I gripped the steering wheel with the strength of Charlie Bucket and his golden ticket. The 24-West freeway had begun like many others; asphalt the color of dark gray jersey sweatpants, winding slightly with cautionary yellow signs indicating lawful speed. I waited patiently behind another car at the park entrance, and it wasn’t long before a crisp twenty dollar bill left my wallet and found a new home in the hands of the ranger with the comforting voice. We were officially entering the road to Pikes Peak National Park in Colorado.
I often forget that exploring nature can surface a whole rollercoaster of emotions. In the beginning, our spirits are captivated by a sense of adventure in the unknown. We move forward with caution, taking some comfort in parts of familiarity. As my rental car climbed up the mountain, I carefully drove minding every turn to scan for icy patches on the road. Murmurs of wonder escaped my lips as the terrain changed from dry red rocks to rustic browns and army green trees. Everything felt new, untarnished, and lovely as it was.
As we drove higher up the mountain, a bubble of fear made itself known in my chest. The road sides were no longer forgiving; they cut off abruptly leaving little to no room for driving error. A single look down the side of the road could make any stomach drop– one wrong turn and the car would be embarking on a (not so fun) skydive. So, I learned to stare straight out into the horizon; directing my eyes only where they needed to be on the road ahead.
Every white knuckle-gripped slow turn brought me closer to the summit. I pushed the dark thoughts far away because no amount of dwelling would help me drive any better. I was determined not to pull over, not to acquiesce to the seemingly irrational fear of driving up one of the most visited mountains in the world. Pikes Peak is second only to Fujisan in Japan, or commonly known as Mount Fuji. If others have driven along this road before, so could I.
As Robert Frost once said, “the best way out is through.”
At the summit, bright white snow reflected the sun’s rays causing the world around to shimmer. Piercing blue skies made the perfect backdrop to the massive mountain peaks, extending endlessly into the vague skyline. Trade snow for clouds; at 14,110 feet up, you might as well be in heaven. I blink a few times, noticing my vision had taken on an odd hue of sepia. Ah, I was experiencing altitude sickness.
I willed myself to get through the doors of the Summit House, practically collapsing on the first bench that I could see. Amidst the bustle of families visitors, I took short breaths in and out until my breathing returned to a consistent state. The sweet smell of vanilla and sugar gently wafted throughout the space. A sign read, “World Famous Donuts” at 99 cents for one donut, $1.79 for two, or $4.99 for six. I could see that the metal tray had just come out from the kitchen, heaped with crispy walnut brown dough rings. It all made a lot of sense– comfort food for a crisis moment. Two donuts and cup of rich hot chocolate later and my problems were solved.
Outside, I stood at the top of the mountain, carefree and light, grinning ear to ear in a mixture of terror and exhilaration. Frigid air nipped at my nose, making the little hairs on my body stand straight like tiny soldiers. The bit of struggle I had encountered to make it here gave way to a sweet reward amongst the grand cloudline. Have you had any adventures that have taken you out of your comfort zone lately?
“Security is mostly a superstition. Life is either a daring adventure or nothing.” – Helen Keller
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Gape: Pikes Peak
Stay: Colorado Springs
Eat: Fresh donuts at The Pikes Peak Summit House
Photo Opportunity: Crystal Creek Reservoir