Wednesday, February 25, 2009

Summit or Plummet

Have you ever looked back at an experience and thought "Oh, so that's what that was about!" I had one of those "A-ha" moments on my recent trip to Colorado. First, some backstory: last year my friend Jennifer and I thought it would be great fun to drive to the top of Pikes Peak (well, maybe not "great fun," but at least something someone visiting Colorado Springs should do). When we arrived at the start of Pikes Peak Highway, however, we discovered that it had closed 10 minutes prior. Our adventure was thwarted.

So, this year as we looked toward our trip, we knew that our drive to the summit of Pikes Peak was a must. Once we arrived in Denver, we picked up our new friend, Krissy from Seattle, and informed her over lunch of our afternoon plans for adventure. She was game. In fact, she probably wondered why we were so excited. After all, it was only a 14-mile drive.

When we arrived at the toll booth that marks the beginning of the journey up Pikes Peak, we were greeted (I use that term loosely) by a woman who barked information about the drive time to the top and the time we must begin our descent. We paid our admission, drove on, and wondered why she had such a stern tone in her voice. After all, it was only a 14-mile drive.

About this time, I started recalling a conversation with my mother just a week before. Sitting in my kitchen, Mom urged me to reconsider the drive up Pikes Peak. She had a tone of great concern in her voice that gave me a moment's pause. Had she had a premonition, or what? I had blown it off ... after all, it was only a 14-mile drive.

I soon realized that this was unlike any road I'd ever driven. I thought of drives through the winding roads of the Smokies, trips up and down Lookout Mountain, and even the few times I'd held my breath on the hairpin curves of the W road of Signal Mountain. They were nothing compared to this. This was much more than a simple 14-mile drive.

Jennifer and Krissy switched between exclamations regarding the beauty of the view and the condition of the drive. I remained firm in my growing terror regarding the drive. My hands clenched the steering wheel, and my eyes never veered from the road ahead of me. Mile markers would tick by ever-so-slowly. Mile 6 ... Mile 7 ... "You've got to be kidding? We're only halfway there?!"

Finally we reached Mile 14, four miles from the summit of Pikes Peak. We could go no further because of the weather, but that was more than okay with me. However, when they said the road closed at mile marker 14, they meant it literally. I don't know what I was expecting -- a cul-de-sac, perhaps? -- but the two-lane road came to an abrupt end. Now what?

I sat with no idea how to maneuver the car to face the other direction. Was I supposed to back down this mountain? The only way I could fathom turning around was to post each of my friends on the edges of the mountain road (and thus, the edges of the mountain itself). In about a nine-point turn (an inch this way, an inch that way), I had the car pointing toward our descent. I knew, however, that I could not drive us down. It was beyond my capability, so now what?

Thankfully Krissy saved the day. "Do you want me to drive down?" ... "YES!!!" After the necessary photo taking, she took the wheel and we began our descent -- at 30 mph. Now that doesn't seem speedy to you, but on that road and in the state I was in, it felt like we were racing down the mountain at a Daytona 500 pace.

I fell apart. I mean it. I was shaking, sobbing, and if I could have assumed the fetal position in my seat, I would have. I was terrified! My mother's warning kept playing through my mind. "She was right, she was right! I should have never driven up this mountain."

Krissy noticed my reaction (How could she not?) and asked, "Am I driving too fast?" "YES!" Jennifer replied (my hero). So, Krissy slowed our pace, and we slowly wound our way down the mountain. Gradually my breathing steadied and my tears dried up. By the time we reached the bottom, I was relatively composed. We shared a few laughs about the experience, and we were on our way.

Yet, I couldn't stop from wondering, "What was THAT about?!" I knew it was a significant experience. So, I asked, "What WAS that about?" Call it a prayer, I really wanted God to give me some clarity on why I had such an extreme emotional reaction. Was it about fear? Hmm ... yes, of course. Control? Yes, that too. Fear of losing control? That sounds about right.

I like to be firmly in control ... of situations, of plans, of my life. As I drove up that winding, narrow road, I realized how little I am in control. Sure, I can steer the car and try to maneuver the turns, but there was ice, wind, gravel, and oncoming vehicles that I had no control over. There was no guardrail to offer a boundary or an assurance of safety.

I also tend to push myself. I felt like turning around at mile 12 (okay, mile 7 if I'm going to be perfectly honest), but I didn't want to let anyone down. I didn't want to be a wimp. But, in pushing myself, I completely ignored what I needed and drove myself to a place of panic. Completely afraid (and embarrassed by my fear).

I see that I cling to control and face my fears on my own. I also see in that scared, sobbing woman descending from Pikes Peak how it's working out for me. Not well. I can't control my destiny or conquer my fears; I can only give them over to God, who has the power to comfort, to assure, to lead, and to empower.

Am I glad that we made the drive up Pikes Peak? Yes. Would I do it again? No (well, maybe...) . Did I enjoy the view? Let's just say that I'm thankful we took those pictures so I could finally see just how majestic the view from the summit really was.


Valerie Stanley said...

So funny to read your story about Pikes Peak. Beau and I made that venture years ago, and loved it. I do remember being frightened, but I think the road must have been open to the top because we got out and walked around and rode the Pikes Peak Railway. It is a great trip, and you will always be glad you did it!

The Coker family said...

Wow. I am in awe of the courage you've shown by actually going to the top of Pikes Peak, and even more so by your ability to gain something by the experience. Amy

Rachel said...

I used to have a recurring dream that I was sitting in the backseat of a car as we drove over a large body of water on some bizarre bridge. Sometimes a friend was driving but not paying attention to the road. Sometimes no one was driving, but I was glued to my seat somehow. It always involved me sitting there and watching helplessly, screaming warnings to the driver or trying to find a way into the empty driver's seat as we drove steadily closer to the edge and ultimately off the bridge.
After awhile, I prayed the same sort of prayer, asking God for clarity on why I was dreaming this. It boiled down to the same thing - control. Just realizing that I had control issues deep enough to make their way into my dreams was helpful. But it's a lesson that I have to continue learning. My Lent fast was yet another (HARD) lesson in letting go of my perceived control. After all, when I stop and think about it, I'm not in control at all. Ever. Of anything. Not even when I think I am. I don't know if I'll ever learn this lesson, but I'm glad that there are others struggling with it too.
As a side note, I recently listened to an Andy Stanley sermon series called "Why Worry" that was REALLY helpful as I struggled to learn the lessons God had for me this Lent.