A friend of mine and I, both in our early 50s, set a goal for ourselves in 2021 of climbing Colorado’s Manitou Incline in under 30 minutes—no easy feat as the Manitou Incline is the converted remains of a funicular railway that goes straight up the side of a mountain. But we wanted to challenge ourselves and our bodies and just spend some time together outdoors. We also aimed to climb the Incline at least once a week all 52 weeks of the year.
The first step of the Manitou Incline begins at 6,600 feet above sea level, and it gains almost 2,000 feet in just under a mile. The average grade for the trail is 45% and is as steep as 68% in places. Signs at the bottom tell visitors to plan about two hours to do the route one-way. In order to meet our goal of 30 minutes, we agreed to meet every Thursday morning and make the climb. Beginning the first week in January, we would meet at 6 a.m. and trek up the 2,700+ steps. Our reward at the top was great views of Colorado Springs.
On occasion, one or both of us could not make Thursday morning, so we would make up our session on another day that week—but we always did the hike. We climbed in the dark, in the beating sun, in rain and wind, in hail and snow, and in every other imaginable type of Colorado weather. During those first cold mornings, we averaged about 41 minutes from the first step to the last, and our goal of 30 minutes seemed foolhardy and out of reach. But as time passed, we slowly, gradually, got faster.
When I’m outside and exercising intensely, my mind wanders. Since we were trying to get faster, I often thought about: a) What techniques could I employ to shave some seconds off my time? and b) What lessons have I learned as a result of putting myself through this punishing physical exercise every week? After each session on the Incline, I began to write down some of the lessons I was thinking about while hiking. As the lessons began to accumulate, I realized that these were not just lessons for the Incline, but also lessons for life and for pursuing or achieving any goal. At the request of friends, I ended up turning the 31 lessons that I developed into a short book of reflections called “Lessons from the Incline.”
Even after 2021, I continued to climb the Incline at least once a week. If I were to boil down the lessons that I learned then and combine them with my continued Incline hiking experiences into just a few ideas, they would be the ones listed below.
- Get outside. Good things happen when we intentionally go outside on a regular basis to walk, hike or ride along trails in nature. The benefits of being outside are numerous and well-documented.
- Challenge yourself. We live in a time when many of us never truly have to do anything physically challenging or be uncomfortable. Yet, it is often through hardship and discomfort that we experience personal growth. The Incline taught me to deliberately seek out hard and difficult challenges.
- Be with people. The social connection was perhaps the biggest benefit of my Incline experience. Not only did my friendship with the buddy that I went with every week deepen, but I became part of the Incline community of regular hikers. I’ve met so many great people on those steps and always look forward to seeing them every time I go out.
So my advice is to pick a favorite trail, get outside, challenge yourself, make friends, and have fun!
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