Last Thursday, a few members of my hiking group leadership team and I went out to Enchanted Rock State Park. It was Jennine’s birthday, and she wanted to conquer this rock for her special day. When she mentioned her plan, I was gung-ho and signed up immediately. But standing there at the bottom of the rock, I realized just how foolish and naive I’d been in agreeing to go.
Y’all. My body was not ready for Enchanted Rock. My lungs were not ready. My heart was not ready. I’m carrying around sooooooo much excess weight, and while I’m strong and didn’t expect my muscles to complain too much about the 400+ climb at 30+ grade, I knew that the weight alone would make this challenging. But I wanted to do this for Jennine. Jennine, who had been unable to climb this rock earlier in her life, and who wanted to reach the summit that day. So even though my trepidation was enormous and a big part of me wanted to say, “You know what ladies? I’ll wait for y’all at the bottom,” I set off to climb with them.
It is hard to capture just how intimidating this climb is. From a distance, it looks like a smooth, rounded dome that might make an easy walk. Up close, you just go up and up and up. At times you have to walk sideways because the slope is too steep to do otherwise. Huge swaths are unbroken rock, with nothing to hold onto or support you if you start leaning back too far. The rock is broken in places with giant boulders, trees that grow miraculously out of the granite itself, and tiny micro-ecosystems in puddles that trail into mini-oasis of grass, minute succulents, and all sorts of underwater creatures. You zigzag your way through all of this to reach the top, marked by a small flat disk that you have to search for if you want to reach the “official” highest point.
This was my fifth (?) trip to Enchanted Rock, and my fourth in adulthood. (I know I went at least once as a teenager, but I don’t have any specific memories or photos of the trip(s).) It was the first time I didn’t know if I would make it. Y’all, there were times when I would traipse forward about 10-20 FEET and have to stop for another rest because my heart rate was too high and I was gasping for breath. I’m told that the entire thing is like climbing 45 flights of stairs, and at my current size, stopping to catch my breath after every single flight (after the first few) is just about right!! It was one of the hardest things I’ve ever done. I’ve climbed this rock many times, but before Thursday last week, the heaviest my body has been on the trip is about 50 lbs lighter than I currently am. Those 50 lbs make an insane amount of difference. I really did nearly give up multiple times. (Pictured above is my four adult trips, though I don’t have a photo of myself from 1999 on the Rock, just a picture of the day before. That was the lightest I’ve hiked this in adulthood, in the 130s.)
It was my fellow hikers who kept me going. The motto of our group is No Woman Left Behind, but this was not a hike set up through the group. No one had to stick to that philosophy, and yet they did. Because we all take those words to heart. That’s what makes this group so special, y’all. Even typing this up, I have tears in my eyes because the three of them were so much more fit than me and I know I was holding them back, but they never once made me feel like I was. They encouraged me and pushed me, and we all got to the top together. And I admit, I felt a little bad about it all, because this was Jennine’s special day, not mine. I didn’t want to keep calling attention to myself with all my stop-needs. I’m just really happy to say that despite all the help everyone had to give me, it was a good day for everyone, and I wasn’t the only one to feel elated to reach the top.
Back in the fall, I was signed up to hike Enchanted Rock, but dropped out because I knew my heart/lungs weren’t ready. In preparation for the hike, I tried to go up the gully at a nearby park, which is a roughly a third of elevation of Enchanted Rock at an easier grade. I could not get all the way to the top without stopping due to my heart rate going too high and making me feel dizzy, and needing to gasp for breath. It was frustrating, because I could still run a mile or longer without those problems, but going up a steep elevation was just too much for my body. And that was before the Ozempic injections caused me to gain 15 more pounds! I really wasn’t ready for the hike last week, but somehow, I made it through. I got to the top.
But I have to be honest: As much triumph as I felt on finally getting there, I also felt a combination of relief, disappointment in myself, anger at my body’s situation, guilt for holding everyone back, and an overwhelming shame that I haven’t felt in many years. I’m tired of this. I’m tired of being at a size where everything hurts, where clothes are hard to shop for, where I’m self-conscious all the time, where I’m limited in the things I can do. I’m tired of feeling frustrated and helpless and hopeless because nothing works and nothing changes and no doctor will listen. I’m tired of having no solutions, and feeling like my life is slipping away from me. That’s what I felt at the top of that rock. Not the unadulterated joy I should have felt getting there with my friends on an absolutely beautiful day.
This isn’t a post about doubling down and determination. Frankly, I’m too exhausted for that. I don’t know how to move forward, or what next steps to take. In October, I’m set to spend a week at Big Bend with a bunch of fellow hikers, and I see that the elevation gain there is 2000 feet – 4 to 5x the gain at Enchanted Rock. I haven’t been to Big Bend since I was 16 years old (and about 120 lbs) and I’m terrified now that I’m going to spend the week holding everyone back and taking days off at the AirBnB so no one feels obligated to wait for me. I don’t want that trip to be that way!!!!! I want to go to that park and feel amazing and tackle those mountains and be with my people. I want to be happy in my body and to feel the amazing power that our bodies have within us. I don’t want to just hurt the whole time. I want joy back again. I don’t know how to get there over the next few months, but I have to try, yeah? Somehow?