An Unlikely Pair on the Pike
About the Guest
What great lengths would you go to connect with your kids? David Pierce talks about the incredible experience he shared with his 15-year-old daughter, Chera, climbing the 13-mile trail to Pike’s Peak.
David PierceDavid is an adjunct English professor at Middle Tennessee State University. He was the guest writer-in-resident at Taylor University in Ft. Wayne, IN in 2004 and again in 2007, where he taught a two-week course in crime writing. He also works as a writing mentor with the continuing education curriculum at MTSU known as The Writer’s Loft. Currently lives in Murfreesboro, TN with his wife Chonda. Their daughter Chera recently married and their son Zachary attends a nearby university.
What great lengths would you go to connect with your kids?
An Unlikely Pair on the Pike
Bob: When David Pierce’s daughter in her mid-teens came to him and said, “Let’s climb a mountain together.” He had a choice to make. A significant choice.
David: I did sense that we were at a point here where she was developing her world, I had my world. She could stay busy in her world all the time and I could stay busy in mine, and we could just cross at dinner table or something like that. It was an invitation. And, there was something in me that said, “You need to do this. Even though it’s hard, go ahead and do it, and see what happens.”
Bob: This is FamilyLife Today. Our host is the President of FamilyLife, Dennis Rainey and I'm Bob Lepine. David Pierce shares what happened on the side of Pike’s Peak and in his own heart as he shares his story today.
And welcome to FamilyLife Today, thanks for joining us.
Dennis: You’d better watch your “P”s and “Q”s on today’s broadcast, Bob.
Bob: Why is that?
Dennis: We’ve got an English professor in the studio with us. I mean, my goodness!
Bob: And you think I’d better watch my “P”s and “Q”s?
Dennis: I’ll take that.
Bob: I’m going to turn it right back at you baby! Right back at you!
Dennis: I’ll introduce our professor David Pierce and welcome him to the broadcast. Welcome David.
David: Thank you very much.
Dennis: You don’t understand Bob’s jousting with me. I grew up in Southwest Missouri where English grammar was taught as a third language. I didn’t exactly have the best of grammar when I started FamilyLife Today. But now, it’s flawless. It’s absolutely flawless.
Bob: It is, impeccable.
David: I can hear that. Now, I do grammar on paper. When I speak I don’t do a whole lot of decent grammar. When I mess up people always point it out, “Hey, you’re a professor, you should know better.” So my defense is, I was speaking dialect, and I get away with that. So, you can use that.
Bob: Whatever works for you.
Dennis: David is a professor of English at Middle Tennessee State University. He also teaches at Taylor University in Fort Wayne, Indiana. So, you commute a couple of times a year.
David: Right, I’ve done that a couple of times now.
Dennis: He and his wife live in the middle of Tennessee to be able to teach there. He’s written a book called Don’t Let Me Go. I really liked what you’ve written here. Because I read the book that started you out on this journey, Into Thin Air.
Dennis: John Krakauer, I’m a fan of his. I love his writing. But I nearly froze to death while reading that book. It’s the story of how several people lost their lives on top of Mount Everest. But that caused you to begin a journey that ultimately ended up with you climbing some mountains. Right?
David: It did. I was in my office minding my own business when my daughter, who was 15 at the time, came in. She had that book under her arm. I saw it, I saw the title. I’d heard about it, but I hadn’t read it yet. But I knew that something bad happened, and people had died. She came in, and I said, “What do you want?” She said, “Dad, can we climb a mountain?” I saw the book and said, “Really, after reading that you still want to do this?” She said, “Yes.”
She was so determined. She had done the research and she said, “You know, there’s a mountain out west called Pike’s Peak. I read that there’s a trail all the way to the top. At the top is a souvenir shop that serves ice cream. I thought, “Well, how hard could that be?” She was so determined, and I knew she had her heart set on it. So, I said, “OK, I will.” And, that was a turning point. We went and got matching backpacks, and I thought “This is going to be a fun trip.” So we flew out there a couple of months later, caught a cab to the trail head and started up.
Dennis: Wait a second, we’ve got to have a little background on your family.
Bob: Did you just buy backpacks, and say, “Let’s go to the top of the mountain,”? Was there any preparation?
David: Training? Chera was on the track team. So, she was running, she was training. We had moved into a new house so I was doing some landscaping. She said, “Dad, don’t you think you ought to run or train a little bit?” I said, “Well, I’ve been doing some gardening.” She said, “I don’t know if that’s going to be good enough.”
Dennis: Yes, pulling those turnips, that will get you ready for climbing at about ten thousand feet. That will get you ready.
David: I did have to apologize later, I said, “You know what Chera, I think you were right. I don’t think planting shrubbery is the proper training for climbing a mountain. But, we didn’t know what to do. She had a dream, we had an internet map, and we said, “Let’s just go climb this mountain. Let’s go knock this out.” This is what she wants to do. I’ll do this with you.
Dennis: I think, before we get on the mountain, we have to have a little background on your daughter, and your family. You used to have a show that you performed at your place.
David: We did, the name is no surprise, I don’t think. “The Pierce Family Show.”
Bob: Not very creative…
David: Well, she was four and I didn’t want to get into a lot of metaphors and things like that.
Dennis: I’ve got a synonym finder that you could use.
David: I could have used that, yes. But, we would play this game in the living room that was a mirror on the wall, and she was three or four years old. So, I would hold her on my hip. We would come running onto the screen, which was the mirror. We could see ourselves. I’d say, “Welcome everybody to the Pierce Family TV Show! My name is David.” She’d go, “My name is Chera!” We’d wave and smile and everything.
It was a talk show, kind of like this. We would interview people. I said, “Today we are going to interview…” and I would think of something, and I thought of, “…the man who lives at the top of the volcano.” She was so tickled with that. She would ask all the questions. She had a spoon for a microphone, and she said, “OK, what do you eat for dinner?” And I’d say, “Hot beans.” “What do you drink?” “Hot chocolate.” Everything was hot, hot, hot.
So, we would do this, and we’d take a commercial break. I’d go over and straighten out her hair and fix her makeup and everything. Then we’d run back out in front of the mirror. I’d give a little tease. I’d say, “Alright next week, we’re going to interview…” “…the man that lives at the top of the volcano.” She couldn’t get away from that. I think one time we interviewed the man in the hot air balloon, but she asked him, “What is the man at the top of the volcano doing right now?” She was obsessed with the man at the top of the volcano.
Dennis: Well, as you talked about this idea of climbing the mountain, what did the rest of your family think about it? Did your wife think it was a great idea?
David: I don’t think she knew the extent of this mountain climbing thing. I had downplayed it a little bit. “There’s a trail, a walking trail. We don’t need ropes or anything like that.” I talked about the ice cream at the top.
Bob: Let me just back up. There are a lot of 15-year-old girls who might pop into their dad’s study and say, “I want to climb a mountain.” And Dad will say, “Well, maybe someday we could do that.” And, he’s just waiting for her to leave and then hoping she’ll forget the dream. You really latched onto this and thought, “This is something significant here.” You didn’t just let it die.
David: Right. I did sense that we were at a point here where she was developing her world, I had my world. I sensed that she could stay busy in her world all the time, and I could be busy in mine, and we could just cross paths at the dinner table. She was 15. There was something in me that said, “You need to do this. Even though it’s hard, go ahead and do it and see what happens.”
Dennis: OK, so we’re at the base of Pike’s Peak, you actually made this journey on Labor Day 1999. What’s the altitude where the trail starts?
David: I think we started out at about 6700 feet.
Bob: You’re going up to 14+ right?
David: 14,110 feet.
Bob: That’s just a mile and something up in the sky.
Dennis: And change, yes.
David: Yes, as the crow flies.
Bob: But you weren’t flying the way the crow flies.
Dennis: That would be a turbo-prop crow.
David: Yes, it sounds easy when you say, “Oh you start at 6,000 and go up a mile, no big deal.” But, the trail is 13 miles long.
David: And, you’re gaining in altitude of a little more than a mile. So, there was a lot of zigzagging on the side of that mountain. Back and forth.
Bob: How far into the hike before you thought to yourself “Gardening was not sufficient to be ready for this adventure.”
David: I think it was eight feet, because the way we started.
They told us the trail head is “just over there.” We were so new at this. I didn’t know what a trail head was. I had my backpack on, the man said, “It’s over there.” We saw a path going through the weeds. I said, “That must be it.” So we went over there, and it was an eight foot climb, and it leveled off.
Chera got up and slipped and I caught her. She got up again and said, “Come on Dad.” So I got a little running start which is not a good idea at 6700 feet. I grabbed a hold of the grass and pulled myself up. We got to the top and I was bent over. I felt like I was dying, and I was wheezing. I said, “Maybe that’s the toughest part of the trail, right there. Maybe this is where everybody dies.”
So we walk through this little meadow, and we come to a big parking lot. Across the parking lot is a big sign that says, “Trail Head.” And Chera said, “Oh there it is Dad!” I was already dying and we hadn’t even started officially. So eight feet.
Bob: And you realized, I should have done more than gardening on this.
David: Yes, I thought, no shrubbery in the world could prepare you for this.
Dennis: So, tell us about the first day’s hike. How far did you go, how high were you by the time you finished?
David: Our goal was to get to the base camp. It’s called “Bar Camp.” It was about seven miles up. That was our goal. So we headed out, and we stopped a lot. We had lots of water and we would stop and meet people and talk to people. For the first couple of miles we met this fellow we called “Encyclopedia man.” Chera was making up names for people all the time, and he was Encyclopedia Man because he knew everything about the trail.
Dennis: Did he know about the guy on top of the volcano?
David: No, he didn’t know about him. We did have that over him. But, we would stop. The first time we met him we said, “I wonder how high we are?” He said, “You are at 7,102 feet.” And we thought, how do you know that? His buddy was with him, and said, “This guy knows everything about this trail.” So we tagged along with him for a while. Then, finally he peeled off and went back.
We got to a point just before camp, and we were sitting on this big rock, and these gentlemen are coming down. They said, “Oh, you’re sitting on depression rock.” We said, “Why do you call it depression rock?” He said, “Because if you look back there…” He turned around and pointed up. You could see the peak of the mountain. And you can see a little tiny rectangular building. That was the souvenir shop where the ice cream is. He said, “That’s where you’re going. And it’s so far away it’s really depressing isn’t it?” We were thinking, “Oh yes.”
Bob: I’ve obviously never hiked this trail. Most of us haven’t. I’m thinking that it’s like a normal hiking trail except there are parts where the incline is pretty good.
Dennis: Well, what makes it difficult, Bob is there are parts of this trail where there is no oxygen.
Bob: Is that right? You run out?
Dennis: Am I right David or not?
David: Oh yes. We lost oxygen a lot. There are parts that are not too bad. Then there are parts where it is mile after mile of “Stairmaster,” where one is always stepping up. Of course we had on backpacks—mine was 40 pounds, hers was 30—so that pulled us down. And every step up the air is a little bit thinner.
Bob: You got to base camp the first night right?
David: We got there right at nightfall. We made it.
Bob: Was the weather OK?
David: Until we went to sleep. We had the tent set up; we ate some crunchy stuff that was supposed to be chicken teriyaki. We ate part of it and decided that was enough to keep us alive.
So, we climbed into our little tent. And, just as we were lying there, ready to go to sleep, it began to rain. It was a two-man tent. So, I crawled out and pulled our backpacks in and just laid them on top of us. So, the first night was miserable. We came out the next morning and the altitude had swelled us up.
I looked and my hands were swollen. I thought, “Wow, that feels weird.” And Chera looked at me and said, “Dad, you don’t even look like yourself.” Her face was all puffy and everything. The first night was miserable.
Bob: Was there any thought of, “OK we’ve gone to base camp, let’s just call this the adventure and be done with it.”?
David: No. No. Chera would not entertain that. We figured, we have the whole weekend, we’ll just take our time. But, we did scrap breakfast. They serve breakfast at base camp for like $5 bucks. So I grabbed $5 bucks and said, “Let’s go get some breakfast.” So, we had pancakes and then headed to the summit.
Dennis: As you headed to the summit on the second day, you encountered a series of steps?
David: Yes. As you get toward the top, there’s a thing called 16 Golden Stairs. Now, Fred Barr built this trail back in 1918. What he would do is, he would work in the coal mines during the winter time, save his money to buy dynamite and during the summertime he would blow up rocks to make this trail. We get to the 16 Golden Stairs, and sometimes you are just crawling, getting over rocks and through passages. We got the feeling that Fred ran out of money at about this point, because, there were too many rocks.
Dennis: No dynamite huh?
David: Yes, he ran out.
Dennis: It wouldn’t go off up there, not enough oxygen.
David: Maybe that was it. The rocks were still there Fred.
Dennis: Here is one of my great fears, my great fear is to be climbing a mountain like this and slip and fall. Like a 5,000 foot free fall.
David: We had moments. There are times when I was there I thought, “Did OSHA inspect this trail? Because this is dangerous.” There are some places that are pretty sheer, and you don’t want to get too close. I’m thinking, I’m up here with my daughter, and this is a little spooky, so keep moving along, keep moving along.
Dennis: You’re above the timberline at that point.
David: Right, about 12,000 feet the trees won’t grow up there, and it’s just wide open. Big sky, and you can see miles and miles and miles.
Dennis: There’s a reason why trees don’t grow up there.
David: And that is?
Bob: No oxygen, is what we’re talking about.
Dennis: No oxygen! If there was no oxygen way down there, there’s really no oxygen way up here.
David: That would be good to put in the Pierce Family TV Show. I needed that.
Bob: Did you get from 10,000 feet to the top on the second day?
David: We did. Now, the second day we lightened our load. We left the tent and backpacks and everything at camp, and just took daypacks with snacks and water. So, it was better that way. But, you still slow down. When you get to 13,000 you’re just taking baby steps. But, we could see the summit so it kept pushing us on. That was our goal.
Dennis: I don’t think I’ve ever climbed a fourteener. I’ve climbed a few mountains, but I don’t think I’ve ever climbed one. But, I’ve been up above timberline, and it really is amazing how much energy it takes to pick your foot up.
David: I’ve run a few marathons, and mountain climbing is tougher.
Dennis: It really is and here’s the kicker for me. Where you were, is about halfway up Mount Everest.
David: Right, that does blow my mind.
Dennis: It’s no wonder people perish up there. It’s brutal.
David: I think I’ve heard 22,000 feet your body starts to die. Cells die, tissues break down.
Bob: How was the ice cream?
David: It was wonderful. It was the best. Not only is there ice cream, there are cheeseburgers up there. We almost rolled back down to base camp, because we ate, and it was wonderful.
Dennis: Tell us about how you made it to the top. Was there some kind of ceremony, a father-daughter embrace? What did you do as you made it to the top?
David: We got pretty close and there were some people I could see looking over these rocks. They were not climbers, they were tourists. They were really close to us. I told Chera, “We are almost there, let’s go.” So we give this one last push. When we get to where these people are, I realize, they’ve walked about 500 yards down from the souvenir shop. So, we’re still not there. We kept having these false summits.
So, we found the energy and pushed on. The ground began to level out. We got to the top, and we just hugged each other. Then, we grabbed the first person we could find, gave them our camera, and asked, “Could you take our picture?” We just stood there thinking, we did this. This is what it’s all about.
Bob: Let me ask you, because we’ve talked about mountain climbing and the fun that you had, and we’ve laughed about this. But, the real story here is what happened between a daddy and a daughter as you guys connected over a common activity. Right?
David: Right. It was relationship. These activities, climbing the mountains, running the marathons, it demanded that we spend a lot of time together. This quantity time slowly turned into quality time. We would train for marathons. We haven’t talked about that yet, but these marathons, you would run for hours. We would take three or four hours, chunks of time, and just run side-by-side. Not fast, we were slow runners. And, we talked about everything.
We talked about life, we talked about her school, and we talked about the choices she was going to make about school. We talked about boys. She got so comfortable with me, and understood me so well that one day, she turned to me and said, “Dad I have to confess: I hate to run.” I said, “Me too.” Then we just kept running. But we both realized how painful some of the training is.
Bob: I have to tell you a quick story. I was speaking at one of our Weekend to Remember® marriage conferences back a number of months ago, and I had a guy come up to me and he said, “I remember the first time I listened to you guys on FamilyLife Today. You were talking about dads dating their daughters.”
He said, “I thought to myself, ‘You’re crazy! Dating your daughter. That’s just ridiculous.’” He said, “But, the more I listened the more I thought, ‘Well, maybe I should try that.’” He said, “It’s made all the difference in the world in the relationship that we have as I’ve invested time with my daughters on things they like to do.”
Dennis: Yes, and I’m thinking, Bob, on all those dates I used to take. What a wimp I am because I only took them to the mall, or go to…
Bob: There’s an escalator there too wasn’t there.
Dennis: We went to a smorgasbord. There was nothing uphill about it. But, you know what was good, and this is what really the point of this is. As daddies, we really must pursue our daughters. We have to pursue them on their turf. That’s really what that trail represented. That was her turf. And, you joined her in accomplishing an objective. Ultimately became turf around marathons.
But, the issue is, you found a way to connect heart to heart with your daughter. I think as fathers, we look at our assignment, and what we have to pass on to our sons and daughters. If you don’t have a relationship, you’re not going to be able to make that hand off of truth. It’s why doing things like this—it doesn’t have to be climbing Pike’s Peak—but, find a way to meet your daughter, or your son for that matter, on common ground.
Bob: It does demand sacrifice on the part of the dad. I mean, when your son or your daughter pops in and says, “I have a dream,” and you think, either, “Boy, that’s too expensive,” or “I don’t have the energy for it,” or whatever else, that’s a pivotal moment. What we decide as dads in that moment can shape the relationship for the months or the years to come.
That’s really what’s at the heart of what you’ve written in your book Don’t Let Me Go: What My Daughter Taught Me About the Journey Every Parent Must Take. Where you share your stories, but you also share how, in the process you learned the importance of that relational connectedness between a parent and a son or a daughter.
We’ve got copies of David Pierce’s book in our FamilyLife Today Resource Center. You can go online at FamilyLifeToday.com for more information on how to get a copy of the book. Again it’s FamilyLifeToday.com, or you can call us toll free at, 1-800-FL-TODAY. Because, of the holiday here in the United States, our phones are not being answered today. But if you want to call tomorrow, again the number is 1-800-FL-TODAY, or you can go online right now at FamilyLifeToday.com.
I hope you are enjoying your Memorial Day holiday if you’re listening here in the United States, to FamilyLife Today. We’re going to have to wait until we get back to the office tomorrow to find out if we were able to take full advantage of the matching gift opportunity that was extended to us earlier in the month. We had some friends of the ministry who came and offered to match dollar-for-dollar every donation we received during the month of May, up to a total of—let’s see, they pledged close to $350,000. We haven’t seen the numbers yet but we’re hoping that here in the last few days of May we had enough donations come in so that we can take full advantage of that matching gift.
There is still time if you’d like to make a donation. Go online at FamilyLifeToday.com, and make your donation on the internet. Again, you’ll be helping us make sure that we take full advantage of this matching gift, and your donation will be matched dollar-for-dollar until we fulfill that matching gift pledge. So, if you can make a donation today, go online at FamilyLifeToday.com and let me just say thanks in advance for your support of the ministry. It does mean a lot to us, and we appreciate you listening.
And, we hope you’ll be back tomorrow. When, David Pierce is going to be with us again. We’re going to continue talking about mountain climbing and marathon running, and parenting, and all of the challenges we face in life. I hope you can join us for that.
I want to thank our engineer today Keith Lynch and our entire broadcast production team. On behalf of our host, Dennis Rainey, I’m Bob Lepine. We will see you back tomorrow for another edition of FamilyLife Today.
FamilyLife Today is a production of FamilyLife of Little Rock, Arkansas.
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