Pikes Peak or bust

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Colorado Springs, Colorado, is a beautiful place and we just spent the last few days there. Its elevation is a little over 6,000 feet and that alone is something to get used to.
When I first went out for my usual morning walk, as I picked up speed, I noticed it was harder and harder to breathe. When you hit the golf ball, it goes a little farther due to the altitude, but the really beautiful and difficult golf course we played had elevated greens where you sometimes had to climb straight up 10 to 20 feet to get to the green. At first, by the time I did that, I was actually so out of breath I couldn’t putt.
So as if the higher altitude wasn’t enough to get used to, we decided to take the cog train up to the top of Pikes Peak. We could see the snow on top from the ground and it can be seen from many miles away. It just snowed up there the week before we arrived. The elevation is 14,115 feet. Now why wouldn’t I expect to be out of breath there?
In the 1890s, a train track was laid up the mountain for a steam engine. It was built using work animals to haul equipment up. Seventy people died during the building of this rail system. I cannot imagine what it was like to blast through the granite rock, which you see on the side of the track.
There are several ways to get to the summit. You can drive up on a twisty road which has over 120 hairpin turns (where an auto race is also run), and I’ve been told this is hard on the car engine. You can also hike up, which takes six to seven hours (who in their right mind would do that?), or you can ride the cog rail train, which we did.
The train rides up and down the mountain each took about 90 minutes. There is beautiful granite on one side and a steep drop off on the other. It is open all year long, and when the snow comes, a special train goes along cutting through the snow and blowing it over the cliff. Even though it was June, there was still plenty of snow on the top fourth of the mountain.
We had been drinking bottles of water all the way up because the climate is dry there and extra water helps your body cope with the change in altitude. Finally we were at the top and the thin air hit all of us.
I hadn’t noticed the difficulty breathing until we exited the train. When we walked out onto the snow and ice and into a building which housed concessions and restrooms, we were all a little dizzy! It was a strange feeling of unsteadiness, but I could see that most people around me were having the same problem. I had to hold onto the shelves and the walls when I was inside. I knew how much it affected me when I couldn’t even wait around to shop for something to remember the trip to the top. I made an exit as quickly as possible back to the train where I could sit and wait to leave. Thankfully we were only there 20 minutes.
I thought of the employees inside who had to spend the whole day there. I don’t know how they did it. They didn’t live up there, so they would have to go down by train or car after work and back up in the morning, and get used to the altitude all over again. Ugh!
Just the day before our visit, a group of 24 military men and women in survival training had to be evacuated from the top of Pikes Peak in an emergency situation. They all had altitude sickness!
It was more than 30 degrees colder there than it had been on the ground (the temperature was right around the freezing mark), and the wind chill factor made it even colder. The sun was shining, but there was snow and ice everywhere. It was slushy and slippery. Enough of that! I needed to get back to the 6,000 feet in Colorado Springs, which was now looking pretty good to me.
There are many beautiful sites in Colorado Springs. Not only are there mountains everywhere, which of course we don’t see here in Ohio, but also nearby there is the Royal Gorge Bridge, a gold mine, waterfalls and Glenwood Springs, a mineral hot springs.
Oh yes, I should add that marijuana is also sold there, for both medical and general purposes (interestingly, Gov. John Kasich just signed a bill to legalize only medical marijuana for Ohio). We were told that about 15,000 people are moving to Colorado every month because of that. The state of Colorado expects to bring in billions of tax dollars in the next five years from the sale of marijuana. Interesting facts, aren’t they. Anyway, it’s a lovely part of the U.S.
(Melanie Behrens – melb@marysvillejt.com)



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