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Friday, February 8, 2013

"the highest peak in the Adirondacks!"

Let me start by saying that I began writing this a couple days ago and kinda gave up on it, but considering that I am stuck in my house due to snowmeggadon and I already spent the entire afternoon talking on the phone (to other bored people) and cleaning my bedroom closets***, I guess I'll buckle down and finish this shit. You lucky readers, you.

So, the other day in my continuing mission to throw out ALL THE THINGS, I cleaned out my bathroom cabinets. This yielded a whole green plastic trash bag of expired topical medications, hair "product" that had failed to live up to its advertising, bottles of body lotion with approximately 1/16th of an inch of lotion left in them, sunscreen that probably would promote skin cancer at this point. And the like. I also threw out a tin of Badger Balm that I bought in Lake Placid in 1998.

When I mentioned that, someone said that while she had no idea what Badger Balm was, she was pretty sure that after 14 years it was time for it to go.  Which sent me spiraling down the tunnel of misty water colored memories. (How's that for a mixed metaphor PLUS a reference to an abysmal 1970s song? Full service blog once again!)

In 1998, the gentleman who I was dating and I had a plan to climb Mt Marcy--"the highest peak in the Adirondacks!" (which is how I for years referred to it whenever I told this story, verbal quotation marks and exclamation point n' all.)  Actually *he* had a plan to climb Mt Marcy and I only went along because a.) I'll do just about anything once and b.) I like making the people I love happy, and this was gonna make him happy.  The year before he had attempted the climb with a bunch of his buds during a camping trip but they started out too late in the day, it started raining, and they ended up having to turn around before they reached the top. This weighed heavily on my guy. He didn't believe in being bested by Mother Nature. I was elected to help him fulfill his, uh, dream. He warned me ahead of time that this was a tough climb and that at a certain point the trail basically became vertical.  We day-hiked quite a bit, I felt like I was reasonably fit, and we did a few warm up mountains in late spring/early summer. (Including Mt Graylock, the highest peak in the Berkshires. Kids, let me just say this. The Berkshires are just a punkass bunch of little hills.)

I thought Mt Marcy was going to be challenging but fun.  I thought WRONG. (That's foreshadowing. Try to keep up.)

The first harbinger of impending not-ok-ness was when we were forced to postpone our original trip in early July after my then-12-year-old son was in an accident while with his father. We couldn't reschedule until August.  As those of you familiar with the northern hemisphere will know, days in mid-August are already quite a bit shorter than they are in early July.  This would ultimately turn out to be a problem.

For reasons that are lost to me now, we also got started later than anticipated. If I remember correctly, we started out with twelve hours of daylight ahead of us. Easy peasy lemon squeezy, we can climb up this mountain and back down again in 12 hours, we thought. And thus we set out, armed with nothing more than water, lunch, Skittles for energy, and a camera.  Nothing that would, like, help us in an emergency. Yes, we were morons.

I think by the time we stopped for lunch, it was becoming apparent that we were not making the time we thought we would.  It was also apparent that I was the weakest link.

I thought I was in good enough physical condition, the other hikes we'd done that year had been a piece of cake, but I was tiring and I was not-so-fast. By the time we reached the portion of the hike where the entire trail looked like this:

I was not as chipper as this adorable toddler whose picture came up when I google image searched "Mt Marcy trail." (And let me tell you, 14 years after the fact, proof that a two year old climbed that is a little depressing. Can we assume he was in a backpack till they let him out to snap the picture? Yeah, let's do that.) When we got to the very last part of the climb before the summit, and it was nothing but vertical rock, I sat down on a boulder and told my guy to go on without me and that I'd catch him on the way down. I seriously did not think my legs were going to move any more. Well, he wasn't having that and insisted that if I'd come that far, I had to reach the summit and see the view. I made it, we took some pictures, and then we realized that we had to start the hell down that mountain because oh my god, look at the time.

You might think that going down a mountain would be considerably easier than going up it, but my toes were smashing against the top of my hiking boots with each step downward. I ended up almost but not quite losing both my big toenails and they both had a horizontal ridge across them for years from damaging my nailbed. Nevertheless, we were almost running by the time we reached the bottom. Well, actually T was running and kinda dragging me along with him. We reached the parking lot just as it was getting dark. Which was a damn good thing since we hadn't been smart enough to bring along a flashlight.

We repaired to our motel room, changed, and went to dinner in Lake Placid, where we bought the Badger Balm, pretty sure we were going to need it.  I remember sitting in the restaurant and seriously wondering whether I was going to be able to walk back to the car once I stood up.  (Made it!)  I have never before or since had that feeling like my muscles just were NOT going to work.  And for at least three or four days after that, my legs and feet were so swollen I couldn't wear shoes. I had to wear flipflops to work when I returned. It was that bad.

But I did have a sense of accomplishment. I might have almost had to crawl down that damn mountain but I did make it to the top and back. So, yeah, for years I always laughingly referred to it as Mt Marcy--"the highest peak in the Adirondacks!" and called the whole experience the crowning athletic achievement of my life.  I realized in talking about this the other day that I still felt that way. I am proud of my PRs in the gym and happy when I make one, but I don't think anything I do in there is ever going to top doing that climb.

I peaked at age 35. I can live with that!


***You think the Badger Balm from 1998 was bad? I found a whole box of magazines today from 1995. Yeah.


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  2. Love it!! My parents moved home recently and into the guest bathroom of their new house they have put a basket of stuff incase their guests forget toiletries. Stuff like shampoo, conditioner, lotion. My parents are nice like that.
    Except I was rifling amongst it the other day and found some lip balm. Lip balm I had bought my mother as a present. Now this wasn't the problematic bit. I had bought this as a present for my mother when I was 6. I am now 37.

    Good for you on not giving up, am impressed you and b/f were talking enough to go for dinner in the evening!