In our second unit of the Who Am I? course we had to read and define texts about individual and collective memory. The whole purpose of this action project was to tell a story that would transport the reader back in time; we had to become time machines, and use different senses to re-create a time and place in our individual history. Below is my story about the time I climbed a 14,000 ft mountain and the struggles I went through to get to the top.
The day was July 30th 2012. The Olympics would be playing on all of our televisions at home, but we wouldn’t be watching 15-year-old Rūta Meilutytė win Lithuania’s first ever Olympic gold in the pool, or weight champion Kim Un-Guk of North Korea set the new world record by winning a gold medal in the 52 kg class, we wouldn’t see Dana Vollmer of the United States set a new world record in the 100 meter butterfly. No we wouldn’t be watching for we would be embarking on a journey to receive our own kind of gold metal.
It was a hot summer’s day, sweat was beading down my forehead constantly creating what seemed like a flowing river down my neck and back. I looked around the small group of students to see if any of them were sweating as profusely as I was. They all seemed excited, ready, and sweatless. I was terrified of the shapes in front of me for I had never seen a mountain so grand in my life. Colorado was known for having giant mountains to hike and ski on, and I had always imagined myself on top of one, but never before did I think that dream would become a reality.
Lydia, our counselor had a strong build, and a tough attitude. “Now listen up because I’m only going to say this once. Leave items that are too heavy in the van and don’t bring any unnecessary equipment or it will slow you down. Drink lots of water, you should have at least four water bottles on you. One step at a time and if you’re scared of heights, you’ll either have to get over that fear right now or stay down.” I saw a girl out of the corner of my eye shake her head and walk back to the car. I thought about joining her but I continued to listen to Lydia. “You may have a headache once we reach higher altitude, this is called acute mountain sickness.” She went on to talk about what to do if you feel your brain swelling and then she described other symptoms of acute mountain sickness. My stomach turned with each new fact of mountain climbing, as I imagined my head swelling up like a balloon and suddenly bursting.
Gina touched my arm, and I was jerked back to reality. We were moving. As an adrenalin rush washed through me, forcing my feet to follow our group, I began taking what would be the first of many steps towards the looming peak ahead. The first couple of miles up the mountain were not too bad, because I drank water and checked my pulse often. For a while we talked; we talked about our homes, we talked about family and what we like to do for fun. We talked and talked until one of us was not talking at all. Jack sat down against a rock and put his head in his hands. He looked up for a moment, his face pale with a tint of green. A look in his eyes that told me we all needed to back up. Throw up spewed through his fingers and landed on the dirt trail. Lydia said calmly “Jack, listen to me, I’m going to ask you to drink some water and walk down towards the van. Take your time. I will call Brian and tell him to meet you on the path. We need to get you down to a lower elevation now.” Brittany, our EMT for the trip, handed Jack a washcloth, some Advil, and a fresh bottle of water. I watched him walk down the hill until he was just a dot, an ant, making his way home.
We continued to climb, the miles that followed would become the hardest. No one was talking at this point and I soon went into a daydream until I tripped over what seemed like a huge vine sticking out of the ground. When I looked up I saw nothing but rocks – not the kind of rocks that are stuck deep within the Earth, but the rocks that fall and move if you step on them wrong. Each step sent me two steps back and I became very frustrated at moments. I was angry at the blisters forming on my ankles, the unsteady rocks that made me look like a giraffe wearing roller skates. I was especially mad at myself, for thinking that I, with short legs and an out of shape body could not make the climb. The path got windier and colder as we traveled upwards.
At times the fog would roll in and make it impossible to see anything, the wind would bite your ears, and the rocks would tell me to quit while I was ahead. A gust of wind blew so hard that I collapsed on the ground breaking open a few layers of skin on my knee. I wanted to cry, as I looked at the blood spilling out onto the rocks under me, and I wanted to give up. As I stood up the fog was cleared and at that moment I knew that I was there for a reason. The sun was bright, screaming at me to climb towards it. The top of the mountain was moments away, and I could see it. A point where the Earth met the sky and the sun, and soon I would meet them as well.