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The Manitou Incline: You Never Forget Your First Time (Conquering)

“Watching all this p l a n n e d e m i c unfold is something none of us can ever “get over.”

Those words, texted by a friend, made me think of The Manitou Incline. You never get over that either but you sure can conquer it. You can suffer through it, you can quit in the middle if you want and give up, you can use it to challenge yourself to be better, but you never get over The Manitou Incline and we will never get over what has been done to us since 2020. But how will we let it shape us?

2018 was the last time I got to climb The Manitou Incline, right before I needed all the lessons it had taught me. Due to COVID, it was closed in 2020. I hate that excuse. DUE TO COVID.

Who knew 2020 and the subsequent years would be such a challenge? Who knew we would see so many heroes rise to the occasion and see so many others fall and be exposed for who they really are?

The Incline had so many lessons for me. It shaped and prepared me for what was about to come and gave me the awareness that I can conquer anything, as long as I just take things one step at a time, no matter how difficult that step is.

The Manitou Incline is a beast with a 2,000 foot elevation gain in less than a mile (0.88mi.)

The first time I climbed this monster was in July 2013. It was so very hot! I’m pretty sure it was around two thousand degrees that day.

My friends, who were in way better shape than I was, had talked me into this ridiculous adventure. I thought we’d be climbing some normal type of stairs on the side of a hill. Easy, right?


As I looked up from the base of The Incline, the Mountain laughed, “You can’t do this. I’m too difficult. I’m steep, rough, and the air is too hot and too thin. You’ll give up.”

I laughed back. “You haven’t met me, Mountain!”

As we began the climb, my personal trainer friend and her 50-something dad quickly passed me. “Seriously?” I thought. I was pretty sure I was in better shape than that. Was the Mountain right, maybe?

I trudged up the stairs as fast as I could, even though that wasn’t so fast. I watched my friend’s dad quickly move farther and farther in front of me. “How is he doing that?”

He was wearing easy-to-see turquoise shorts. Shorts that irritated me as they became a tinier and tinier dot moving up the mountain. “How is he making this look so easy? This thing is brutal!”

The Mountain laughed even more. “See, I told you you can’t do this.”

“Watch me!”

The steps were made of railroad ties and were not uniform. The height between each varied and as the trail climbed on and my quads were straining more and more, it seemed the height between each step got higher and higher. Actually, it didn’t just seem that way…the height between steps did get higher.

The initial few steps of the incline are not very steep, but about 10% of the way in, I was already huffing and puffing. I could feel the Mountain laughing underneath my feet. “This one will never make it.”

I kept a steady gait for as long as I could, even if that gait was slower than I would have liked. That didn’t last long. I soon began to count steps. I began to stop every 50th step to take a break, catch my breath, and let my quads recover. It wasn’t long before that dropped to every 25th step…or the closest step to number 25 that had a shade tree nearby.

It also wasn’t long before my, boyfriend asked if he could go on ahead. Of course, I wanted him to. I did not want to slow anyone down.

“See, you’re holding others back. They’ll have to wait for you at the top.” The Mountain said. “If you just quit, they can go on unhindered.”

“Shut up!!”

My counting of steps had slowed to 10 before I would take a break. It was then that I reached the bailout spot. The bailout exit was approximately 70% of the way up and led tired and weary climbers to a dirt path that would wind down the mountain at a much more reasonable slope.

Turquoise shorts had long been out of sight. He was done. He had quickly beaten the Mountain. The Mountain was still taunting me, though.

“You’re miserably hot. You can barely breathe. You’re almost out of water. Your legs feel like rubber bands. Why don’t you take the bailout path? You almost made it. That’s good enough.” The Mountain said, trying to act like it was my concerned friend.

I thought about it. But then I thought, “No way!” I would not be able to live with myself if I bailed. I had to get to the top, not matter how long it took, no matter how hot and thirsty I was, and no matter how much it hurt. I would not give up. Besides, I could see the top and it wasn’t very far.

I think the Mountain snickered. It knew what I was thinking and it knew the discouraging thing I was about to encounter…

The False Summit!

My heart sank and my legs almost gave out when I reached what I thought was the top. Staring me down was one of the steepest parts of The Incline and the last 10% of the thing.

I could hear the Mountain roaring with laughter. “I win! I love this part! This is where I always get them! Just go back down now. You’re too weak to finish.”

“Keep laughing, Mountain! You’re only making me more determined.”

I mustered up all the strength and stamina I could possibly find and started up, what I hoped was, the last push to the top. I did fear the heartbreak of another false summit and prepared myself mentally for that possibility. I would not let the Mountain trick me again!

By this point, I needed a small break after each step, but soon I could see turquoise shorts! My friends were waiting at the top for me and had been for at least 15 minutes. My friend’s dad made it up first in 45 minutes. It took me 65.

There were so many times I wanted to quit and so many times I thought I wouldn’t make it, which made reaching that top step all the more glorious.

“I did it!! I conquered you, Mountain!”

I could feel the Mountain smile. “I knew you would.” He winked. “I’m proud of you!”

At that moment, I was addicted. I had accomplished something I thought I wouldn’t be able to. Something I thought might beat me.

I went back to conquer The Incline 7 more times and in October 2018, my time was 40 minutes and 12 seconds. I finally beat my friend’s dad’s time that first time back in July 2013.

The subsequent trips were even more rewarding as I got to encourage others struggling to get to the top.

The Incline became a metaphor for life:

Life can be incredibly hard, but if I just take the next step…and then the next, I’ll get where I need to go.

Encouraging others, who are on the same, difficult path is not only helpful to them, but lifts my spirit, as well.

I came to nickname the bailout exit point “suicide.” I could take the easy way out, but I would miss out on the best part. I would miss out on overcoming that challenge and miss out on the whole purpose.

The destination is worth the pain and struggles I go through in life.

Overcoming the struggle in life makes me stronger and more resilient.

The pain in both The Incline and in life builds endurance and empathy.

Sometimes I need to stop and take a breath. When I do, if I notice the scenery, the beauty, and others on the same path, I find I am not alone and life is beautiful.

Some people are better at life than I am and some people can run up The Incline faster than I can. Quite often, those people would encourage me on the way up to not give up, and would tell me I’m almost there, and that I can do it. At the same time, I am better at life than others and most likely can encourage others on the same path in the same way.

This one challenge taught me so much about how important it is to encourage others. I wonder what would have happened if everyone I met that first time had said the opposite of what they did. No one criticized me or discouraged me on that journey, but what would have happened if the discouraging words of the Mountain had been coming from other people on the path. Would I have listened? Would I have given up? Who knows?

So as we face the challenges of the plannedemic, the assault on our freedom, the assaults on our livelihoods, the assault on elections, the assault on the minds of the children, the assault on our women athletes, and the assault on our lives, look around and see who is fighting back and offer them any encouragement you can.

We have all been called to one or more of these battles and they can be excruciatingly difficult. We have to put one foot in front of the other, we have to take breaks, and we have to go slow at times, but the bailout is not an option. We can conquer these things or we die on these hills trying.

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