Today, I made my way to my first fourteener on Pikes peak. My friends and Colorado residents who are reading this will already have guessed that I did not actually complete this monumental feat on foot. I sat on a cog rail for about an hour and half each side and journeyed comfortably to the top of the mountain at 14,110 feet. Regardless of my blatant disregard for physical pain, there was something profound about the place that made me feel rather insignificant while also making me feel part of a greater humanity. The sheer height of the mountain gets your blood racing (as much as it can in sub-zero temperature) and makes you think hard about what your life means in the sea of lives that you are aware teems in the cities below. You can see far and wide, feeling the expanse of the land around you, the great nation of America which has been given an amazing gift in this diverse and challenging piece of the continent.
But it is not the story of the land that inspires one, though it is an inspiration to many. It is the human story behind it. Those that do get inspired by it or those who conquered it, merely to fall back into the shadows once again, having contributed their part in the great journey of humanity. For example, it was here that Katherine Lee Bates wrote a wonderful poem which she initially labeled as “Pikes Peak” but is now known to everyone has “America the Beautiful”.
The wonder words still ring in my ears, though the narrator of our tour said them only once,
“O beautiful for spacious skies,
For amber waves of grain,
For purple mountain majesties
Above the fruited plain!
There is also the story of the Matt Carpenter, a runner who has run the Pikes Peak Marathon and won for a straight 12 times, making and breaking records over a career spanning over 24 years. Our narrator told us that he once ran up and down the Pikes Peak, starting from the beautiful Manitou Springs (from where I began the guilt-ridden train ride), touching base at the top of the mountain and then immediately starting to run back to complete the journey of 13.3 miles each side only in a total of 3 hours and 16 minutes. Now that’s crazy! Matt’s story is of courage, continuous hard work and dedication to the run. One day, his name will only be in the annals of sports history, but the legend will continue. That’s humanity for you.
There’s another story that shows the limits to which Man challenges Nature. Only, in this case, it’s about a woman. Diana Darryl and a coworker spend the summer months stuck in the lower areas of the Pikes Peak national forest, running and maintaining the hydroelectric plant that provides Colorado Springs with 1.1 MegaWatts of pure power. Their setup is very close to the cog railway line but it sure is lonely. They are stuck on that station for all of the summer and to even get their mail, they have to drive through 17 miles of Rockies to their mailbox. Further, they must drive another 16 miles of road to get to Colorado Springs. Might not seem much but consider driving that at 30 mph to avoid falling down into the valleys below you, only to hope for help to arrive many hours later.
Such is the power of human resolve. There’s a quest to overcome every hurdle that nature throws at us and emerge victorious. To face certain death and come out more lively than ever before and to sit on a railway worth millions of dollars and just ponder over what was and what will be.
Until the next pseudo-adventure, this is Nitin Khanna, signing off.