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The Way Up


As I've said before, Kenyatta and I have a recurring fantasy of moving to Colorado. The East Coast is obscene with writers, and I'm pretty convinced that I'm missing something by living so close to my own kind. Nothing would please me more than to move to Leadville and dissappear. I'd likely have a serious barber-shop problems, since Leadville's black population appears to be somewhere in the neighborhood of three. But hey, nothing good comes without sacrifice.

Anyway, there are mountains out here that will convince you that there are no actual mountains back east, just hills. Beyond that, there's the sort of nature that will convince you that Central Park is not so much nature, as it is a small oasis among skyscrapers.

So there's this big mountain here in Aspen, big for me at least, which most people scale via the elegant gondola. I am deeply afraid of heights, but I don't like being punked (comes from my days being bullied) and so every year I come here, I insist on riding the gondola and scaring myself silly. Yesterday, I went up with my old friend Amanda. At the top, somehow, we got the bright idea to go back down, head to our rooms, get dressed and take the 4.7 mile hike back up.

This was not very intelligent. But it was incredibly wise.

I tend to do quite a bit of running. I'm not very fast, but I do have bad form. So there's that. Anyway, subconsciously I've come to connect speed with exertion, and being from the East, I have very little prolonged experience with what altitude will do to your system. Every year I'd see people hiking the mountain. From the gondola they seemed to move so slow, like figures buzzing across one of those old electric football games. 

"Can't be that hard," I thought. We estimated finishing the hike in under two hours.

It took us three hours. During that time, we encountered two storms. (It's against the code of effete East Coast liberals to check the weather) and then as we got to the top, we were flayed by pellets of hail  It's hard to understand altitude, if you haven't really pushed yourself against it. It lengthens everything. You get close to what looks like the end, but you're farther than you think, because you don't have the wind you had earlier, and the air is colder.

But we got to the top, totally out of ourselves. It was a fatigue beyond fatigue. Still, I was glad we had done it. So much of my physical fitness is artificial--gym, landscaped park etc. There's something about taking that fitness back to nature, something about applying it to a task that's ancient and real. 

The first thing I'd do, if I moved out here, is rip up my gym membership. 

Ta-Nehisi Coates is a national correspondent at The Atlantic, where he writes about culture, politics, and social issues. He is the author of the memoir The Beautiful Struggle.

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