Within Me There Lay An Invincible Summer

"In the depth of winter, I finally learned that within me there lay an invincible summer."  –Albert Camus

Some climb Mount Kilimanjaro to find their invincible summer.  Some just go to Big Bend National Park in Southwest Texas and hike The South Rim.  I had no idea what I was getting into when I agreed to be a parent chaperone on this hike during my daughter’s 7th grade class trip.  It turned out to be a test of my endurance – of my strength and perseverance. 

The South Rim is located at the extreme edge of the Chisos Mountains.  At the peak of the trail, you’re treated to a beautiful panoramic view of the mountains, mesas and buttes where Texas meets Mexico and beyond, all rising above the desert floor 2500 feet below.  This 12-mile strenuous roundtrip entails switchback after switchback, mostly through lovely wooded terrain.  However, you don’t seem to notice the wildlife after a few miles in, not even if you’re in moderately good physical condition, which is a good thing considering you really would rather not think about the fact that mountain lions live there…  The South Rim Trail is grueling for a day-long hike.  As a matter of fact, the park’s website recommends that it’s best enjoyed as a 1 to 2 day backpack trip.  What makes it grueling is the steepness of the path, and even on a spring day in April, the temps get well into the 80’s. 

Strength and perseverance.  There’s something to be said for finding strength and perseverance within you when you have no choice but to find it.  I mean they don’t have any simple way to get you down from that trail.  You’ve got to rely on your own physical power to make it to your home base.  After six miles up steep switchbacks dotted with a few blessed gently sloping sections, and after a snack and the gorgeous, rewarding view, you have to go back down.  This was, by far, the hardest part of the test for me.  I abused my thighs going up.  I taxed my knees going down.  The day rapidly became hotter during the trek down because it was after noon at that point.  I became a machine with single-minded purpose – to get down the mountain.  I put my attention elsewhere so I could ignore my aching knee joints, and at last I noticed the beauty of the land and views around me.  I prayed too.  Walking down, always down.  I forbade myself to stop the pace because I sensed that if I did, my legs would not obey me in getting started again.

Yes, this was a physical test, but more than that, it was a mental test.  Strength and perseverance of body became strength and perseverance of my spirit.  I knew there was no choice but to finish – there was no way to go but all the way to the end, however, I didn’t despair. Instead, I felt a clear sense of purpose.  The path, the direction I was traveling was clear… at least in this moment of time in my life, I knew where the hell I was going.  I was putting one foot in front of the other, and I knew I would reach my destination eventually.  Even if "eventually" felt like "eternity", I knew I would get there! 

When I did finally reach the end of the trail and was cheered on by my daughter, her teacher and those of her classmates who’d had made it to the end already (Yes, though it was hard for me to believe at the time, I did pass several 12-year olds on my way down the mountain!), I had met my invincible summer again.  You see, the last time I’d seen it this close up, I was going through natural childbirth with my daughter.  I think it was George Will who said, "We are given children to test us and make us more spiritual."  I guess it’s no coincidence that she was the catalyst again for one of my greatest tests!

Even though I had no clue what was in store for me when I decided to hike the Chisos, I left feeling no regrets.  I learned that we obviously go through winters so we can be reminded that our invincible summer is always within reach – all year round.

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