The rocks shift beneath my feet as I draw a long breath and slip the heavy pack from my shoulders. Pulling the water bottle from the side pocket, I choose a nearby log as the first of many resting places on the long hike. The sun streams into the clearing, making the leaves dance as the wind blows and providing warmth to my face on the brisk morning. Moments later, Uncle Ben reaches the opening, panting hard from the near-vertical trail. He takes the opportunity to quiz me on the names of the colorful wildflowers that line the trail. Laughing at my confusion between the Colorado Columbine and the Elephant Head, he motions for me to lead the way again. My legs ache from the short rest, but they quickly loosen up as I set the pace at a steady walk. Behind me, Uncle Ben describes the Arapaho Mountain region and many of his mountain pursuits, which include camping, rafting, and climbing the Colorado Fourteeners. Today, our destination is Diamond Lake, a beautiful area in the mountains just west of Boulder, Colorado. As my body gradually adapts to the rhythmic pace, my senses become accustomed to my surroundings. A fresh pine scent fills the air, and I can hear twigs break off to my right as a squirrel crashes through the underbrush. Up ahead, a small mountain stream breaks the trail. I make a quick stop to wash the dirt from my hands and face in the cold glacial water. Hours later, Uncle Ben and I cross the timberline. I pause, looking back to see how far we have traversed. Continuing up the mountain is arduous work. The soft grass no longer provides comfort. Breathing grows difficult as the air continues to thin. The strong wind whips the heavy coat about my body and blows me off course. For another hour, we crest false summit after false summit before reaching the true peak of the mountain. An outcropping of rocks is the only shelter against the cold gusts of wind. Finally getting some time to rest, I look around and absorb the great view of the surrounding mountains. It is one fit for a king. Down below, the dense greenery is a sight to behold. Visions of grandeur fill my mind as herds of elk and deer race off at the slightest sound. I close my eyes, leaning my head against the rock behind me, and smile.
Each summer, my family takes a week-long vacation into the beautiful Colorado wilderness. My large family of seven squeezes into the Chevy Suburban for the long, eleven-hour drive. Once there, we dive out of the car to meet the cousins and grandparents who also make the trip. We stay together in a group of cabins in the housing addition known as Chautauqua Park, which is located at the base of the Flatiron foothills. While we’re there, my great uncle gathers a small group of family members for a day-long hike. These hikes are the highlight of my vacation. Each year, after going on one of the hikes, I learn something new about myself or the world. My heart changes in these few enlightening hours. I feel at peace with myself; I feel joy. Looking around at the beauty of nature, I experience a sense of equilibrium. These hikes also affect my relationships with other people. I become more flexible with those around me, and I have a desire to be a better friend, a better person. Simply put, I am inspired to become more than what I could be under normal circumstances.
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