Growing up a young athlete in Lakewood, Colorado, the Manitou Incline was the pinnacle of training for any and every sport imaginable. Fabled as an almost untouchable feat, the Incline—approximately 2,745 wooden railroad ties/steps stretching 2000 vertical feet in less than a mile—was the most intimidating training challenge. My high school soccer and basketball teams would spend training practices running and lunging up the steps at Red Rocks Amphitheater, but the legendary climb about 70 miles south was always a mountain I hoped to conquer.
The Manitou Incline Railway was originally built in 1907 as a cable car to carry materials to build pipelines on Pikes Peak, and eventually became a tourist attraction railway. In 1990, rock slides and wash outs closed the railway permanently. Since its closure, the trail has grown in popularity as a hiking trail and fitness challenge. The Incline begins at 6,600 feet and climbs 2000 vertical feet for 3/4 of a mile straight up the side of the mountain – and I mean climbing. Near the top of the trail, some hikers even crawl up the remaining few hundred steps.
One early Friday morning in August 2014, determined to conquer the trail, I climbed the Incline for the first time. At 5:30am, the brisk late-summer morning was cooling as I worked up a quick sweat within the first few steps. I learned quickly in the first few hundred steps that setting a good pace would be one key to success. With determination to complete the task, I knew I needed to take breaks along the way to not only catch my breath, but also to look back and appreciate the view of the city. The trail is relatively narrow, lined on each side with natural mountain foliage, with a few trail pullover areas for breaks – similar to pullover lanes on highways. About halfway up the trail, there is a stopping point for hikers who wish to finish before the top. As I passed this exit, I considered stopping; however, I was committed to complete the entire trail to accomplish my longtime goal. SPOILER ALERT – nearing the top of the trail, just as hikers think they have almost completed the challenge, a false summit hides the final 300 steps. This might feel disheartening, but instead it was a great source of motivation to power through the final stretch. Once I reached the top, turning to gaze upon the sun rising over Colorado Springs, I felt a sense of accomplishment, but also a feeling of wanting more. I wanted another challenge, another feat to accomplish, another goal to achieve.
In many ways, my experience hiking the Incline is comparable to my two years as an El Pomar Fellow: the keys to success are pace, taking breaks, and keeping the goal in mind. A good pace on the Incline means not climbing too quickly; a good pace in the Fellowship means taking advantage of every opportunity afforded to the Fellows while also knowing my own limits. Taking breaks on the Incline involves refreshing and reengaging with the challenge ahead. During my time through the Fellowship, taking breaks was not only taking time off to spend time with friends and family, but spending time with Fellows outside of work. On the Incline, I considering stopping halfway up the trail, but in keeping in mind my goal of completing the feat, I was motivated to continue on. When I began as a Fellow, my goal was to develop as a young professional, produce excellent work, and build connections around the state of Colorado. On difficult days or times of stress, the temptation to quit and stop halfway exists, but by keeping my goal in mind, I am motivated to push through the challenges.
As my time as an El Pomar Fellow ends, I have a similar feeling that I had at the top of the Incline. I feel accomplished and satisfied with the work I have done and the connections I have made, and yet my desire to do more and accomplish more is stronger than ever. Truly, this Fellowship is the best springboard I could imagine into the rest of my career.