What if I quit?

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What if I quit? : A tribute to Mount Saint Helens

It starts with a memory

of trees in a haze.

Black and white and drizzling that day.

Playing and skipping

with Jesse himself.

Two kids laughing among everything else.

Oh how I’d begged,

and pleaded to go.

Ten years in the making was this very show.

 

at first:

The caves were a breeze

and Jesse and I ran through the trees.

Boulders are no problem when your nickname is mountain goat

up on a mountain serene and remote.

 

But rain turns us around

And I couldn’t understand,

why we couldn’t continue as planned.

 

This was back in 2005.

Our next attempt came in 2013.

Eight years it took to go back.

Eight years to train and attempt to finish my task.

 

It was here we didn’t even get started.

With a busted shoulder, a sick woman, and rain coming down.

I had so looked forward to this let down.

 

The first words I heard were:

“It’s off Han”

and in that morning we packed up our long awaited plan.

We did a different hike instead

and as we drove away,

the mountain cleared up, but by then it was too late.

 

“Don’t worry,” dad said, “we’re already talking about coming back next year.”

 

 

So we train and train for another twelve months.

Until we return to the mountain

that I’m afraid to confront.

Doubts are swarming,

And doubts consume

what if I can’t make it up with you?

 

I’m jerked awake three times that night.

Once from the cold,

Second from an alarm,

And third by dad waking to pack.

He says it’s not time to go yet.

 

We start up while it’s still dark.

And on the side of the trail one hiker still sleeps.

Right there in the beginning of the trees.

 

It drizzles again in the morning,

But we start up anyway,

at five-thirty.

August 19th is the day.

 

I check my shoulders,

I check my neck,

I check my calves to see that they’re stretched.

 

Nine years ago there weren’t as many trees.

Nine years ago were there switchbacks like these?

 

What if I quit?

But we’ve only just started,

And our map is long since charted.

 

What if I quit?

When will we hit the rocks?

This is so very different from all my other walks.

 

I’m tired already,

And we’re nowhere near the rock field yet.

that’s the part I remember.

I’m beginning to fret.

 

Don’t psych yourself out,

You’re not here to quit now.

 

But then why do I remember this so differently?

Running up with ease,

Beside the boy named Jesse.

 

Am I sore from the Ape Caves?

Is it that I’m overtired?

Did I truly think we’d get this far?

 

The trees are long and extensive.

But finally we hit it,

the boulders, the rock field.

one thousand three hundred feet of elevation piled like a scar unhealed.

Large as houses and small as your fist,

Step upon loose rocks, she challenges your ascent.

white pegs guide the way,

but we watch too at the cloud that now threatens our stay.

 

And I think again:

What if I quit?

But one third is done.

Here comes the boulders, the rock field,

Her challenge demanding that we yield.

 

What if I quit?

We’ve been in these rocks so long.

What if I quit?

The top is still “just that far”

This has been so prolonged.

 

And I have to remind myself that this,

This,

Is what kept me hiking.

After all these years I still have the top of a mountain to witness.

 

 

but finally:

More frustrating than the rocks comes the ash,

Mount Saint Helens is pushing you back.

as if this hasn’t been grueling enough

but so close you’d better not give up.

 

Three steps forward and sliding one full step back,

There’s no quitting now that,

 

The top remains “just that far”,

No matter where you are.

Four thousand five hundred feet of elevation gain,

Is decently nine hundred feet up per mile to strain.

 

 

finally:

Wind whipped and pictures were snapped.

My hair stuck straight up,

My poles fell to the ground.

 

Knees in the sand,

I collect rocks as fast as I can.

 

A summit succeeded ten years in the making.

On my knees and absolutely breath taking.

 

Ten years in the making.

Three attempts has done the trick.

Ten years in the making.

And to think I’d have quit.

 

 

but:

Only ten minutes is spent at the top.

Until the wind pushes us back to the refuge of the rocks.

Nonetheless I have summited.

And my pride has nowhere to stop.

 

Back to the Bivouac

The Climbers saddle up at last.

 

The top is still “just that far”

No matter where we are.

 

And up at the top I think again:

What if I quit?

To sit and savor the moment,

Completely in loving rapture,

With my conquered opponent.

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