I've never had a guest blogger on Beyond Blessed, before. But I didn't feel that I could personally give this particular story justice. So today's post is brought to you by a very special man in my life. Without further adieu, here is my husband, Bradley's recounting of his recent trip out West with some of his buddies. I hope you enjoy his story (and pictures) as much as I have enjoyed witnessing his talent of writing.
"No, life cannot be understood flat on a page. It has to be lived; a person has to get out of his head, has to fall in love, has to memorize poems, has to jump off bridges into rivers, has to stand in an empty desert and whisper sonnets under his breath... We get one story, you and I, and one story alone. God has established the elements, the setting and the climax and resolution. It would be a crime not to venture out, wouldn't it?" -Donald Miller, Through Painted Deserts
There came a time in my life when I realized that, while good, it has been normal. Very few times have I ventured down a road with an unknown ending. Very few times have I rafted down a stream that leads to adventure. I remember standing at the edge of a cliff in Canada at fourteen. I had just watched three of my friends jump into the cool, dark water below, and I couldn't muster the courage to push my foot over the edge and join them. I didn't know where I would land. Well no more. I will live my life for adventure. I will look for the unknown and greet it head on. I want to live!
My best friend from high school called me one day, months ago to tell me that he was taking a trip. A trip that would undoubtedly create life long memories and adventure. Would I go, he wanted to know? I mulled it over with anxious excitement and trepidation, but finally committed. So a few weeks ago, Alex and I left Nashville at 6:30 on a Saturday morning and drove up the interstate to Louisville to pick up the rest of our traveling party and headed west. We headed west to the land of buffaloes, antelopes, and mule deer. We headed west to a land covered in legends and lore of bloody battles between imperialistic Americans, and fearless Indians. We headed west to the Badlands of South Dakota, the Black Hills, and a mountain peak in the Snowy Range called Medicine Bow. We headed west to adventure.
I couldn't have asked for a greater group of guys. We spent the week being "guys". We climbed. We hiked. We played with fire. We camped. We drove, seemingly endlessly, through the night to reach the vast lands that could barely be comprehended by my mind before actually seeing them. I am grateful that they let me into to their group, as they spent four years of college together. I connected with each of them in a different way, but love them all and hope to make memories with them again soon.
We spent two days in the Badlands camping and hiking, and trying to take in all of the breathtaking views. I cannot believe that a place like it exists anywhere on Earth, let alone in this country. There were so many peaks to climb and valleys to look into that a person could not possibly see it all in just a few short days. Wildlife was abundant. Prairie dogs especially impress me. Their communities of mounds and tunnels are so complex, and they even have intruder alert systems to notify each other when someone is near. Buffalo are also impressive creatures. The sheer size and stature of one is enough to leave you in awe of these animals. We actually couldn't get to our campsite one evening, because a herd of about 30 buffalo had decided that the road was an agreeable place to lounge around and lope.
After taking in our fill of the beautiful formations and mounds left behind by nature's effects on a once vast plateau, we piled back in the Tahoe to head north to the Black Hills and Mount Rushmore. (I feel like now would be a good time to give a shout out to the "Blue Beast", which is the nickname I have bestowed upon my Tahoe. A mere seven months ago, that truck had countless fluid leaks and was barely running, and today it has successfully returned from a 3,500 mile trek across the country. It is a champ, and for a brief moment in time it was fulfilling the destiny that every truck aspires to, adventure.) Back to the story, so two hours north of our desert playground we found an entirely different country that impressed my eyes even more. The Black Hills were once filled by tribes of Lakota Indians, and then and today are considered the central place of their worship and spiritual life. Much like Jerusalem for the Jewish people, the Black Hills were the holy land that Lakota would go to convene with their gods and seek answers to their questions regarding existence and decisions. Today, having lost the land by force and murder, it has become a tourist attraction and centerpiece of American patriotism with one of the many granite mountains being brandished with the faces of four of our country's early fathers.
Now let me also take a side step here to mention, that before I ventured to Mount Rushmore I was given countless warnings about the "let down" I would experience upon seeing this national monument. I was told that it would be a feeling of "driving to the middle of nowhere to see something amazing just to find a piece of rock that is less impressive then you expect it to be." Well my experience was nothing like this. On the contrary, I was quite impressed by the sheer size of the monument and the coordination and skill it must have taken to accomplish such a feat; IN 1930!
That night we spent the night in a hotel in Keystone, South Dakota. We found a local restaurant, one of the few left open since most towns out there close for the season on Oct. 1, and ate dinner and drank whiskey in a replica "Old Western Style Restaurant and Saloon". I had the trout and it was delicious. The whiskey burned like..., well you know, but I had to have some because we were in and "Old Western Style Restaurant and Saloon".
The following day we had planned for a hike up Harney Peak. Harney Peak happens to be the tallest peak east of the Rockies and west of the Pyrenees mountains of Europe. So early that morning we headed out on our next journey. Little did we know what we were in for. The trail we had chosen was nine miles long and led to the top of the peak to a fire lookout tower that had once sheltered rangers as they protected the forest from fires. None of us ate a filling breakfast. The hotel offered a continental breakfast, but only two miles into the nine that we were undertaking, we were all deciding that the bagel and mini muffin breakfast was lacking in calories and necessary energy to keep us going. We tried our best to keep snacking along the trail, and after what felt like an eternity, we were finally to the base of the watch tower and ready to climb. I found that zero calories makes it very hard to lift your legs up 150+ steps and I literally was dragging myself to the top because I was determined that I was going to make it. Once there, the wind was whipping and we were starving so we found shelter in the confines of the watch tower and settled in for lunch. From the top of the tower we could actually see a small fire burning in the forest, so I guess you could say that the tower must have been in a good vantage point.
Upon eating lunch and reloading on calories, we descended from the peak to our campsite. At the end of the day we had climbed for 7 hours and ascended more that 2,000 feet in elevation to reach our final summit point of 7,400+ feet. When we reached our camp we talked to some rangers and told them which trail we had just taken. They were shocked because apparently that trail is a horse trail and nobody does it on foot because it is so treacherous. Oh well. No wonder it was so hard.
After spending 2 days in the Black Hills, we headed out on Thursday morning to our final destination just outside of Laramie, Wyoming; Medicine Bow Peak. Little did I know when we were leaving the hills, but the final two days of my trip would be the most incredible with the most amazing sights that I had seen yet, and one of the most physically demanding activities that I have ever attempted.
We reached our base camp in the late afternoon on Thursday. We had reserved an old guard shack at the base of the mountain to stay in for the night so that we could rise early on Friday to attempt our climb. Apparently in this area of the country you must be on and off a mountain face by noon otherwise you flirt with the chance of getting caught in a storm and losing your way, which can become dangerous, obviously. So we rolled up to our cabin and shooed out all the mice and set to making dinner, starting a fire in the stove, and getting to bed to rest up for the next day. Unfortunately, something that we ate along the way finally caught up to three of the five of us and lead to an interesting night in the outhouse. So, needless to say, sleep was a difficult animal to catch for a few of us that night.
On Friday morning, we woke early and left the cabin at 6:30. The sun was just rising and their was snow on the ground. As we headed out, the air was crisp and you could feel excitement in the air as we all speculated about what the world would look like at 12,000 feet. As we reached the base of the mountain and started to climb, I quickly realized that breathing at that altitude is much different than breathing anywhere else that we had been on our trip or I have ever been, for that matter. For a grueling 1,400 feet, I struggled to take every step with a pack on my back and a 40-60 mph wind blowing at us from the side. What I saw that day, however, was breathtaking. The sky at that altitude is a different color blue, and the mountain was covered in snow already. Every time I stopped and looked around me I found it hard to fathom that God created all of it for me, at that moment. It was incredible. Reaching the summit was one of the most satisfying moments of my life. I had truly given every ounce of strength and energy to that mountain, and I had made it. That was an accomplishment.
Coming off the mountain and getting back in the car was difficult. It was an end to an adventure that I will never forget. It was a surrendering to the knowledge that life isn't lived on mountain peaks, but that there are responsibilities and problems to deal with in real life. It was a realization that no matter where I go next, or where the next adventure ends up, that week, with those guys, and those sights can never be lived again. But it was also an opportunity to get back to my wife, whom I love dearly, and had missed while I was gone. So it was bittersweet.