Friday, October 03, 2008

New Mexico: Sandia Peak

The tram arrives to whisk us to the summit.

Maria wanted to check out Sandia Peak so we were off. It's Balloon Fiesta week here in Albuquerque and they're expecting long lines. From the point we joined the line, the wait was thirty minutes, but there are signs farther down the line that foretold of waits up to two hours.

Luckily, it wasn't too long before our flight was being called and we were being herded onto the tram car that would take us to Sandia Peak, some ten thousand feet and fifteen minutes away. The Sandia Peak Tramway is actually the world's longest passenger aerial tramway, making 10,500 trips per year. In spite of my grumbling and not-as-angry-as-before stomach, the time in line passes quickly and soon we're being reaching for the horizon in our 55 passenger tram car.

I'm actually phobic of heights but if I'm ensconced in some sort of vehicle, dizzying heights rarely bother me. From inside the tram, I can lean my head against the window, look down and all is well. Do that over a cliff and I'm ready to freak out. At one point, the ground is nearly one thousand feet below. Certain death awaits should the cables above give way and Spiderman doesn't appear.

Whether it's on an airplane, a vehicle or tramcar, I have a decidedly morbid streak. I can't help but ponder and make comments about our certain doom. For me, it's humorous. A funny way of perhaps dealing with the uncertainties in life and adventure. Maria's a bit skittish about the tram and the height and doesn't find my commentary at all amusing.

Certain death awaits if we fall and Spiderman doesn't show up.

The odd thing is that part of me is secretly hoping for doom and destruction. I enjoy the thrill of living through some sort of disaster or near-miss event. Whether it's nearly getting side swiped by a car going fifty miles an hour or surviving a 7.2 earthquake, there's a certain thrill about living through such events. Of course, the key to that thrill is actually living through it and surviving relatively unscathed. Actually being killed or injured because of it kinda tempers the thrill...

At the summit, it's beautiful. The other peaks look fantastic but the thin air at ten thousand feet makes it difficult to keep up any sort of pace. On the back side of the mountain is a ski resort with the requisite ski lifts. On some days, you can just ride the ski lift up and down the back of the mountain. Today, the lift is closed and the weather is brilliantly sunny. It's hazy so Albuquerque looks a bit murky in the distance, but right here, right now, the weather is gorgeous.

My stomach's TSA Threat Condition is still Orange (that's a little travel slash TSA humor there) and Maria wants to wander through the woods. She likes to hike. I like the idea of hiking. I enjoy entertaining visions of myself scaling grand mountains and looking out across the void, satisfied in my accomplishment. But after nearly being killed (okay so that's a bit dramatic) by hypoxia while pushing for the summit of Mauna Kea (13,796 ft.), and ascending Mount Bradbury (485 ft.) in an ice storm, I've enjoyed relatively benign hikes through the alleyways of Towson.

Maria walks by the fence that cannot contain my wanderlust.

Hiking through Towson can be fun and enjoyable - especially since you can easily stop for a hot dog or chat on a park bench, but at ten thousand feet, the air is thin and I'm dreading every step we take down the trails surrounding the summit. Each step means a strenuous, hypoxia-laden step back up, but more importantly, it's one more step further away from the rest room at the High Finance Restaurant.

But I'm a man and I know it's my role to present a strong and stoic face - no matter my true disposition at the moment. It is our (males) lot in life to suffer silently and I've accepted that fact. It's why we're the uncommunicative side of the male/female equation. We can't cry, we can't show emotion, we can't seem weak. We just do and forge ahead - even when facing certain doom and destruction. Women don't chase us or give us flowers. It's no wonder we have shorter life expectancies than females.

Peering out to the horizon, I am ready for my destiny.

It's pretty here at the summit and like any dim-witted boy, if there's a fence, I must see what's on the other side. Even if that fence is keeping people away from dying a horrific death by falling off the side of a treacherous cliff. It's a fence. I'm a man. No fence shall impede my God given right to go where I want and do as I please. Truth is, I'm really too scared to get too close to the edge and look too far over. It's easily 800 feet to the rocks that will certainly break you in half should you fall. My acrophobia starts to kick into high gear and before I become a shriveling ball of crying human flesh I make my way back to the safe side of the fence.

Happily, my tummy is slowly recovering. The whole time we've been in Sandia, I've managed to hold on pretty well. With any luck, I'll be able to indulge myself this evening. Luckily, our trip down the mountain is relatively uneventful, except for the two ten year old boys who yell out at regular intervals: "We're gonna DIE!!!!"

I smile privately, secretly wishing I could join their chorus.

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