Today I'm trying my hand at a new type of writing: travel writing.  This will be part poetry, journal entry, philsophical musing, photo album, and yes, even dialogue.  The main thing I'd like to accomplish is an analysis of the why behind travel, beyond the obvious reasons for such: most importantly an analysis of the human in relation to Nature, the Cosmos, and any Higher Form of Life.  Why does one go to places that hold such danger, mystery, and size of an immensity beyond the scope of mere pictures or mere human words, a size of such mountainous significance that one feels their heart palpitating in their chest, and realizes that they are an insignificant speck?

Road to the Alpine Visitor's center. Elevation: 10,590 ft. and climbing.

"The mountain's in charge now.  We're playing by its rules."  

So said my wife in that simple, poetic turn of phrase known to those who refuse to call themselves poets.  We were driving the Old Fall River Road, a narrow, winding vein of dust and cement which climbed ever upwards through cataracts of stone and forestation.  I wished I had rented something with more traction and not a lime-green KIA Soul. It was too late for that now.  No railings blocked the car from veering too far to one side or the other, leaving one precariously placed alongside giants of stupendous size.  To look off into the abyss to one side, where the drop off lay, and then look up and down, made the heart flutter in the chest.  

Thus the summary: "The mountain's in charge now."  

This is terrifying, I thought, with trembling in my hands.  

For a brief moment, I failed to comprehend why anyone would submit to such environmental depredation, with the chill, the thinness of the air, and the catastrophic cliffs down which one might fall for enough time to realize how dead they would be on reaching the bottom.  Even the trees began to brown and fade as we ascended, until there was nothing left but a broad, brown sheet of the stuff typically covered by frozen tundra in the wintry months.  It looked like a fell in the highlands of Scotland, except these were 12,000 feet in the air and not 1 or 2.  

Ute Trail leading across the tundra towards the mountains. Elevation: 12,000 ft.

"Isn't it amazing how untouched this all is?"  The wife continued.

"Oh yeah."  Said I, still trembling slightly from the increasing elevation of our climb.

"I keep waiting to see houses and human things, but there's nothing."

"Thank you, Teddy Roosevelt!" I said stupidly.  Only later did I realize it was Woodrow Wilson who founded the park in 1915, but the image of the strenuous-living, rough-riding Teddy Roosevelt sticks in the mind in relation to conservation.  

"I keep imagining all of this underwater, as if the mountains were the drop offs to deep water trenches."

"The world's tallest mountain is actually underwater, you know?"  

"No way!" I said.  My wife is quite smart.  Mauna Kea, from base to tip, is a full mile taller than Mount Everest, although not as high above sea level.  

We continued on down the trail as long as our city sensibilities allowed us, eventually turning back and returning to our lime colored car fit for the streets of San Francisco wharf, to drive back to the motel down Trail Ridge Road.  The wife had more profound thoughts to share, simple and poetic:

Ute Trail. Elevation: 12,000 ft.

"Imagine how big we are in relation to that mountain; then imagine that mountain in relation to Mt. Everest."  She was right.  Many of the Himalayan giants reached double the size of the 12,000 to 14,000 ft. peaks native to the Rockies.  Our puny minds could scarcely conceive of this immensity, just as our eyes and words failed to encapsulate and describe the mountains before us.  

"Then imagine our planet's size in relation to the solar system, and then the galaxy, and then the other galaxies, and then the Universe!" I ridiculously formulated beyond our present moment.  She didn't find this to be a foolish foolishness.

"How do people believe this came about by chance from nowhere?"  She said summarily.  

Again, I trembled.  

The next day, the wife arrived at a brilliant idea: Start a hike at roughly 3,000 feet below where we wanted to end up, starting at the elevation of 9,400 ft, climbing to the summit of Flat Top Mountain, elevation 12,300 feet, a windswept flatness surrounded by clouds and snow, just on the edge of the Continental Divide (a geographical feature which influences much of the climate from West to East, with the West side cooled from Pacific winds, and the East hotter in summer with harsher winters, to say it in brevity).  Apparently it had been snowing on this peak a mere two weeks before, and if one continued on past the summit, one could hike along the Continental Divide itself. The wife has the most interesting ideas.  

Not to be outdone in daring by my lovely wife, I acquiesced to the idea.  The night before the hike, we sat up talking, in one of those brief moments where our conversation proceeds beyond the level of most pathetic, meandering human conversation to a moment of transcendence.

"Every year, I feel like I get to this milestone, our anniversary, and feel like a total failure."  

The wife nodded. (not meanly, although the thought of such illicits laughter.)

"Why do you feel that way?"

"Because of my sin.  My words haven't been loving, my actions haven't been loving, my thoughts haven't been loving.  I feel far off from God and from you."

"How do you get close to God?"

"I typically listen to sermons.  I do that a lot."

"Do you like the degrees of seperation between you and God that there are when you listen to sermons?"

"No," I said.

"It's like listening to sermons is safe and easy to control, like the town of Estes Park: come and pick what you want, walk where you want, and leave when you feel like it.  Rely on someone else to "feed you."  Reading the Bible and actually coming directly to God is like that Mountain, you can't do it on your own terms."

A realization hit me.

"I'm not opening the Bible because I'm afraid, simply terrified."

"Terrified of what you'll find, what you'll hear?"

This was a big eureka for me.  While I sat there feeling as if God himself showed up on our backporch that night and taught us through parables, she continued.

"When will you figure out that God is not conspiring to destroy you?"

"He may be.  But there remains no more rational reason to not climb the Mountain and go to God, seek God, believe.  Philosophy club has done well to quiet the thrashing emotions of my mind that were unhelpful.  At this point, its proven to me that my feelings in the matter were and are utter foolishness."

"Yeah, when I first met you, your seeking of God was full of anxiety and no peace."

"A God that would create this is worth knowing, even if he slays me."

After my wife heard my confession, we went to bed, prepared for the next day of strenuous labor.

Fern Lake. Elevation 10,500 feet

This is Fern Lake.  To put it in perspective, we were higher than this point, looking down on countless alpine lakes from our altitude.  

We began the hike at 10 AM and didn't complete it until 5:30 PM, by which time both of my shoes were pierced through the soles, bolstered only by pieces of paper we happened to have in the backpack.  

"Homeless Level 3000," my wife said jokingly.

I could tell of the various smaller hikes undergone throughout the mornings, the sunrise over the trees, but such words would be sundry to what matters most in this little piece of writing.

There are no words to encapsulate the feeling of ascending a mountain.  You have to go see it for yourself, and I hope we, we men of the Most High, can go see it together many times in the future.  

I hope we, too, make it to the top together where the air is thin, where the trail diverges along the Continental Divide; one step at a time, believing that setting aside all weights is worth it in the end, where the clouds feel a mere one hundred feet away, where the thunder rumbles once, as if to demonstrate its might, and remind us of our precarious position on the permafrost layer of tundra above the treeline, where high winds buffet and lightnings shine.

"I feel like I'm climbing Mount Sinai to talk to God," I said between deep pants.

The wife laughed, and another verse came to me:

"You have not come to a mountain that can be touched and that is burning with fire; to darkness, gloom and storm; to a trumpet blast or to such a voice speaking words that those who heard it begged that no further word be spoken to them, because they could not bear what was commanded: “If even an animal touches the mountain, it must be stoned to death.” The sight was so terrifying that Moses said, “I am trembling with fear...But you have come to Mount Zion, to the city of the living God, the heavenly Jerusalem. You have come to thousands upon thousands of angels in joyful assembly, to the church of the firstborn, whose names are written in heaven. You have come to God, the Judge of all, to the spirits of the righteous made perfect, to Jesus the mediator of a new covenant, and to the sprinkled blood that speaks a better word than the blood of Abel...."

It is and was finished, and climbing is simply the overflow of joy.

The trail up through the tundra
Among the Ice
Nearing the Summit
View from top 1
View from Top 2
View from Top 3

The following night, back in Oklahoma after the hike was complete, my wife and I sat up on a clear July night, watching the stars, identifying planets, spotting satelites, and talking.

"There's Mars, red above the treeline."

"I see it!" I said.

"There's Venus, white just over the chimney."

"Wow."

"Oh man, I think I just spotted Saturn, and I can sort of see its rings."

"No, that's Jupiter, bright and big."

We sat there for some time.  Finally, I said, "I feel as if God has been shouting at us this past week.  What has he been shouting?" I wondered

Now, I believe, that he was saying quite simply, "Behold! I AM Good; I AM Love!"

My wife sat there silently awhile longer, and then at last spoke again:

"One time, when me and my brother were little, we laid on our backs up there on that trampoline next to the tree-line, watching the stars.  

We were young and we prayed for God to show us shooting stars.  

We prayed, and He sent 12 that night, blazing across the sky...

It's a good memory."