Earlier this summer I decided that I would get more exercise. If I am honest, I must confess that I have limited athletic ability and that commitments to exercise for me generally have a short shelf life. Walking on a treadmill–going nowhere–is painfully dull to me. Exercise classes are a little too much shared time with sweaty strangers for me. And while I love yoga, I have a short attention span, and I find my mind wandering during different poses and sometimes I forget to move into next pose.
As I was trying to think of what I could do that would be challenging yet fun, I decided that I would start climbing Stone Mountain a couple times a week. I live about a twenty-five minute drive from Stone Mountain Park, and inside the park is a “granite” mountain that is at its peak an elevation of almost 1,700 feet. You can climb the west side of the mountain. The 1.3 mile trail is made up of rocks and gravel, and at points you step from rock to rock. But right near the top is a section in which a handrail was installed because of the steepness of the climb. Once you reach the top, the view is spectacular. You can even see downtown Atlanta. And the cool breeze at the top of the mountain is amazing.
The best part for me about climbing Stone Mountain this summer has been that most times I haven’t had to do it alone! I have “talked” friends and family into going with me. My daughter, Alex, has agreed to get up really early and go (and she is NOT a morning person). My friend, Devita, has climbed a few times with me, and my friend, Gwen, and her daughter, Robin, have been climbing partners.
I have become pretty good at climbing the mountain. I can now make it to the top and only have to stop once–after the handrail section–to catch my breath. Coming down the mountain, however, is still tricky for me. The walk down really is much easier than the climb up and takes half the time, but I have always had this unexplainable fear of walking down steep steps. Standing at the top of a high staircase makes me nervous. I always, always hold on to handrails while walking down any stairs that have more than three steps.
Last summer I climbed up Diamond Head in Honolulu, Hawaii, not knowing that there are several sections of stairs, including one that has 99 steep steps. I made it up to the top of Diamond Head just fine, but once I was at the top, I begin to worry about walking down all those steps. I had a moment of panic, thinking about how embarrassed I would be if we had to call for a helicopter rescue. And I kind of forgot to tell my friend, Suzanah, about my going-down-steep-stairs fear until we were at the top–luckily she is the forgiving type, and she patiently walked slowly down with me–as I clung to the handrail and took really deep breaths. And I made it down!
So climbing Stone Mountain–the going up part is really enjoyable for me, but walking down that steep incline near the top of the mountain causes me some uncomfortable moments. Alex knows me well–and she walks patiently with me on those steep parts and sometimes holds my hand. The first time I climbed the mountain with Gwen I confessed to her my fear, and we joked about her having to hold my hand on the walk down. But I made it that on that first trip down the mountain with her without hesitation.
But last week when we climbed, I did have a moment of hesitation, and Gwen reached over and without a word took my hand. And she held my hand through the steepest part of the walk down. After a few minutes, she smiled at me and let go of my hand. We kept walking side-by-side. Her care for me . . . her holding my hand–I had no words to describe how loved I felt in that moment. I still don’t have words, but I am so, so grateful for my friend, Gwen.
Pam Durso is executive director of Baptist Women in Ministry and lives not too far away from Stone Mountain, Georgia.