Almost to the Top


I never admitted to myself that I have a “Bucket List”.  I just thought of it as a bunch of stuff I’d like to do if I ever had the chance.  You know cool stuff, scuba diving in Hawaii; snorkeling in the Bahamas; sky diving just about anywhere.  I’ve been in denial of my impending demise for 50 years.  You can’t have a bucket list if you don’t expect to kick the bucket.  Right?  OK, over my denial now.  I have a bucket list and it grows every year, things I want to do or experience.

There is this need inside, to be filled with wonder at the world.  Holding a new born child and letting your heart open to all the joy and pain that will come from loving them.  Seeing the sun rise over oceans and mountains, to see it burst from a molten sky in the desert.  Watch that same sun set, winking away the last moments of the day and surrendering to the night.  I have been so far out in the desert that the earth seemed closer to the stars, and the millions of stars that we never see became clear.  Go rafting and see the clear green water of an underground river joining the brown-gray of the river you’re on.  The water is so cold that they won’t blend together for a while.

I checked another one off my list this year.  A trip to Japan to walk up Mount Fuji.  You can’t see the mountain for the hills.  Fuji-San is so massive, you can’t see it when you’re standing on it.  If you look up, you may see a few hundred meters then it either fades from sight or gets hidden by fog.  As you climb you will pass through cloud layers that block everything else from view.  When you come around a spur, the clouds are gone and the valley opens up below you, so far away that your brain doesn’t understand size and distance.  You can only make this climb in the summer unless you have special gear and training. In the middle of August, it was cold close to the top.

I only made it close to the summit.  Our group had to turn around One hundred-Twenty meter from the top.  A Tsunami was passing by out at sea and the winds were dangerous, added to the rain and trail it was a little to much.  Squeaking along in plastic rain pants, the cold, thin air and slashing rain in the early morning before the sun rise was exhausting.  Our group lost half it’s number to fatigue or altitude sickness just over half way.  Bullet climbers, trying to race up Fuji would be laying on the side of the trail, gasping with cans of oxygen laying empty beside them.  I repeated the hated mantras of my training: “Slow and steady”, “One step, one breath”, “You don’t have to get there first, just get there”.  I was the oldest in the group, except for one of the trail guides, who insisted on smoking at every stop (bastard).

As I looked at the kids, twenty years younger or more, I realized I had something they didn’t.  Endurance.  Not the physical strength of my youth that would have driven me faster.  Not the stamina that would have allowed me to make the trek with little or no rest.  The endurance of a lifetime of trying and succeeding and failing and trying again.  Pushing myself to the limit only to find the limit was in my head and I could do more.

I think that’s what a Bucket List is, a list of life time challenges that we throw ourselves at to see if we can still succeed.  Sitting here, I have decided that I need to go back to Japan and try the climb again.  I can’t beat Fuji-San, but I can see what he sees from the top.

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