Bret's proposal 2 years ago was simple enough: We need to hike to the top of the highest point in Texas and drink a beer. I was so out of shape at the time it was purely hypothetical.
Then, last December, after finding out the she was pregnant, Shannon had a great idea for a Christmas present for me: "I'm going to buy you an airplane ticket to El Paso so you can go visit Bret."
I had a better idea. With 4 months of preparation, we would follow through on Bret's plan.
After 8 weeks of progress and 8 weeks of regress in my 16-week preparations for hiking to the top of Guadalupe Peak, the only real question left was: Would I stay sober enough in El Paso on Friday to make my best effort at it on Saturday?
That question was answered before I even hit the Mountain Time Zone. Sitting on the plane with two large mugs of airport beer in my belly and another beer in my hand, I was looking down on the clouds, hardly thinking of the pain it would take to reach a (natural) high the next day.
We didn't go nuts of course. I am 40 years old. I drank conservatively enough considering it was a Dave and Bret reunion and we both turned in by 10:30 p.m.
I awoke Saturday morning at 6:30, took a shower. Bret himself even cooked breakfast, which was fine and we were headed east into the rising sun.
After our arrival at Guadalupe Mountains State Park, I threw on my pack (snapped this self-portrait) and threw myself on the trail. I did not apply any sunscreen which I had purchased for the trip and I did not stretch my old muscles, not even my particularly cranky calves.
I am an idiot.
I hadn't gone 200 yards of my 4.2-mile uphill trek before I was out of breath. At 400 yards my calves were as flexible as lumps of rock. I hadn't gone a quarter-mile and I was sure enough that I would never make it a mile, much less to the top.
It was only because I did not want to disappoint Bret (I was already sorely disappointed in myself) that I pushed on. Hiking sometimes as few as 3 or 4 steps at a time before pausing to regroup, I moved uphill bit by bit.
(Bret, I will point out, was very patient and encouraging, but never condescending. After 18 years, he knows me well enough. He would hike ahead and wait, knowing that I had to sort this through for myself.)
After we reached the top of the first mile, things evened out a bit. There were flat spots, small inclines and still the occasional steep part, but miles 2 and 3 were much easier. After awhile I finally caught my breath, just in time for my legs to start cramping up. This is the price I would pay for drinking the day before. And not stretching.
I had read on the Internet that the bridge marked mile 3 and the beginning of the last mile. Someone else had pointed out that it's the first mile and the last mile that's the hardest part of the ascent (which is, you know, 50 percent of it).
It is also from the bridge that you can finally see the true summit and that the people on the Internet are right on this one. It looks hard and looks are not deceiving.
I recall looking at my watch at some point and thinking that I should easily finish my ascent within 3 hours of starting. But it took 3.5 hours.
But I made it. Somehow I hauled my 250-pound carcass to the peak. In the picture above, I am the highest man in Texas, with the possible exception of Willie Nelson.
That beer was among the best I ever had. Followed by some of the best beef jerky and one of the finest granola bars I ever had.
The view from the top was pretty good. And it was all downhill from here right? I mean, we should make it down in like 2 hours.
The first mile down offered some rough terrain, and I was a bit stove up after 30 minutes at the top, but I was in good spirits. We hit the bridge relatively quickly and mile 2 went pretty fast as well. By mile 3, however, my legs were getting tired. This is something I did not expect. I'm overweight, but have solid muscle under there. I knew I was in for a long day, aerobically, given my complete lack of preparation, but I expected for my strength to help me endure the long hike.
By the last mile, which featured plenty of loose rock and (for me), knee-high steps down, my leg muscles had pretty much turned to jelly. I was whipped and I could not trust my legs to keep my upright if I were to slip or stumble. I had to slow down much to my chagrin and to Bret's.
I finally stumbled into the parking lot 2.5 hours after I left the peak. The roundtrip was 6.5 hours, on the bottom side of the 6-8 hours that many say the hike will take.
Personally I don't see how anyone could do it any slower than I did, unless they are botanists or birdwatchers. On the other hand, I never once stopped on the way up or down. I did, however, pause to catch my breath or give myself a pep talk about 10,000 times.
All in all, it was a really groovy excursion, even given my shame at failing to prepare in any way whatsoever. I'm pretty sure that I'm going to do it again at some point.
And now, of course, I have a very firm grasp of what not to do.