She wore bright green pants. And a matching shirt. I couldn't have pulled it off. She did. I glanced at her sitting on my left and then back out the window again.
I had other things to worry about than fashion, like where this train was taking me, what this train ride would be like, and if I could make it. 14,000-plus feet isn't normal stomping grounds for me, but once on-board my fate was sealed. We wouldn't stop until we reached it.
The engine roared, the train station began moving past my window, and we started up the mountain. Kristin and I were going to Pike's Peak. We had a bottle of water each, two purses, a camera bag, and the expectation of colder temperatures and less oxygen. We were both thrilled. And admittedly, I was somewhat fearful. Okay, I was pretty scared.
Soon the conductor was yapping away in the speaker telling us history. It was comforting, in a background noise sort of way. The train was full with everyone from the kid in the back saying, "choo, choo" every 15 seconds, to the old man from Arkansas traveling alone, to the group of Swedish teenagers speaking their native tongue. And then there was my green pants girl. I have no idea why I was drawn to her, perhaps it was the brightness of the pants. But I watched her from time to time, nonetheless.
As the train continued at a steady incline upward, I could feel panic setting in. My hands were tingling. My chest was warm. I felt a bit dizzy. And that overly crooked light pole out the window, the conductor explained, was actually straight. We were the crooked ones.
On and on we went. The 8,000 mark. The 10,000 mark. The 12,000 mark. I sipped on my water to swallow my panic. I'd exchange a glance with Kristin ever so often. She was quiet, sometimes a little pale. Neither of us felt like running a marathon. We were just sitting there, letting this beast take us toward the destination, what promised to be breathtaking.
At the timberline I began some deep breathing exercises and sipped more water. The trees were gone. Nothing but rocks and cold and dizziness everywhere. I had to get control of this. Just 2,000 more feet. This was doable. My green pants girl looked fine. She was fine, relaxed even, smiling and taking pictures with her friend. I could do this.
An hour and 40 minutes later, we arrived. I got out, feeling my eyes cross, and beelined it to the souvenir shop and some awaiting Aquafina. Soon, the sickness passed (what I learned later, and would have liked to have known earlier, was a case of rapid dehydration). Kristin and I went outside into the bitter cold. It was at least 30 degrees colder on Pikes Peak than on the ground, below freezing, and a cloudy day meant bitter winds. We stood in the wake of God's masterpiece seeing a world that made me feel small and God so much bigger.
Green pants girl and her friend exchanged cameras with us and we all took pictures for each other. Then we boarded the train for the decent down. She walked in, breathing heavily through her mouth, panting, yet calmly sitting down and rummaging through her purse. I watched the heavy breathing, the struggle, the constriction I could almost feel in my own chest and she inhaled again.
She pulled out an inhaler and pumped it a few times into her mouth, stopping to smile and wave at her friend still taking pictures. I changed seats and scooted a little closer.
"Can I fan you or anything?"
She nodded at me. "No, I'll be fine as soon as the medicine kicks in." A few more seconds, her panting calmed and she continued talking. "I have a breathing disorder. The doctors say it's dangerous for me to go above 5,000 feet."
I sat there staring at her. We were at over 14,000 feet. Nearly three times more than their recommendation.
"But I just had to come. I just love this. So beautiful." Then she went back to her world of watching out the window, and I went back to mine impressed by her, irritated at myself.
Later that evening, Ingrid - our gracious Colorado host - took us to see The Seven Falls at night. Another wonder of the world that left my mouth hanging open.
When we arrived, I took out my camera, snapping pictures of the nearly straight upward climb of the stairs along the cliff, seeing the light, the flow, the rhythm of the shot. A woman I hadn't even noticed sitting on a nearby bench caught my attention.
"Be careful going up. It's very steep stairs. But it's incredible. And going down is much easier."
"Oh. Okay. Appreciate it," I responded.
"I'm just sitting here catching my breath a minute. I went to the top. It's a good hike. And I'm petrified of heights. But I just had to go. I can't let fear rule me."
I could barely muster a smile. There it was again. Another woman facing her fear because she simply had to. I nodded and went on my way.
Fear. I know that name. Sometimes I feel it tattooed on my skin, the ink burning into my bloodstream. It rarely leaves me for other travels. If I looked hard enough, I could make out its footprint next to mine in the dirt. And I despise it like no other creature I know.
Being afraid makes me feel weak, sad, disturbed. It makes me question myself, my future, even my faith in God. It taints every bite of food for my soul. It just plain sucks.
The truth is, I'm not alone. It sags off the shoulders of many of us. We slosh about life burdened down with soggy trepidation and squishy shoes. We tell opportunity "no" when all a "yes" requires is courage.
But then there are others, those living their lives regardless of their fear, sampling extraordinary experiences because they faced their tormentor.
I don't have the strength to quell all the fear I have. I don't have the bravery or the gusto. But I do have a protector. And all He wants is trust.
Then, maybe for once, I'll take a journey into the high points of life simply because I had to.