Sunday, August 12, 2012

Hiking A Mountain With 300 of my Closest Friends

The temperatures in the Valley have been hitting record levels this last week, and right now, as I type at 10PM, it's still 107°.  

Cue the sound bite  of the (NSFW) weather report from Good Morning, Vietnam.

But when the opportunity to hike A Mountain in Tempe with Chris Powell from ABC's Extreme Makeover Weight Loss Edition came up on Saturday morning, I wasn't going to say no.
Chris is actually a native of the Valley, and one of the local radio stations has hosted a few of these A Mountain hikes already to roaring success.

But still, Zooey the Devil Dog, who ate one of my hydration bottles this week, needed to burn some energy, so we got up at 4:30 anyway to run 3 of the 4 miles my training plan called for.  I opted to only run 3 because of the water bottle situation as well as the fact that the hike would take place at 8AM, well after sunrise.
I took it easy to make sure that the hound's tongue wouldn't be lolling on the ground by the time we got home, where I dropped her off (no way was I taking my girl on a hot, sunny, crowded hike!), switched out my Sauconies for my Brooks trail shoes, and headed back out the door.

I was shocked at how many people - well over 300 - were there.  I had figured that the heat would keep people away, but it wasn't a deterrent at all.  That in itself is truly a testament to the huge impact Chris Powell has made on people since the show began.

Of course the event started with a few words.  But if you've watched the show, you know that Chris's words are always inspiring, and speaking to a group of several hundred was no different than when speaking to one of his clients on national television.  Chris spoke of being dedicated to making healthy choices and healthy changes, and he used the phrase "beneficial selfishness" when reminding us that we have to make our decisions for ourselves and no one else.
That rang true here.  Sometimes, even that day, I feel badly about leaving my family to go for a run when I could easily stay home and spend time with them instead.  But being beneficially selfish and going for those runs means that I'll be around to have more of those moments, and I must keep that in mind.  It's not always about the right now, and even if I'm not there, I'm setting an example to my daughter by putting my health on the list of Things That Are Extremely Important.

The audience was rapt.
And then Chris challenged all of us in the crowd: "Everybody must leave here with a victory."  He didn't want anyone to leave without achieving some sort of victory.  For some, he acknowledged, that would be climbing part way and using the switchback to head back down.  For others, it was heading all the way up to "Sparky's House" at the very top.  And yet others would need to run the steep, advanced trail multiple times.
And with that admonishment, we were off.
Just as a note, A Mountain is not actually a mountain.  It's official name is Hayden Butte, and while it can be steep in parts, it's not a long trail, so going up and down multiple times is definitely within the realm of doable, and the butte is used just for that by ROTC students at ASU and others who are training on hills.
The advanced trail starts off paved, but it becomes very steep very quickly, so it's a fantastic calf workout.

Tempe Town Lake and the two bridges
Tempe City Hall is an inverted pyramid.
Since I was an architecture major for 6 weeks,
I feel like I need to include this snap.
The Tempe Transportation Department building
has a green roof!  So cool!
When pavement gave way to railroad ties and rock, our trail met the switchback, and things leveled off, but boy howdy was it crowded! Some people had used the more intermediate switchback to head up sooner and were already headed down.  
But I had to make a detour at the A.

I was only about halfway to the cross bar of the A
to give you a bit more perspective.
The A is an ASU treasure, and it's fiercely guarded during the week leading up to the Territorial Cup game between ASU and UofA.  At the beginning of each school year, as a symbol of starting a new year, the A is whitewashed before getting its first coat of gold paint.  Throughout the year, various groups will paint the A different colors, but as long as it's not red and blue, we're good, and it's simply repainted gold.
From the A it's only a short climb to the top, where your view on a less crowded day will be 360°.
Not that I felt I was cheated out of any views due to the number of people enjoying the same sights and the collective inspiration.  Far from it, I was thrilled that so many people were sharing in that same moment.  Some people were so thrilled to get up to the top that it was better than some of the Olympics outcomes.  I was proud and excited for all of them, even if I had nothing to do with that victory personally.

Sun Devil Stadium, built between the two buttes in Tempe.
You can see the "other" A here.

A more expansive view - you can see the solar panels above (parking) Lot 59 to the left,
the indoor practice stadium directly behind Sun Devil Stadium (big white bubble),
and Manzanita Hall, where I lived as a freshman - it's now completely gutted,
under renovation.
After spending a little time taking in all the positive energy that was absolutely radiating off the top of A Mountain, I headed back down in order to offer a bit more room to those who were still coming up - or headed up for a second go round.
Since I had been up early and had already gotten my workout in, I opted to only go up once, but on my way back down, there was one more order of business that needed to be dealt with.

Go, Devils!
I had to get a snap with Chris and shake his hand.  Both he (an ASU alumnus himself) and his wife, Heidi, laughed heartily when I introduced myself.

Because my last name is Powell, too.

No relation (TOTAL BUMMER).
But really, what an absolutely lovely couple.  In the brief seconds I had to speak with them, it was so clear that the positive attitude Chris has about him on the show is The Real Thing.  Both he and Heidi radiated kindness, excitement, and that zest for all things healthy.
And can we just talk about Heidi's arms?  Because they are amazing.  More perfect than Mary Poppins.  A new inspiration for my Hundred Pushups Challenge.
It might be cliché, but it really was the perfect cap for the morning.  While it was hot - already well into the 90s - I bounced down the remaining bit of the trail and hopped in the car, renewed with an excitement I don't think I had when the alarm buzzed.
Chris and Heidi Powell touched so many lives Saturday morning, and we Arizonans are so fortunate to have them as a part of our community.  They want us - all of us - to lead lives that are joyful and healthy.  How can I not be grateful for neighbors who want nothing more?
Thanks, Chris and Heidi!  
Oh, and if you're planning a family reunion any time soon, I'm sure I can find some distant third cousin that ties us together!

Who inspires you to be a better you?
What amazing people live in your neck of the woods?
What local landmarks do you treasure?
(Why do I always have to ask three questions?)


  1. A few things to note. I was part of the Army ROTC Sun Devil Battalion (Even though I did ROTC at GCU). Also ASU has had the A painted Purple at least once by GCU the night before a Baseball game that we almost won.

    Honestly, all the ultrarunners I listen to and read about inspire me to get out. Don't know many amazing people that live down here in Sierra Vista, besides us soldiers. I love all the different MTN peaks here.

    1. My husband's fraternity (at ASU) once painted the A in its colors. It's always fun to see how long it takes for the pure gold to be put back up.
      All military members are amazing to me. You all are heroes!

  2. Wow! The "beneficial selfishness" is so true, and what a wonderfully succinct way of stating it.
    I almost passed out at the thought of weather in the triple digits at bedtime. YUCK! I'm impressed that you still got out there and powered through the heat (Zooey is impressive can tell her I said that). This whole post is great motivation!

    1. He really was so motivating - just like he is on the show. It's nice to know that people are so genuine and want to help others the way he does.
      I'll have to say - I get used to the heat. I hate it, but I get used to it. While Z and I run before the sun comes up, I just made sure I was prepped on the hike. I had LOTS of fluids (water and homemade sports drink), a first aid kit, and even a few cold, wet cloths in a freezer bag so that they stayed cold. I'm not sure I'll tell Zooey - it might go to her head. :)
      Thanks for the props, Mads - if you're ever in town, we can hike together! In cooler weather, of course.