A Pilgrimage in Vail

This weekend I participated in an “Extreme HIke” sponsored by the Cystic Fibrosis Foundation/Rocky Mountain Chapter in Vail, Colorado. It is laughingly referred to as the “luxury hike” due to the location, but not because it was easy. In terms of a physical challenge, it ranks right up there with natural childbirth.

I’m not sure if other non-profits funding research and support of diseases have similar events, but these hikes are really inspirational and life-changing. You can hike Vail, Grand Canyon, Yosemite, part of the Appalachian Trail and others around the country to raise money and awareness for Cystic Fibrosis.

The Cystic Fibrosis Foundation’s Xtreme Hike event takes hikers through some of the most scenic trails in the nation — across dozens of locations — to raise funds and awareness for cystic fibrosis. Xtreme Hike is about reaching new heights – physically and philanthropically. It’s a journey of passion, determination, and personal triumph, as much as it’s an opportunity to make a difference in the lives of people with CF.” 

This was my second extreme hike. The first was 30 miles in Wisconsin five years ago, which was challenging. This weekend I hiked 18 miles, five of which were straight up the mountain for 2.5 hours. In total, we walked over 30,000 steps, climbed the equivalent of 200 stories over 10 hours.

In reality, these extreme hikes are pilgrimages for our loved ones–be it family or friend. I had always thought of a pilgrimage as associated with religion or prayer, but it also a spiritual journey. I’m not sure the foundation realized what they were creating when these “hikes” were developed–and I’m not sure people would have participated if they were labeled as a pilgrimage, but as I have participated in two of them, five years apart and across the county, I can verify that is what it is.

The group comes together for dinner the night before and shares their stories and there are many tears and nodding of heads from those who have experienced similar situations. Some loved ones are benefitting from the current treatments, others suffering and some have died. Two young women who were hiking have Cystic Fibrosis–one had a double lung transplant (yes they both finished). 

As we walk we hear more stories, compare notes, and connect with those who were strangers a few hours before. We shared canned oxygen, water, food, and compassion. Most complete the full hike, some can’t and there is no judgment. We limp in for dinner and share the stories of the hike, but it is breakfast the next morning where we truly honor the transformation into a community. We leave hugging, crying and promising to stay in touch–and some vowing to see each other on a different hike or next year.

I signed up to participate on behalf of my granddaughter, my son and his wife to show them I understand how difficult this disease is. I “hike” because I can do hard things to set an example, to raise money for research and development for a cure and because it is an extreme way to show my love for all of them.

Each time I’ve done one of these hikes I realize it actually is a walking prayer. It is symbolic of the CF patient’s journey, the struggle to breathe, the feeling that your body cannot endure more and yet it does. 

Then you look up at the aspens glowing the sunshine, or the vista from the top of the mountain and you know the pain is only part of the journey. Immediately you must look down again so that you don’t trip over tree roots or rocks waiting to take you down to your knees. 

The hike is a metaphor, a prayer, a gesture of love and communion. Yet it only lasts for hours–and the recovery is swift, unlike the disease. The CF community is a family we do not choose, but who holds us in love and support and walks with us on this journey. I am forever grateful to all those who work for, support and are part of this community–we couldn’t move mountains, or hike them, without you.

 

4 thoughts on “A Pilgrimage in Vail

  1. Thank you for sharing your experience, Elizabeth. Pilgrimage is good for the body, soul and our world! Trekking for CF is a true gift of love and compassion. To those with CF who can manage the hike and those without who choose to support the cause, I share the quote I read on a billboard as I spoke with you the day of your hike: “Lungs like Long Hikes”. XOXO -Ellen

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  2. Beautiful reflection. I love the idea of prayer-walking, and how you used the experience to connect with Adele’s own. If we all had more opportunities like that, and the tenacity to take advantage of them, the world would be a more compassionate place! Love to you from Grayslake.

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