The Power of Two


This is how it all ends, I think, doubled over and gasping for air on a sand dune in Southern Colorado, almost 9,000 feet above sea level. Although the altitude didn’t warrant Everest-sized fears, I knew that a wet cough would soon plague me, followed by frothy sputum and respiratory failure. My brother, Anthony, would drag my dead body back to the car, and it would be boxed and flown home to Seattle in cargo hold.

I’d had a good run, but I wasn’t ready for death yet – or more realistically – the pain of continuing on. Throwing off my backpack, I plop down and tell Anthony I’m not going any further.

“But look,” he says, motioning towards High Dune, still 400 feet up. It might as well have been 4,000. “You’re so close to our goal. Do you really want to turn back now?”

I glance up at the wave of sand, tracing the curve to new heights I no longer cared to reach. “Yup. I quit.”

“It’s just the altitude. Take your time, catch your breath, and let’s keep going. You’re halfway there. Summon that inner firefighter.”

“I haven’t been a firefighter in four years. I’m out of shape. I can’t do this.”

Anthony walks a few steps ahead in silence, camera in hand, and I urge him to go on without me. I’ll wait. The sand is warm in the late afternoon sun, inviting me to nap until the burning in my lungs subsides and the wind cools my forehead. I’m inclined to accept, but he won’t allow it.

After a few minutes my heart rate slows, and the hot, pounding migraine I’ve been experiencing fades into a tolerable pulse, so I stand up and trudge forward. Fifty yards later, I fling myself onto the sand again. “I can’t go on!”

“You’re a Hanson. Yes, you can.”

“I’m not you. I don’t climb all the 14,000 foot peaks in Colorado on the weekends.”

Anthony glides over the terrain like an agile Sherpa, a natural mountaineer whose effortless pace I can never hope to match, and summits the first small dune we’ve been ascending for the past hour. He calls down to me, “Come on!”

A couple in their early 50’s, tan and serene, is sitting a few yards away, holding hands and gazing over the Great Sand Dunes vista below. I am holding my new Nikon and think of capturing the view from right there, but it isn’t really the shot I want. The real view is at the top and I need it for my portfolio, but continuing seems impossible. I’d cry, except I’m sure that would just make my headache worse.

“The peak of High Dune is right there. IT’S. RIGHT. THERE. You can do this, Jolene.”

The woman looks over at me and says, “You can’t come all the way up here with a camera like that and not go to the top. Keep climbing.”

She’s right. My camera, which I’ve dubbed “Fancy” after the Iggy Azalea song (to my shock and dismay, “Nat Geo” did not stick), was purchased specifically for travel photography, and I would never be content to know that my little brother beat me to the top and was capturing my shot. I’d have to make it or die trying. So I power on, taking ten slow steps at a time. Ten steps, break. Ten steps, break.

And then, something unexpected happens. Within feet of the summit of High Dune, the ache in my lungs, legs, and head begins to disappear. I run. Passing Anthony, I think about cartwheeling across the peak, except the running makes me lightheaded.

“See, I knew you could do it!” he yells after me.

I spin around, the 360 degree view transporting me to other worlds, and I feel like I could just as easily be somewhere like Morocco. With each actuation of my camera shutter, I forget about the struggles of the past hour and a half. I’m an explorer again. A traveler. A photographer. Not some defeated middle-aged woman crawling, half dead up a mountain.

Later, as we begin our descent, the couple in their early 50’s passes us. The woman says to me, “If you can do it, I can do it. Thanks for the motivation.”

Sliding down the dunes, shoes filling with sand, I think about how important it is to surround ourselves with people who believe in us, people who push us beyond our perceived limitations, people who won’t allow us to give up. I would have given up had it not been for Anthony. I have always carried a lot of pride in my individuality, the strength in the word ONE. But, I have to concede that there are some things only accomplished by the power of two.

Thank you, Anthony.



Gasping for Air
Gasping for Air


My brother and I at the Great Sand Dunes, Colorado
My brother and I at the Great Sand Dunes, Colorado







20 comments on “The Power of Two”
  1. Richard Little says:

    A belated thanks for this, Jolene. If we get together, we can share Southwest stories . . . including the Great Sand Dunes. Well done! Dick

    1. Hi Dick! We should get together soon. I have had spotty RWB attendance these last several months, and I’d like to catch up on your writing… and hear a few SW stories. 🙂

  2. Way to rock the dunes and the photos! Fabulous!

    1. Thanks, Dawn!

      Btw, your vacation pictures from this year are giving me all kinds of ideas about where I’d like to travel next.

  3. Jolene,
    So glad you made it back 🙂
    wonderful photos, I love the last one…. very nice.

    1. Thanks, Kim! I’m glad I made it back too! It was totally worth the pain for the pictures I got out of it.

  4. Go micro for thirds it’s so much easier to carry, and in all honesty for most folk (read just about everybody) it’s more than enough and capable. The majority of images made end up on social media where the size is irrelevant.

    The post made me lol reminds me of a trip I made with a not to fit friend, great shots and a superb location.

    1. Thank you! I think before I climb anymore mountains on photography expeditions, I’ll spend some time in the gym. 🙂

  5. Jolene — I loved this post, story and fabulous photos! I can’t get my comments to post from your blog itself. More later when I do 🙂

    — Ann (from the pitch conference a year and a half ago in NY)

    Antoinette (Ann) Fromm, Professional writer & editorial consultant (h/o) 412-963-7378


    1. Hi Ann! Thanks for visiting my blog again! I’m going to send you a message via email so we can catch up. 🙂

  6. Obviously it was that big heavy camera that slowed you down. Great photos!

    1. That D800 is a beast! You’re probably right. 🙂 Thanks, Kari!

  7. avian101 says:

    That was great Jolene! Good for you! 🙂

  8. Pam says:

    wow! Gorgeous shots, really superb. Way to be tough, Jolene 🙂

    1. Thanks, Pam! Maybe I should start running with you… My brother wants me to climb a 14k mountain with him next time I’m in Colorado. I don’t want to die…

      1. Pam says:

        Anytime you want to run Padden with me, just let me know 🙂

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Google photo

You are commenting using your Google account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s