Think you’re in great shape? So did I when my plane landed in Colorado. I knew I wasn’t the pinnacle of health. Pizza was, and still is a food group to me, but I had been working out daily, and tried to watch what I ate. My good (actually AMAZING) friend picked me up from the Denver airport, and rattled off all of the fun things we would be doing together during my visit, the hiking of Royal Arch Trail piquing my interest out of all of the activities. We ended up grabbing dinner in Boulder that night (pizza, shocking I know), and got some shut eye in anticipation of our climb the next day.
I woke up the next morning, braided my hair tightly to my head, and packed my backpack with granola bars and water bottles. We drove through Boulder, and parked her Jeep on a side street next to Chautaqua Park alongside other hikers and weekend warriors. When we approached the park, I was met by an expansive field, backed up by an impressive and beautiful peak in the distance. I felt like I was in The Sound of Music, and Julie Andrews was going to pop out from behind a fence post at any moment.
We started up the trail, a very slight incline up a dirt path that guided us to multiple trail heads up the way. I was already winded. I pushed on because I could not fathom why I would be winded from walking up the entrance to the Royal Arch Trail.
I pressed on, sipping water and catching up with my friend all the way to the trail head. As we began to climb, I realized this would be no leisurely stroll. The trail was beautiful, and looked as though the millions of people who have climbed it left it exactly as they found it. The only indication that people had a hand in forming this trail was a few small footbridges, and signs pointing us in the right direction. I was met with rock slides that I had to climb and boulder (yes, bouldering IS a thing), and ridges I had to shimmy along to keep pushing on.
As I continued up the trail, I began to sweat, and became more and more light headed. I had to stop on the trail every 10 minutes, unable to keep going out of fear I would pass out. My friend insisted I keep sipping water, that it would help, but my stomach was not having it. I choked down the water, and questioned if I could make it up the mountain. Every time I announced that I needed a rest, I felt more and more defeated. That’s when it hit me…I had altitude sickness.
I knew to get rid of the altitude sickness, I would need to ingest a considerable amount of water, and do something every sick person hates, give it time. My awesome soul sister of a friend pushed me on, stopping when I needed it, all the while forcing me to drink more water. After about an hour of this, I started to feel better, and could go longer without stopping. The last 45 minutes of the trail were done without a stop, and were the best part of the hike.
I climbed and met other hikers who told me I was a bad ass for climbing a trail as formidable as Royal Arch on my second day at altitude. I cheered on others, and began to have fun. Then I saw it, the Royal Arch. I scrambled to the opening the Arch makes on the trail, and stepped out on the ledge overlooking all of Boulder. One wrong step and I would be a cave painting on the side of the mountain…it was a LONG way down. I took in the grandeur of the Colorado landscape, and triumphed in the physicality I had just displayed on my way up the mountain.
I was proud of myself, and did not feel bad bragging about my feat for weeks after the hike. But, then again, this is what hiking is all about. Pushing yourself, in a non-competitive way, to do your best, and go further than you expect yourself to go. It helps you realize your untapped potential, and brings out the best version of yourself you could ever hope for. Would I ever hike Royal Arch Trail again? Hell yeah! Would I train a little better for it next time? Hell yeah!