It’s that time of year again – the mountain is calling my family back for the annual Crazy Horse Volksmarch.
I can’t claim a stellar record for never having missed the once-a-year adventure of joining thousands hiking through the woods surrounding Crazy Horse Memorial. Let’s just say that I miss it when I don’t take the challenge.
My family’s introduction to the 10-kilometer trek came more than 20 years ago when a dear friend, Nancy Thompson, invited us to join her for the walk. That’s 6.2 miles for those of you still waiting for the metric system to rule supreme.
While my spouse, our 10-year-old son, Nancy, her daughter Cindy and I wound our way up and down the hillsides toward the emerging image on the mountain, our track-fit 14-year-old daughter jogged out of sight.
After numerous stops for air and water, or an occasional snack, we finally reached the base of sculptor Korczak Ziolkowski’s art in progress only to realize it’s still a long ways up there.
Trudging up the final leg, a startling uphill climb, you suddenly realize you’ve scrambled over more than four miles of rough terrain and the top is still 1,000s of steps out of reach.
Adding fuel to your fatigue are the confident smiling faces of everyone easily trudging downhill while you reach deep for the last of your endurance.
But, oh how it’s worth the effort once you reach the top and look up into those courageous stone eyes of the mountain carving.
The Lakota leader Crazy Horse was never photographed. Ziolkowki’s granite image is a symbol, not of just one man, but an entire people.
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That expressive face was only beginning to emerge from the mountain on our first visit. Our first family photo was taken at eyebrow level.
Over the years, we have continued to answer the mountain’s call. We have walked in sunshine, rain, snow and fog.
There’s nothing so humbling as starting a walk with the mountain shrouded in fog and fighting your way up that trail to reach an invisible goal. Once on top, the same haze that concealed your goal hides your triumph from world but unites you with the somber image of a man whose personal battles pale in comparison to your own.
The children grew up and left home, and soon my husband and I were solitary walkers in a field of thousands.
Two years ago, we were thrilled to have our 4-year-old grandson join us for the walk. He was a trooper. With hardly a moan of complaint, he navigated the entire walk. He still proudly displays his walker’s medal and talks about Crazy Horse and Korczak.
Now, our Crazy Horse weekend starts early. As members of the Black Hills Volksport Association, we’ll arrive at Crazy Horse around 6 a.m. to help prepare for the thousands of walkers.
It’s always a thrill to meet people from across the country and the world who share an appreciation for the outdoors and this remarkable experience.
And, once you come off the trail, there’s no better way to end the day than a stroll through the memorial’s museum, which brings you full circle back into Crazy Horse’s world.