Dear Saint Descenders–
5 years ago we set out to summit the 3 highest peaks in Southern California. I can hardly believe so much time has passed, but it has so there you go. When I first received the invitation to participate, I was more than reluctant. I didn’t know any of you gals, save for one, and though I tried to exercise on a semi-regular basis, I knew I wasn’t fit enough to handle the 2 highest climbs. In all honesty, the very idea of tackling such an ambitious goal scared the hell out of me. And to do it with strangers? I was mortified. So I did what any frightened, scared-of-new-people girl would do: I signed up for all 3 mountains.
I don’t know what you gals did to prepare for the hikes, but I started training. And researching. I knew the first climb – Mt. Baldy – would be 7.5 miles round-trip. I was already doing a 2.5 hike on a regular basis, so I set my sights on growing my stamina for 3 times around that trail. Doing it twice was easy. Wait, let me rephrase that: It was do-able. My body did fight back, and I had to up my walking in order to get used to the distance. The elevation gain was something I’d just have to wing. I had no real way to train for that, so I basically ignored that part of the challenge.
As for not yet knowing any of you gals, I guess I ignored that part, too. It isn’t that I’m a total recluse, I just sort of have reclusive tendencies. When I find myself at a party with strangers, I’m more than capable of socializing and participating in various conversations. It’s work, but I can do it. The way I saw it, I’d wing the social aspect of the project, too. I adore the company of women, so I looked forward to meeting some new-to-me chicks. But again, I didn’t over-focus on meeting y’all. I just filed away any anxiety I felt and hit the road. Besides, the greater part of my fear was anchored in the physical aspects of the hiking. I figured the social part would take care of itself.
By the time the first hike rolled around in early June, I was mortified. I didn’t tell anyone, but I was. My preparation training had found me walking an 8-mile circuit through some hilly neighborhoods on a regular basis. It wasn’t the same as climbing a mountain, for Pete’s sake, but it was something. When a group of us met at Kimberly’s house on the designated morning, I told myself there was no turning back, that I was committed. It was enough to get me out of the car, down the sidewalk and ringing the doorbell.
When I think back on it now, the walk from the street to that front door may have been one of the toughest stretches of the day. I wish I were more confident, but I waiver. And on that morning, I was downright wobbly. Maybe I was comparing myself to you girls. Maybe I was judging me. I’m not sure. When Kimberly opened her front door and smiled at me, I melted. There was an openness and an honest nature in her pale blue eyes. She was kind and excited. Her spirit immediately put me at ease and I even managed to relax. By the time we drove into the wilderness outside L.A. and took our first steps, I knew it was all going to be okay. And it was.
Because of varying schedules and the large number of hikers, I didn’t get to meet some of you. Over the course of the summer’s 3 hikes, I did spend time with a few different gals, and that was great. I also saw a few of you again and again. That brought me tremendous comfort.
I have no idea how you all felt about the challenge. I know some of you gals are in amazing shape and probably weren’t fazed at all by the 3 Saints. I know some of you went on to summit Mt. Whitney that September. I really appreciated being invited for that experience, but I knew my limits. Thank you for not holding it against me.
As we approach the 5-year anniversary of the Saint Descenders, I just wanted to thank you all for helping to make that summer such a vibrant part of my memory. I have not forgotten the snow or the rams at the top of San Antonio, or how Wendy and I came up with the name “Saint Descenders” as we hiked down the side of the mountain. I can still see Kimberly scaling a fence to jump into a closed pool – in her dress – the night before we climbed San Jacinto. I still smile to think of Lisa’s pink tutu, worn the entire 11.5 miles of that hike.
And I will never forget walking behind Diamond Deb, as we trudged the final steps of the 22-mile hike that was San Gorgonio. I remember wanting to cry, as I’d never been that wiped out before. The light was just starting to dip in the sky, casting long shadows beside the forest trees. We’d been hiking 11 hours and I wasn’t sure I’d make it. I focused on Deb. She wasn’t talking – none of us were – but she was moving, steadily. Because Diamond Deb has great legs, I didn’t obsess over the exertion. I just watched her legs, step after step, and I tried to follow suit. When I thought I was beyond saving, beyond those gorgeous gams even, I looked up and could see the parking lot. I’d made it. We’d made it.
I am very proud of the accomplishments of that summer. I’m happy I met you girls. I’m happy I met me. Some relationships never end.
Here’s to a new month, a new season. May we all bag some peaks.