Posted: June 21, 2012 - First of all, let me take a minute and apologize to my reader and/or fan...June has not been a very productive month with my writing. I got excuses...hubby was here for a visit, computer problems, sore fingers...lots of grandma time...please don't give up on me, because one day I'll write something you just won't want to miss...one day. In the meantime, following is my latest writing about our Harney Peak hike...which explains the sore fingers...well, read on...
Harney Peak or Bust (?)
(This section written on June 12, 2012) In February, I turned fifty four. My husband will be sixty in about a month. He is freaking out about "the number" and hates the whole idea of being “the big 60", however, he is in the best shape he has been in for thirty years. He lost 100 pounds and he's been walking four to six miles a day three times a week. He and I both quit smoking on January 1, 2012...we are doing good physically...mostly.
Except for me...there are days I feel what I imagine 100 would feel like and then there are days when I feel twenty years younger, it all depends on the forthcoming weather. For instance, yesterday at my daughter, Angel's , house, I could barely get up the five steps to get into her house. I clung to the railing like an old lady afraid of falling and breaking a hip and my hip literally felt like it could already be broken, but my knees felt even worse, like the bones in them were ground up hamburger and of no use in holding up the rest of my heavy torso. Coming down the steps was even worse. To the east I could see enormous thunderheads building up. Sure enough, that night we had the worst lightning storm I recall ever seeing. That explained my severe joint pain - severe weather.
I had to chuckle to myself with the irony of it all. You see, that same morning while praying and meditating, I heard a quiet still voice tell me to "hike to the top of Harney Peak." WHAT? I wondered. REALLY? WHAT? Whenever I hear this "voice" inside, I always feel like it is God's Holy Spirit guiding me, telling me what to do. I try to listen to the voice and obey it, but surely God knows what physical shape I’m in so why would he want me to do this? I've only heard this small still voice a few times in my life, but I feel like I should do what the voice tells me when I hear it.
Of course I questioned, "Lord, how am I going to hike to the top of Harney Peak (for those who don’t know – the highest point east of the Rocky Mountains at over 7,200 feet above sea level) if I can't even get up and down these stairs today?"
I remember the last time I went, in my thirties, with my three daughters. It was a very special day, but it nearly killed me. I would walk a short while, then have to sit down and catch my breath, gasping violently for air. I made it then, but it was the hardest physical feat I've ever done, never having been athletic in anyway way, shape or form. I was a smoker then. I was a regular walker, walking three to four times a week for one to two miles, but nothing compares with this mountainous trail for a novice hiker like me! Every joint and muscle in my body cried out in pain, and my chest was sore from all the heavy breathing, but I made it! And, Lord knows, it was worth it, the scenery from up there so breathtakingly beautiful that you can't even begin to capture it on camera.
Now I feel the Lord is leading me back up there, so am planning my trip. I look forward to sharing this experience with my husband, Al. He's never been there to the top of the world and I get to show it to him. But Lord, how in the world am I going to get this aging, overweight body up there. I don't know. I guess by faith I will make it...that's the only way it can happen.
So it's on the agenda for this summer...I just have to find a day when the weather isn't killing my joints. Al and I are shooting for this upcoming Friday...weather permitting. But whether this summer or next or sometime in the future, I will get there. It may not make sense, but it is what I feel I'm being instructed to do. And my reward will be the awesome view when I get there and the look on Al's face when he sees it for the first time.
(This section written June 15, 2012) I woke up with mixed emotions today. Al purchased all our rations for the hike - water, sunflower seeds for the chipmonks, tick repellant, grapes and bananas and packed his backpack - we are all set, he said. I want to do this hike, but I also realistically know that I am at least 80 pounds overweight and that I have a bad back and knees that don't function half the time. Some days I can barely walk, others I walk with surging energy.
In the early morning light, I lay in bed wondering why I feel God wants me to do this crazy thing. It occured to me that maybe he wants my life to end up there and I thought, "Well, what a gorgeous place to leave this world...", but then I got scared and sad, because I don't want to leave this world today... I almost let my fears talk me out of doing what i feel God wants me to do. Al and I got up and listened to the weather report.
Outside it is mostly cloudy, not the kind of perfect day I had pictured for our little jaunt up a mountain and a rocky summit. We listen to the weather report. By noon, it is predicted that the whole Black Hills area will be under severe thunder storms. A part of me is relieved. Here is my way out of this thing, I think. Al isn't as easily swayed. We talk about it and my mixed emotions are raging war against each other. We decide to go eat breakfast and go take a drive to Sylvan Lake (our starting point) and see how it looks over there as we are at least forty miles from where the hike would begin.
We take the very winding, narrow road up a mountain into the Sylvan Lake area feeling like the only inhabitants on earth, as we did not encounter any other vehicles. It's a bit eerie and I'm still not sure I want to do this thing, but again, feel it is my duty to try.
Upon driving into Sylvan Lake Recreation Area, it is pristine and incredibly quiet. The sky has cleared with not one cloud hovering up there. Not one person was around the lake, a rare occurance, allowing me to take a scenic photo with no people in the foreground.
Photos above: Top: Sylvan Lake Recreation Area, Custer State Park, South Dakota. Bottom: Yours truly at the beginning of the hike...looks nice and easy, doesn't it - yeah - LOL!
We parked the car. Al and I joined hands and I said a prayer asking God to help me get up the mountain if that was his will for me and Al added a few words about Him carrying me up and keeping me from breaking a leg or something (it is no secret that I am not known for my gracefulness) - I am sure Al might have been a little worried about having to carry me at that point! Outside, it's cool and a little breezy. I put on my jacket as Al strapped on his back pack. He joked that he was my pack mule, as I wasn't carrying anything, but dumping it all on him. I started to walk away from the car realizing I hadn't put my tennis shoes on yet, delaying our start another few minutes. I could barely reach down to put on my shoes, with my stomach getting in the way. I had gained 18 lbs when I quit smoking 5 months before and it seems it all landed right in front. It was a reminder of how out of shape I really am and I questioned my sanity in doing this thing. After struggling into my shoes, we hit the trail.
It was peaceful. We didn't see anyone else along the trail for at least an hour. One of my worries was where I would go to the bathroom - this is wilderness area, not the mall. My bladder is so weak, I go about every half hour to hour...how would I manage. The first hour went well...sweating off any body fluids. Finally, there came time when I had no choice. It was either squatt down on the trail and go or trek off into the woods and get behind a tree, which would put me more at risk for picking up ticks. We had not seen anyone for an hour. I looked up the trail and there was a bend with no sounds of anyone coming around (as if I could hear anyway, right?) I looked down the trail. Al was down below behind the bend somewhere - I could see his blue shirt between the trees. If I was quick, I could get this done before he came around and he'd never have to know. I did my business relieved to be undiscovered. As I stood up I turned toward Al and pulled up my pants. But it wasn't Al. It was a young man in a blue shirt who came jogging past rather quickly. I don't know how much he saw, but I felt like I just exposed myself and probably scarred the boy for life. Al and I laughed about it after he finally caught up to me. I vowed I would not go to the bathroom again on this hike. By the way, that young jogger jogged past us at least four more times up and down the trail, while he waited for the rest of this party to catch up. Al thought he might be showing off a bit, but we laughed it off. Here we were barely crawling up the trail (as in pace...as in me, not we...Al was just being polite and staying near me.)
Business done, I could now really revel in the scenery around me. Way off to my left, way in the distance and high on the horizon I could spot a tiny square shape on top of a rock wall. I pointed it out to Al. "That is where we are going to end up today - right there in that tiny square."
Photo above: If you look just about in the center of photo, there is a tiny square on top of the peak...that is the Harney Peak lookout tower, the final destination of the hike...miles ahead...rocky terrain...omgosh, my feet, my aching feet...
For a moment, I felt overwhelmed with I can't(s). I can't go that far. I can't do it. I can't possibliy walk that far on these knees. I can't get that high up. Eventuallly, we are going to have to climb uphill and I can't do it. Then I took a deep breath and asked God to help me get there. From that point on, I felt I could make it. I was surprised at my strength and then I would realize it wasn't my strength. I had put my faith and trust in God and that was carrying me through.
We came up on a sign and a map telling us we were about to enter the Ben Black Elk Wilderness area. We realized we hadn't come very far and how far we had to go. It was a bit daunting, but again, I trusted we (I mean I, as Al would have no problem) could make it, if that's what God wanted us to do.
After stepping into the "wilderness" it was apparent something devastating had happened. It was like entering a war zone. There was lots of bright sunlight shining on dead trees. Hundreds of trees, countless, fallen over each other. There was new growth of grass and small trees underneath, but long skinny tree trunks lay everywhere in mayhem. Every now and then would be a lone tree still somewhat healthy and standing very tall against the ocean of blue sky above. It was eerie and heartbreaking to see what once was a heavily forested area lay in ruins. (After the hike I read where 95% of trees in the Ben Black Elk Wilderness area are dead...struck down by the pine beetle.)
Photos above: Once much thicker and greener with trees, many of the them have fallen.
People began to pass us up on the trail as my momentum began to wan with the steeper and more treacherous part of the trail looming before me for what looked like forever. Everyone we met that day was so cheerful, so happy for the gorgeous day. There wasn't a cloud in the sky and if we'd listened to the weather man, we'd all be missing this. Some were couples, some were families, a few were all alone, but all of us were joined in spirit by this desire to reach this goal. Even the dogs brought along were wagging their tails and runnning around all spunky and perky. This helped in my determination to succeed, as many offered encouragement to us to keep going, especially those we met coming down the trail who had reached the top of Harney Peak.
Finally, we got to about a quarter mile from the top. In fact, we couldn't see the lookout tower, so it was a little discouraging, but those coming down keep spurring us on with their words, saying we were almost there. I was moving at a snails pace, trying to navigate the rocky ground and stopping to catch my breath every few minutes. Fleeting negative thoughts crossed my mind, but I knew I was too close to disappoint God and Al.
At one point I felt tiny rocks in my shoes. I didn't dare bend over to take my shoes off, as my back was feeling like it was going to lock up. My sweet husband bent down and took my shoe off and dumped the rocks out and helped me get it back on. All the while he was secretly wondering if I had accidently had an accident in my pants, but then he turned his nose just slightly and it nearly landed in a pile of poop - dog poop? Who knows, it's the wiilderness after all.
Photo: Old fire lookout tower on top of Harney Peak - highest point east of the Rockies!
We weaved our way through narrow rocky paths that got steeper and rockier. Still, I couldn't see the top, but around one bend, there it was, the fire lookout tower we had seen miles earlier! It loomed huge in front of us, no longer that tiny speck in the distance. It looked near impossible to actually get to the tower with steep steps leading into the rocky cliffs, but there was a railing and I pulled myself up. We stepped into the lookout tower and then onto the viewing terrace. I looked around. Al was in awe, so amazed by the view. A sweet young lady offered to take our picture. We kissed (Al and I).
Photo above: Proof we made it!
I walked off to a corner by myself and stood there and really looked around. I saw all the destruction the pine beetle had caused, all the brown tree tops circled around the landscape on all sides. I saw for miles. I saw the backside of Mount Rushmore. The sky above was a perfect bright blue. I began to cry. I thanked God. I was sad because of the disaster the forest around me was in, but I was also honored to be able to view this part of the world from so high up. In my heart, I believe it had to be by God's hand that I made it and I wondered why He wanted me here. I felt very blessed to be alive, to get to see the magnificent scenery all around, to be healthy and to have a husband who had such patience. I was both happy and sad...sad when I thought about the possibility that this area of the forest and hundreds of thousands of acres could easily be wiped out by a lightning strike which could quickly cause a massive fire due to all the trees with dead and dying brown branches.
Nearby, I spotted a couple of Native America prayer rags tied in some high branches on a very tall and thin tree and I stood in awe of them. I thought about the future of the Black Hills and knew in my heart whether you call the Creator God or the Great Spirit or a Higher Power, these Black Hills of South Dakota are definitely sacred. It was my privilege to be a visitor this day. I hoped that whoever stewards this land in the future, that many future generations and many people of all races and nationalities will be allowed to experience the peace, the tranquility and the beauty that I got to on this spectacular day.
Will I do this again? NO!!! Well, maybe, on horseback...
(see below for a slide show of all photos taken on hike)
What I recommend if you go:
Hiking shoes (my tennis shoes nearly wore holes in the toes coming down the mountain...)
That you leave as early in the morning as possible - our hike took 6 hours, for most people it is 4-5 hours for Trail Number 9 (the shortest and easiest route to the top of Harney Peak - leaves from Sylvan Lake.)
That you do not leave any trash/garbage behind...I did not see one piece of litter along this six mile hike!
Take at least 3-4 bottles of water per person - you're going to need it.
That you use those ski poles to help you trek the mountain...we saw quite a few people using them...I had one walking stick, but I think the ski poles would have been much more help!
That you don't forget your camera - I heard one man at the top nearly cry, because part of his group had given up and turned back and taken the camera with them.
That you go soon - who knows what tomorrow will bring and you don't want to miss out on this incredible scenic hike!
Posted: June 6, 2012
Are you sort of getting to the point where you'd rather gouge your own eyes out rather than watch another political ad or are you dying from overkill of all the upcoming election news and all the finger pointing and mudslinging like I am? How about taking a break from it all and casting your vote for bison! InterTribal Buffalo Council, the National Bison Association and the Wildlife Conservation Society began a mission to get Congress to designate bison as the National Mammal, and have since been joined by many other interested parties and organizations . South Dakota's own Senator Tim Johnson is co-sponsoring the bill to make it happen.
You too can be involved in this national effort . You can choose to take just a few minutes and go to VoteBison.org and cast your vote. You might want to go even further to help the cause by writing a letter a letter to the editor of your favorite newspaper to help bring awareness of this grassroots campaign.
The bison deserves to be right next to the bald eagle as a symbol for America. The bison has always played a significant role in Native American history and culture. Theodore Roosevelt himself, my personal hero, realized the importance of preserving this magnificant mammal. After near extinction, over 230,000 bison can now be found in all fifty states, including national parks and refuges, Native American Tribal lands, and private ranches and production areas.
This designation will help bring awareness of the importance of bison culturally and economically for all organizations invovled in bison restoration and production. Also, it will help promote bison meat as a healthy meat product.
And besides all that, bison are just plain cool! They are strong, majestic, resiliant and spiritual. Let's give them the recognition they deserve!
Go to: www.VoteBison.org to learn more and vote today!
All photographs and posted writings are the property of Renee Weatherbee and cannot be copied or used without permission. If you would like to purchase the rights to use any of these photographs or writings, please feel free to contact me, by clicking on the Contact tab.