It is Sunday morning and Geoff, Greg, and I are making our way towards home from Maine. George, Larri & Maddy are driving back to Boston and George IV has already made his way home to Vermont. I have such mixed emotions for the week to end. This was a special week, for many reasons.
I thought climbing Mount Kathadin would make my voice for Parker’s Climb much louder. Believe it or not, initially, it somewhat took my words away! I have spent the last couple of days just reflecting on the climb and trying to get my emotions reined in. That may be hard to understand, I have yet to grasp why I find it so emotional.
We started the climb promptly at 7am on Thursday morning. Just as we signed in at the ranger station, the rain started coming in a gentle mist. There was far less flat trail leading to the mountain than I expected, we started our ascent almost immediately on rock stairs. We really all thought the rock stairs were cool, well thought out and pretty amazing, until after walking on them, carrying a full load of water in back packs started to wear us down.
I can easily admit, I was the least prepared physically for this climb. I have only been training since mid-July. I have never carried a back pack with 3 liters of water, lunch, a couple of dry pieces of clothing and a flashlight straight up, for seven straight hours, with a heart rate at the top of the chart for the first two hours. Probably my biggest mistake, I did not eat a thing – no fuel in the tank, with the exception of a cup of coffee. John, my trainer warned me…I just could not make myself eat.
There was a thick fog layer lying on the mountain as we started our climb. It is comical now to hear all seven Parker’s who made this climb admit that their level of fear would have been much higher if we could have seen what was ahead of us.
There are no words to describe how big the rocks were, how hard we had to work to climb them and the feeling you get when you must physically access every step your body takes for seven hours straight up, and five to six hours down. The mountain is basically made up of granite boulders – I promise, millions of granite boulders. About four hours into the climb, I told Geoff we were pulling out every piece of granite in our house and going back to formica! I never thought I wanted to see another piece of granite again!!
Every Parker helped another Parker during this climb! My sister-in-law, Larri was perhaps my greatest coach for most of the climb, and she created some of the best humor for me personally! She just kept encouraging me, hour after hour.
Being the only Parker to never climb a mountain had it’s drawbacks. You see, I was slower, I had to think about how to take on each level. Everyone else had much greater instincts to just do it. While I was catching up, the other Parker’s were able to rest. By the time I reached them, they were up pretty quickly to push on – giving me little time to rest. Not a good position to hold, but it is what it is!
I cannot even describe what it felt like to be wet, tired, strained by a heavy backpack, and in most places above the tree line, in winds that were from 25 to 50 knot gusts, for as long as 4.5 to 5.0 hours, on the way to the top.
There were rock ledges that I climbed, that would have absolutely freaked me out, IF I would have taken a full view of what I was climbing. I just tried to stay in the moment, keep my eyes fixed on Geoff in front of me and to push on.
Speaking of Geoff, he was the hero on this climb. He never slowed! When I was literally too weak or too nervous to climb with my backpack on, Geoff carried my pack, in addition to his. At so many ridges he waited to give me a hand up! I clung to him, I could hardly stand it if he were a little out of my sight. Not that I feared for him – he had it under control- he was my safety net!
There so much to be said for youth! George IV, and Madeleine were just amazing, incredible athletes! In fact, they would climb up past me, back down and up again, as I was sometimes following in their earlier steps up, for the first time!
Greg, the middle-Parker, was icredible as well at age 57. He was the keeper of the Parker’s Climb banner both up and down! The speed that he scaled, and the agility that he lept from rock to rock was stunning! He actually had the least fear and could easily keep up with George IV, and Maddy.
George III was just his usual, hilarious self. At 62 years of age, he just powered through this mountain. I could hear George doing his comedy routine sometimes ahead of me, sometimes behind me! I must admit, he is one of the funniest people I know. After lunch, George just pulled up a rock, and went fast asleep! I kid you not, while I was sweating over the next challenge to come, he slept like a baby! I love this guy!
Larri was just as “at home” climbing Mount Katahdin as her kids! She decided early on that she would reach the summit in full make up! I on the other hand just prayed to reach the summit with all my body parts in tact! We all endured enough rain, fog and mist to turn us all into prunes. Every bit of Larri’s makeup was long gone by the time we reached the summit – but true to her goal, she may be the first woman to reapply makeup at 5,267 feet.
While I was sitting down at the summit just trying to keep from blowing off the top, Larri was making sure her makeup looked great before our Summit Photos! And she did look georgous! Larri skipped over to add her rock to the cairn like an Italian rock-layer…she is one amazing lady and a wonderful coach!
I know many people have climed Katahdin for charity but I think the Parker family must also be among the first to promote a fundraiser literally all the way up the mountain. We all carried a supply of Parker’s Climb business cards up the mountain, and most of us were handing them out all along the way!
Parker’s Climb – The Event, existed in the minds of the Parker family before this climb – It has now changed – Parker’s Climb now lives in the souls of each of these Parker’s – I watched it happen, one by one.
I am so humbled by this mountain! I am not sure what I thought I would feel like when this was behind me. For sure, not a one of us knew how challenging this mountain would be. Geoff openly admits he would not have chosen this mountain for his wife’s first climb, had he known how technical the climb would be. Geoff also said, “Climbing Kathadin in the fog and clouds was a bit like having Parkinson’s disease – you just do not know what is next!”
There is not a Parker among us that does not believe in our mission. We are all so unique, we are all wired differently, but we all have so much admiration for Geoffrey and this cause, that I believe we would still be climbing today – if we could stop this disease now!
I have said it before, and I will say it again, Geoff can, and is, inspiring the world with his strength and motivation. When we came down this mountain, I had so little muscle control in my left thigh, I could barely walk. I had to fight back tears from the pain, and I just kept watching Geoff walk so controlled, so even and so balanced, in front of me. He just had this controlled stride that would not stop.
I have heard Geoff say, “Having PD feels like you are walking in quick sand.”. I am convinced, part of this experience for me was to know exactly what that feels like. I lived this feeling for at least 3 or 4 hours coming down the mountain. My legs just did not want to work, I had so little control over them due to the exhaustion. It made me want to cry and scream and do everything possible to help fund a cure for PD, because I could not bear to imagine Geoff feeling this way every day. Geoff and many others have to endure this feeling and so much more.
I dedicate this post to the love of my life Geoffrey, George III, Greg, Larri, George IV, Maddy and yes, even to myself! We were one awesome team out there! Geoff and I could not have done it without you and we love you all very much! Parker’s Rock!!
It is an awesome feeling to know at every second, someone is watching your back! I know we will reach our fundraising goal- and I know we will reach the summit of every mountain we choose to climb and best of all, I know we will be a part of stopping this disease! We have no choice!
Love to you all,
Pkp & Gkp