EYE

The Denver Post - - LIFE & CULTURE - He­len H. Richard­son, Den­ver Post file

at dawn, car­ry­ing light packs with a min­i­mum of emer­gency gear and walk­ing briskly from the camp­ground to the head of the trail we had cho­sen for our hike up Mount El­bert near Leadville. The air pushed cool against my face; my steps stretched long and loose; my breath­ing flowed ef­fort­lessly — a silent, au­to­matic com­pan­ion. Feel­ing alive and in­vig­o­rated, I flashed a grin at Joel. As we started the as­cent, I be­gan breath­ing through my mouth to ac­com­mo­date my need for in­creased oxy­gen, smooth in­hala­tions that tasted fresh.

The trail steep­ened. My breath­ing quick­ened and grew heavy, as though a doc­tor had told me to breathe deeply, again and again, while he lis­tened through his stetho­scope.

The trail drew up even more. The swoosh of my breath be­came a soft whis­tle on the in­hale and a slight moan on the ex­hale. I slowed, be­came de­lib­er­ate with my foot place­ment, wiped my face with my sleeve. Soon the path veered and re­vealed an in­cline ahead of at least 80 de­grees — a zigzag­ging line of light­ning. As I climbed, the sun-warmed air be­gan to sob in and out of my lungs, each gasp fight­ing its own pas­sage. My eyes wa­tered. A ground troll seemed to have latched onto my feet, de­ter­mined I shouldn’t pass. I promised my­self that for ev­ery 20 steps I man­aged, I could rest. Step … huff …

An ob­sta­cle course blocked my way — large, sharp rocks re­quir­ing ar­du­ous steps up and over. Now my ex­change of air sounded like a shriek­ing teaket­tle at full boil, my tor­tured lungs in­sist­ing that noth­ing in our 63 years of co-de­pen­dency had pre­pared them for this task. I con­sid­ered dis­card­ing a tis­sue, think­ing I would rather litter than carry the heavy thing an­other step.

I tried not to look ahead, but I

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