I decided to go climb Black Elk Peak (formerly Harney Peak) in Custer State Park yesterday. It was a chance to celebrate the 39 years that I have been alive. An opportunity to exert some physical energy and be grateful for the health that I possess today. It was also a way to challenge myself.
One of my heroes is Susan Bradley-Cox. I am consistently inspired by her ability to help people achieve goals through the Team in Training program. I have been fortunate to coach alongside her on a couple occasions, as I help the triathletes improve their running. While I am inspired by her coaching, I am even more inspired by her desire to continually challenge herself. When I interviewed her for the Active Lexington podcast, one of the questions that I asked was what she attributed her ability to keep going, as she aged. The answer that stuck out to me was her acknowledgement that continually learning and seeking new challenges was a big factor in going strong long into her 70’s.
When I pulled into Sylvan Lake to start my hike, I anticipated a small crowd. It is after Labor Day, so many students and parents are back in school. What I found was a decent number of cars at the trailhead. My first reaction was, “Don’t worry, it is probably some of the retired folks walking around the lake.”
As I headed up trail #9, I started with a husband and wife couple, but quickly found solitude as they stopped to make equipment changes. In the loneliness of hiking, on a new trail and in a part of the country you don’t know well, I began to become lost in my thoughts. Many of those thoughts were on the environment around me. The wildfires were burning strong, the air was smokey and the sun was partially covered. Small noises off the trail made me consider the possibility of rattle snakes. I had growing anxiety over the stories locals shared of mountain lions (my absolute most feared animal). Thankfully, after an hour, those thoughts started to ease and I began to appreciate the landscape and scenery a little more.
I do not share this story to give every detail of my trip, but who I ended up sharing the adventure with. As I made my way up towards the 7,244 foot peak, the trail became more populated. It appeared that many of those cars at the trailhead had passengers that did make their way up trail #9. They just started earlier in the day and had reached higher ground. What were some defining characteristics of my fellow adventurers? Other than a group of 8th graders from Wisconsin and a young couple carrying two infants, they were individuals in their 50’s, 60’s and 70’s. Most of them were traveling with at least one partner, but many were in small groups of three to five. And from my observation, everyone I saw yesterday was successful in reaching the fire tower at the top of the peak.
Choosing to take a different and hopefully less travelled route back down, I headed down trail #3 towards Little Devils Tower. About half way down, I came across a team of three ladies, most likely in their late 60’s or early 70’s. While I don’t know what they were up to, I’m pretty sure they were looking watch out as each member figured out how to use nature’s facilities.
As I climbed up Little Devils Tower, the trail became less of a trail and more of a rock scramble. At one point, I came to an opening to scramble up, where a lady was standing. I quickly realized she spoke French and didn’t understand English very well. I moved on through the opening and up through several other scrambles that were moderately difficult ad created some anxiety. At the top of the climb, I found the rest of the French party. Each one was moving around the rocks with grace and confidence. Each one could have easily been my elder by 30 years.
Yesterday, I climbed to the top of Black Elk Peak and I was inspired. The inspiration came from a place that I didn’t expect. I expected to be inspired by the scenery and beauty of Custer State Park. That was definitely worth the effort and time. However, the people I met along the journey is what I will take away as inspiration. A large number of people willing to challenge themselves. To do something that allows them to continue living fully.
Ten things you can do challenge yourself today:
1. Start to learn a new language using Duolingo
2. Pick a 5k to sign up and train for
3. Learn (or relearn) how to skip or jump rope
4. Do a set of push ups
5. Find a crossword puzzle, sudoku or log onto luminosity and complete one exercise
6. Learn to do a kettle bell swing
7. Do a set of jumping jacks
8. Find an open space and do some summersaults
9. Go to a climbing wall and pay an instructor to teach you how to climb
10. Go for a walk in nature with no phone, music, wifi or cell service