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Outdoor Recreation trip helps hikers get high on life

TINKER AIR FORCE BASE, Okla. -- I just returned from a four day backpacking and hiking trip with Outdoor Recreation.

I'll start off with what I didn't do. I did not take a two- to four-hour flight running through an airport to meet my connecting flight, sitting next to people I didn't know and, if lucky, finding a seat with limited views of clouds and the earth from 30,000 feet. I did not spend a small fortune eating at resort restaurants. I did not sleep in five-star hotels, watch out for those bed bugs, with hundreds of other noisy guests. I didn't go to a tourist-frequented area with long lines crammed with hurried people.

Now for what I did do. I did take a van ride with the people with whom I would be spending the next four days. We had a chance to talk and get to know each other. This was beneficial, as we would depend on each other for support on our impending journey.

The van ride allowed us to see many interesting sites including the reportedly largest cross in the world, an ancient volcano and animals such as pronghorn, bison, elk, deer and raccoons, living the same way they have for centuries. We had close up views of mountains, valleys, forests, rivers, streams and many interesting towns, some unchanged for many years.

Although we didn't eat at five-star restaurants, we did eat bangers on fresh-baked wheat bread and T-bone steaks with baked potatoes, all cooked over an open wood fire. We also had some interesting dehydrated meals that were, if nothing else, filling.

Sleeping arrangements provided us with almost indescribable views. We slept in small tents in a pine tree forest with unobstructed views of the sky that can only be seen and enjoyed in backwoods areas where there is no light interference from cities, houses or cars. The only light source was our flickering campfire, which added to the view.

If you haven't had the experience of camping out at more than 10,000 feet in an area with no light interference, it is hard to explain the sky. The sky is pitch black with only the blinking of seemingly millions of stars and the moon to provide light. The stars appear so close that you could reach out and touch them, and the moon seems so near you will swear you can see an American flag left by one of the Apollo missions.

I hope by now you are wondering where we were. We went to an area outside of Leadville, Colo., to hike to the summit of Mount Elbert, the tallest mountain in Colorado at 14,400 feet and the second tallest in the lower 48 states.

We left at 4 a.m. on Thursday and around 5 p.m. arrived at our campsite near the trailhead, in a beautiful and hardy national forest campground.


We set up base camp at 10,040 feet within 100 yards of a quickly running stream, filled with cold and clear mountain water. The sound of the running stream provided the best sleeping aid I have ever experienced. We had that afternoon and evening to relax, prepare our supper and plan the next day's hike to our next campsite.

After a supper of Bangers cooked over an open fire, we crawled in our tents, listening to the sound of running water and watching the light from millions of stars and moon as we dozed off.

We awoke around daybreak and had hot chocolate and breakfast, packed our backpacks and headed to our next campsite at 11,800 feet. We arrived in time to have lunch, set up camp, relax and review final plans for our summit the next day. Once gain the views of the sky and sounds from squirrels and birds were awesome and a great sleep aid. We awoke the next morning before sunrise, had a good breakfast, packed our summit backpack, and hit the trail. On the way, we saw a beautiful multicolored sunrise over mountaintops. The ascent was long and difficult at times but we took frequent breaks to catch our breath, drink water, and have snacks to make sure we all were doing fine. After several false summits, which elicited choice words, we reached the actual summit and congratulated each other.

Before starting the descent, we took a few pictures, drank some more water, enjoyed the view from the second tallest point in the lower 48 states, and had a few snacks. The descent was much quicker, but at times just as difficult as the ascent. We saw a wide range of fellow hikers including a Priest, a below-knee amputee, a man with his family (one of which he was carrying in a backpack), and a man who appeared to be in his mid 60's. We returned to our campsite, packed up, and headed to base camp. We reached base camp, placed our backpacks in the van, and headed for last campsite. Our last campsite was a campground where I probably had the best and most needed HOT shower I have ever had. For our last supper we grilled T-Bone steaks and cooked baked potatoes over an open wood fire.

We awoke the next morning feeling tired but very proud that we reached our goal:, the summit of the second tallest mountain in the lower 48 states. I have been on quite a few trips with amazing sites, but there is not much like the feeling you get from pushing yourself to reach the summit of a 14,400 foot mountain. The drive home was uneventful but just as beautiful as the drive up.

Thank you to Outdoor Recreation for offering such trips and guides Erik Jones and John Cordon for their expertise, advise, guidance and encouragement. Many of us utilize Fit-4-Life and Fit-to-Fight to maintain and improve our health, fitness, and productivity. I would like to suggest that there are many benefits to participating in Fit-4-Life and Fit-to-Fight beyond improving health, fitness, and productivity. Additional benefits include the ability to participate in team building and personally challenging and rewarding activities such as hiking, backpacking, camping, snow skiing and rafting just to mention a few, all of which can be scheduled through Outdoor Recreation right here on base.