married in the coming week. When we stopped for gas, I wanted some Gatorade terribly. I asked my dad if we could get some. But he said no. We would be in Cheyenne soon, and there was a water fountain.

I’m not sure if I had money or not. And if so, why I didn’t buy it myself, which is what I would tell my kids now. But at the time, food and drink came through my parents, and snacks from convenience stores were simply not done. Back in the car, in the dark, I wept. Somehow I knew that all the water I could drink was not going to be enough. When we finally reached my aunt’s house, she had lemonade. I easily drank a quart, maybe more.

I lived through it, but now I drink Gatorade on my long runs and races. I think my hunger for it germinated on Long’s Peak.

In the wake of my own family’s vacation to Rocky Mountain National Park, I’ve been thinking a lot about that hike and my dad’s reflexive denial. Long’s Peak is the highest peak in RMNP, and it is the only 14er. The hike was tough, and it gave me a certain amount of pride to know that I had climbed it. Yet, it is funny how I remember my dad’s reflexive answer to my desperate request with even more clarity.

And, as my own life echoes with my father’s, sometimes, when I’m setting boundaries for my own children, I worry that I am denying some deep and urgent need that they can not articulate and I don’t even recognize.

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