Rice Stadium, Houston

I must have been 16 when I was training for the equivalent of an Outward Bound-esque backpacking trip in Washington State. I had easily failed out of the majority of my Freshman classes and was headed to my local public school. My parents didn’t know how to reach me, so they basically placed me in a 12 step program for teens. I didn’t traditionally “use”, but our communication was so flawed that this solution was basically one step away from boot camp or boarding school. I think my Mother called it “positive peer group”, but the more I think about it, the more I feel like it was a small cult. There were plenty of affluential families who were battling the grips of addiction and self harm.

The group was filled with the teens who smoked cigarettes on the steps of a church, never had money for a real meal, and swore that we were all working on ourselves. Both tragic and a little badass at the same time. We’d stand around, talk our shit and play video games. But at least we weren’t getting high! The program was run by a former dope fiend who had cleaned up, became a Licensed Chemical Dependency Counselor and subsequently fell in love with extreme sports and the outdoors. He regularly would sky dive and seek thrills which in his explanation kept him from using. It was an exchange of behaviors in attempt to gain endorphins. He wasn’t perfect, but meant well.

Every Summer, there would be a push for teens in this program to attend a wilderness excursion. Each Spring, we would fundraise to make the travel possible. Raffle Tickets, benefit dinners, etc. Honestly, it was as much of a support seeking fundraiser as any I have seen. We hustled to make our trip happen.

Other than fundraising, we also would workout together to physically train for the backpacking in higher altitude than Houston’s 100% humidity and below sea level status. not being far away from Rice University, we would run the trail surrounding campus and then climb every single step of that stadium.

I once knew how many steps were in that stadium, but the years have washed that away from me now. My calves would scream and shake, so much that I thought I might die. The key was to convince one’s mind that the body could handle the pressure.

This week we are listening to “The Climb” by No Doubt from the Tragic Kingdom LP. Pictured here on limited edition clear vinyl. I selected this tune not only because I have recently began to rediscover Gwen Stefani’s contribution to music, but because I think that the dramatic nature of this performance is perfect for the emotional perspective of any teen thinking they might make their last breath at the top of the next set of concrete stairs.

Tragic Kingdom was the first CD that I ever wanted to buy with my own money, though that honor went to another title. A friend showed me their copy and I was entranced, even if I was borderline too young to really understand hits like “Spiderwebs” and “Don’t Speak”.

Ultimately, as I returned to Rice University for the shot, I remembered the highs of actually completing those workouts. I would be exhausted, but they prepared me for the road ahead and ultimately the prize of the trip I worked hard for. And in a way, I guess that was indeed “The Climb”.

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