The Incline is a free (donations accepted!) recreational activity in Manitou Springs, Colorado that is frequented by locals & tourists on a daily basis. Even after fresh powder graces us in the springtime, the community pursues the incline under any & all climate conditions. The step-by-step ascent has an elevation gain of 2,000 feet in less than one mile and is hailed as one of the most difficult & popular hikes in the Colorado Springs area.
The incline was originally built to assist cable cars in carrying pipelines to Pike’s Peak that would provide gravity-fed water pressure to the cities of Manitou Springs & Colorado Springs in 1907 while it was owned by Dr. Newton N. Brumback. You can still see some of the irrigation pipes as you make your way up the incline today. In 1990, a rockslide washed out a portion of the tracks & the attraction was closed permanently until hikers & fitness junkies began ascending it for a good ‘ol cardio workout. Parts of the incline were actually on private property & it was illegal to climb the cablecar ties until February 2013. Fascinating, right? I knew you’d love the history lesson.
My ascent up the Incline on Thursday, April 14, 2016 was probably my most memorable yet. I woke up that morning feeling determined — today was going to be a great day. The weather forecast matched the sentiment, with a 76 degrees & sunny prediction. Let’s do this, Thursday. Bring it. I always carry two liters of water in my Coleman hydration backpack, but with the heat being turned up this spring, I brought an extra 24 oz. Contigo water bottle, just in case. Made a peanut butter sandwich to eat during the four-mile descent on the Barr Trail, packed a granola bar, & hit the road.
Just so you know, finding a decent parking spot is just as difficult as conquering the Incline itself… but, on this particular Thursday, the parking attendant flagged me down & said he just had a spot open up. My good karma had finally paid off with a wonderful parking spot, I’ll take it! Hallelujah, Amen.
Sunscreen applied & shoes tied, I made my way to the trailhead. Although the mental preparation began in the car as I was driving towards the mountain, approaching the “starting line” was giving me another round of intense focus. This was going to be my fifth ascent since April 2015 & every time previous has been intense. Difficult. Exhausting. The same mental prep & pep-talks that go into a long distance run happen for the Incline. A few steps in & I was already breathing heavily, sweat forming little (read: large), sparkling (read: smelly) beads all over my skin. I always have the same questions & observations as I’m making my way to the top:
What was I thinking?
Why am I doing this?
I’m too out of shape for this.
I love the Incline. This is fun. Right…?
Everyone is passing me.
People at the top can probably hear my gusting breath all the way from here.
Dear God, why am I doing this!?
I try to turn off my negative thoughts & instead focus on the positive. As athletes make their way back down the Incline, I tell them “Good job!” and smile. On the rare occasion when I’m passing other athletes, I tell them, “Keep going! You got this!” Some people return the friendly exchange, others ignore it — and I’m perfectly content with either reaction. The people I encountered on the trail on 4/14 are the reason behind this blog post in the first place.
The Incline is a community of fitness gurus, first-timers, daredevils, & adventure-seekers. Office executives & fast-food workers, blue-collar, white-collar. Old folk, young folk. We are all there, together. People encourage me as they pass, I encourage others as I pass them. People have even complimented my tattoos (shameless plug: check out Max Egy at The Bohemian Tattoo Club in Kokomo, IN). We laugh with each other sarcastically in the shade about how “great” we feel. We high-five each other. We cheer for the people who talk themselves out of giving up. I have literally stepped side-by-side men & women who were listing all of the reasons they should quit, but myself & other climbers encouraged them to keep going. I have shared my extra waters with these strangers, even though I consider these people to be my friends–knowing full & well I may never see them again. No matter your fitness level or age, when we climb together, we are friends. We are a community. That is what I love about the Incline — the people & the hearts within those people.
Complete & total strangers, locals & tourists, Incline virgins & Incline sluts, all have one thing in common: we are determined. The most frustrating question I get asked after completing the Incline is, “How long did it take you?” and “What’s your fastest time?” People often roll their eyes & laugh at how long it takes me to reach the top, and I used to take that personally. But now, I swiftly remind them that the Incline isn’t about how fast or how slow you are… The Incline is about your heart & determination. Every time I have ascended those steps, I want to quit. Every time. Two-thirds of the way up the trail, there is even a Bailout. You can literally just step off the Incline & onto the Barr Trail, leaving behind the agony in an instant. The temptation is there, like a dangling, juicy burger in front of a dog, every time I reach the Bailout point… but I have never bailed. I know I’m not fast, but I know I am determined. Reaching the top of the Incline is one of the most fulfilling experiences I have ever had & I refuse to have the accomplishment diminished based on the figures of a stopwatch.
In life, you will get where you’re going in your own time. Don’t compare your life’s timeline to those around you. Do your best & remember that life isn’t a competition. Life can be bumpy & dirty, hard & defeating, but that doesn’t mean you should give up. Sometimes you just have to take a break. Breathe. Give it another try, pace yourself differently, go easier on yourself, be patient. Accept the advice & encouragement that is offered to you, even if you’re only half-listening.
Don’t give up when life gets tough, because life gets tough for all of us. You can’t build strength without the struggle. Hang in there & remember to take life one step at a time. Don’t believe me? Meet me on the Incline, I’ll show you.