Into Thin Air
By the time we approach the last pass of the trek, I've fallen to the back of the line. At this point, I'm too busy trolling for oxygen molecules—which are few and far between up here—to care. When we reach the top, there's much hugging and a frantic snapping of digital cameras, as if a one-gigabyte chip has the power to preserve the fleeting moment when ten mortal bodies become divine. Beneath my fleece and down and silk long underwear, I feel my heart pounding against my rib cage, my muscles straining against my skin. Back at our campsite on that final night, I write this in my journal: "This instinct to crawl outside our comfort zones and do things that seem beyond our ability just to prove that we can—is it a human drive?"
I'd say so—it's a drive to feel that humanness in every cell of our hearts and bones. What else accounts for marathon runners, astronauts, and Venus Williams? These people, I suppose, have always known that the body is an exquisitely designed machine created for higher things than riding in cars, slumping in office chairs, and running in place. The Jockettes knew it, too. It wasn't until I stood on top of the world and crossed a finish line that I figured it out. They say people experience life-changing epiphanies in sacred, windswept places. Here is mine—and I think I've shown I'm an unlikely person to make it: We are all athletes. Anyone who has breath in her lungs and muscles stretched over her bones longs—sometimes consciously, sometimes not—to find out what her body is truly capable of. And once that happens, there's no telling what heights her gangly legs will scale.
Cara Birnbaum is a writer based in Hoboken, New Jersey.
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