“Where is the nearest mountain?” I asked the man at the helm of the mechanical caterpillar on wheels.
“Mountain? Man, what are you talkin’ about. There aren’t any mountains around here. Shoot. You gotta pay your fare or get off my bus.”
“I will give you the money required for my passage if you can take me to the foot of the most challenging of climbs,” I replied.
The man, who must have been of great esteem in his community considering the enormity of the vehicle he maneuvered through the bustling streets, shifted in his throne.
“I’m not in the mood for this shit. You’re dressed to climb a mountain all right but this is Chicago. It’s flat. Not to mention it’s a city.”
“You are mistaken, sir,” I said while bowing at a thirty-degree angle to show my respect.
“Everywhere there are mountains. Finding them is a matter of seeing. Where you see paved streets I see fields of waist-high grass. Where you see light posts I see full-grown maple trees. And where you see buildings reaching for the sky…”
“Yeah I get it. You see mountains. You wanna go downtown I can take you downtown.”
“South. Towards the mountains! Let me clip in so as not to lose my footing on the ride. Would you like a piece of buffalo jerky?”
The buffalo jerky I had purchased from a trading post in Grand Rapids, South Dakota. I told the proprietor of my plan to summit the highest peak in Chicago and asked for a recommendation of a food source high in protein and easy to carry. He recommended the meat of a bison, cured and dried.
“Nah. No thanks. I’m vegetarian. I watched that movie ‘Forks Overs Knives.’ I’ll never eat animals again,” he said while pulling over to let on additional passengers.
I would meditate on the necessity of eating animals while on my journey. Climbing gives a person time to ponder the many mysteries of life. On my last climb, The Space Needle in Seattle, I had the epiphany that all men are connected, not only in a spiritual sense but physically, at an atomic level. We are all made from stardust and sunspots, all of us entropic accidents, distillations of dark matter. From space we were made and to space we will return.
“This is your stop. Head west on Adams until you get to Willis Tower. That’s your mountain.” He pointed to the west.
“Thank you, fine sir,” I said. “You have been a great help. I will not soon forget your solicitude. I take all you passengers in my heart to the summit of Willis Peak where I will release my intercessions upon the notorious winds of Chicago. Goodbye my friends. Oh, I’ve forgotten to unclip. Goodbye!”
I arrived at base camp and checked in with the organizer.
“How can I help you, sir?” said the man with a fresh haircut and blue blazer from his ornate, work station.
“I wish to climb Willis Peak. I assure you I am a skilled alpinist having reached great heights at Khalifa, Shanghis, Ping Finance Center, Zifeng, and the World Trade Center Towers in New York City.”
“If you’re looking for the Skydeck you’ll have to buy a ticket. Head around the corner and see one of the attendants,” he explained.
A switchback led the way to the ticket booth. I clipped into the guide wire and made my way forward, stopping half way for a piece of jerky and some water. The jerky pulled at my molars and released an avalanche of rich teriyaki down the back of my throat.
“Hello and welcome to Willis Tower. One for the skydeck today? That will be $22.00,” said the angelic young woman with moon beams bursting from her eyes, her symmetrical bangs collapsing at her brown line, her teeth as white as a freshly painted gate.
“Let me see here. Do you accept Euros? How about Dirham? Rupee? Okay. Certainly
you take the British Pound. No? Oh, here we go. U.S. dollars.”
“Thank you, sir. If you head around this corner to our left you will find the elevator to the Skydeck where you will have access to our ‘Reaching for the Sky’ theater and the Ledge. Enjoy!”
I will indeed. Goodbye fair maiden of Willis Tower!
I was confronted by a challenge — how to explain to the gondola driver my wish to forego the convenience of said gondola.
“Excuse me good sir but can you tell me where I might find the foot path to the summit?” I asked while bowing at a seventy-five degree angle.
“You mean the stairs. Ah no, man, nobody takes the stairs. You gotta take the elevator. It’ll be here in a few minutes. Just wait here with these people,” he explained.
“You might notice that I have come prepared. I appreciate your concern for my comfort but I have the necessary supplies. Would you like some bison jerky?”
“Nah man, no thanks. I had a Cliff Bar during my break. Yeah I noticed you had a backpack and stuff. You don’t need all that, the elevator is super fast.”
“I don’t doubt you are an excellent guide but I prefer the foot path,” I said while bowing at a ninety-degree angle.
“Bro it’s 110 floors. I don’t know if I can even let you take the stairs. It would take you like, all day.”
“I appreciate your concern,” I said while pressing a bribe into the palm of his hand.
“What is this? Like Chinese money or something?”
“That is a 5,000 Japanese Yen note for your troubles,” I said while bowing at a one hundred twenty degree angle.
“Bro I’m not going to Japan. The stairs are over there. Don't tell nobody I told you.”
Another quite day on the trail with the echo of every footstep bouncing off the canyon walls, my cookware clinking together like wind chimes.
At elevation fifty-three I stopped to eat. I unpacked my propane stove and made a pot of beef noodle soup. Rejuvenated by the richness of the broth I pushed through to the top, emerging from the trail purified and clear headed.
Look at all the families taking pictures of the teaming city below. The only record I have of my climbs resides in my muscles and connective tissue.
“Excuse me, will you take a picture of us on the Ledge,” asked a man standing in front of his two children and stocky wife.
“Yes of course,” I said. I set down my pack and took the camera from him. Two children, not unlike my own, stood in front of their proud parents and smiled. Mom and Dad knew how inestimable was this moment, however, to the children it was simply an activity proceeding ice cream and the aquarium.
It was my turn to step out upon the much-advertised Ledge.
I looked down and released my intercessions upon the notorious Chicago winds as I had promised. It was a ritual I had completed many times before. A way to assuage my guilt for being one of the lucky alpinists who made the successful climb down from that once proud New York mountain so many years ago.
The climber has a pact with the mountain. We honor its grace and pay homage to its virtue while it nurtures our earthly ambitions
“I must not linger,” I thought although the beauty of the view enticed me to stay like the Sirens singing Odysseus to crash upon the rocky shores of their island.
The long slog down from the mountaintop of progress awaited me.
“I am the journey,” spoke the winds. “I surrender my life to the climb.”