A couple of years and several pounds less ago, on a walk with my twin brother Kelly, he asked if I would want to climb Mt. LeConte in the Smokies as a recognition of our 50th birthday. Since Kelly has never asked me for much of anything and since we've gotten closer as we've aged (no, we didn't have that "twin thing" everyone wants us to have when they learn we are), I said "yes!" almost immediately.
Really, it didn't take a lot of thought. We were giving ourselves two years to get ready. Kelly used to minister in the area and had great connections for a place to stay. We thought we might even get two houses close together, invite lots of friends and family, and make a week of it. The planning walk was so much fun, I was really looking forward to the reality.
We checked in on our 49th and were still committed. However, I was having to curb some of my enthusiasm. I was starting a new career venture without much of a financial safety net. That meant I wasn't going to be able to rent the extra house or the van I had hoped my friends might travel in to join in the festivities. Kelly toned down his guest list as well. But we were still game.
Spring of 2011 brought me some sense of job security and a little less stress which was good because my internal activity was not matched by my external and I had gained some weight. Probably too much weight to be thinking about climbing a mountain. July 20 -- our actual birthday -- came and went with me committing mentally to get healthy but physically only managing to test my grit on the treadmill with an incline of 15. When I made 6 miles, I felt like I had a fighting chance but I still worried. AND I still wasn't training like I should have been.
When I saw Kelly's birthday photo, I thought, "Well at least he's not in his best form either so maybe I won't slow him down." Little did I know that that day he committed to daily 3 mile walks ... on the hills of Nashville, his home! When I saw him at the airport, the night he and my sister-in-law Karen picked me up for our birthday adventure, I noticed he wasn't quite the same. A lot less pudge!
I fretted much of the ride from Tennessee's capitol to Tennessee's vacation paradise. I had visions of having a heart attack on the side of the mountain and having to be Lifelined out of there. It didn't help when Kelly and his might-as-well-be-a-son-boarder Brent started going all MacGyver when prepping for the hike and discussed how to use a couple of branches and some jackets to make a gurney to carry someone down the mountain when injured.
My anxiety was lessened somewhat when I saw the incredible lodging Kelly has arranged. A friend of his had taken advantage of a foreclosure and we were living the high life -- literally and metaphorically for a few days. Log cabin exterior on the side of a mountain with a view of the tree-covered valley from each of the three floors. Three huge bedrooms, jacuzzis, incredible kitchen, hot tub and porches with swings and rockers. Definitely a Smokie Mountain pleasure spot.
In fact, I began to wonder if climbing the mountain was really THAT important. I could let Kelly and his friends make the trek for me and just enjoy some girl time back at the house with Karen and my niece Bethany.
But that thought passed quickly as I remembered my commitment. I gave the guys (one other friend of Kelly's joined us) the "out" of going on ahead (which they gallantly refused to do). I made my excuses -- too big and living at sea level. I grabbed every bit of help offered -- poles, Kelly took part of the food, and I prayed.
We got to the trail at 7:30 a.m. I was drenched in sweat by 8:15 a.m. I heard Kelly mention that he had considered turning around on his first trek up when he and his friends reached the bridge. We hadn't reached the bridge yet and I'd already plotted how I could spend the day back at the car waiting for the boys to return.
But I made it to the bridge, and then Inspiration Point, and then the Pulpit, and the salt mine, and finally to what Kelly called the "Yellow Brick Road" part of the trail -- a tree-lined, flat expanse just before you make it to the lodge on top. It wasn't pretty -- I huffed and I puffed and I stalled and I preached whole sermons to myself about taking just that next step, but I made it.
Coming down was no problem. I actually was ahead of one of the guys who was in much better shape than me. By this time, I'm sure I was delirious though. I began to easily relate to Young Frankenstein's dance number as my feet seemed to take on extra poundage in the clomp, clomp, clomp of those 5 miles back to the car, I still did it. And I must admit, I didn't mind when the boys were having to stop for rest breaks rather than just tending to me!
Getting in and out of the vehicle before making it back to the lovely surf and turf meal we'd planned was not a moment of ballet beauty but I made it. And up the stairs to my jacuzzi? Not graceful at all. But I soaked.
I was once told that "but" stood for "behold the underlying truth." I wasn't a model of "50 and fabulous" climbing Mt. LeConte. But I made it ... with my twin to encourage, wait on and support me, I made it.