|These are my feet warts and all.|
By this point I know writings and blogs about my time spent out in nature probably come across in most cases as boring and monotonous in their core. This is entirely understandable because it is undeniably true. However, I love the written word. I love the romanticism of a story, a life, an adventure. Yet at the same time I can find, or at least what I come to believe, the beauty in much simpler things. So I find myself wanting to express and publish what I come to believe as things that may sometimes go unnoticed to a busy or untrained eye but deserve otherwise.
To paraphrase, my recants of days spent doing such things as running half naked(shoes, shorts, phone, light pack, and hat) up and down hills and mountains, ridges and bluffs, may not elicit much thought from most peoples imaginations out there especially in the busy world we currently thrive, or, survive in, but for me it poses as a record of a small glimpse into a day, a week, etc. of my life at that current stage. And that is something that can be lost such as most things. That is why I log these times down no matter how menial, because even on a simple outing there is something to be found, something learned.
In some way or another as humans we are always searching for recognition, allegiance, acceptance. In general we seem to be a very insecure breed us humans, or at least for those of us who have not accepted that enlightenment is a dead art, relegated only to those who follow eastern philosophies. We search for that communal understanding everyday and everywhere. That is why I write. That is why I/we ramble on and on with one another when we find someone with whom we see a mirror of ourselves in, no matter how small or how cracked that mirror may be. And to me, searching in itself, in whatever medium that may be, is enlightenment to a degree.
|My planned route. Thompson Peak the destination.|
I decide that even though I have essentially zero leg strength compared to the past few years of running, and pretty much a empty tank of an endurance base that today I will walk out the door with 80 ounces of liquids in my intestines and 60 ounces on my person, with only 52 of those making the 16.5 mile trek that I have "mapped" out as seen above. Yes, I did say 16.5 mile trek and yes I did say 52 ounces will be available for my purchase along the almost 5,000 feet of vertical gain that I intend on scaling throughout the day.
Now, I don't believe that it is as much ignorance on my part, or blatant disrespect for the land and mother nature for that matter in this instance as it is me just trying to convince myself that I am getting over the crippling health problems that have hounded and sucked every bit of life from me over the last 15 months. See, since the age of 6 when I was involved in a horrific and life changing accident I seemed to somewhat believe that I was somewhat unbreakable, invincible. I enjoyed all the fruits of a healthy body even though I always lived knowing the fact that at one point I was lying face down in a broken heap at the ripe and sunny age of six, clothes torn and matted to my skin, blood purging from gaping gashes in my skin and bone gleaming, jagged, skyward for those in the skies to see and remark upon. I laid there in that intersection millimeters from my maker, seconds from an early exit of a life that I have found to be all too precious, all to glorious at times for one person to take in. Yet, this never seemed to haunt me. I never looked back and said why me? Instead, I took the life that was given and moved on. And I moved pretty well considering. I grew to be a strong, athletic young man with a chip on my shoulder and that I believe is why I found myself on this trail this day, unready and somewhat ignorant to the reality of what lie ahead, but unwilling to turn around. Unwilling to say that I can't handle this life, this day.
I felt good upon reaching Tom's Thumb Trailhead. It was a bit past 8am, which was 45 minutes later than what I had planned on, but other than that everything had fallen into place in regards to the drive, my food, my hydration, etc. I was ready.
Out of the gate I could tell the weather man was wrong and that this morning had a bit more reverberating heat hanging in the hills. I had planned on 80 degree temps at around 8 am but I knew that it had to be upwards of 85 degrees plus already and rising. Nonetheless I set out with the goal of getting a good line in which would be a straight shot up to Tom's Thumb then backtracking back down and tagging The Lookout before crossing back and dropping deep into the rugged canyons heading southward on the East End Trail for a few miles, and a huge super-steep descent, before linking onto Bell Pass and then upward for the ascent up to Thompson Peak. And yes, all of this on 52 ounces of water and this being my first time into these mountains. Can we say nuts?
After a very respectable speed/run up to the iconic Tom's Thumb I lose the trail coming off the Thumb for a bit before finding the thin spaghetti like trail and breezing back to the branch off to The Lookout which I hit at a nice pace considering my fitness. I take in the flora which is drastically different in this area than anywhere else I had seen in the valley with its rich colors and shrubbery and trees that I could not quite put a finger on. I reach the summit of The Lookout and pull from my pack my calories which on this outing was some trail mix as well as some gummy bears. At this point I realize for the first time of the day that the heat is definitely going to play his major role as always. My chocolate and yogurt covered trail mix is literally a melted soupy mess inside of the small zip-loc baggy I had escorted them in. I take in the enormity of my situation at that point which is that I essentially will have no calories for the remainder of the 2 1/2 hours I still planned ahead of me. I am not happy. I move lightly down the trail.
Beautiful sweeping view off The Lookout
When I reach the East End Trail junction I get a bit confused as I find two trails heading south off of the main trail with neither giving me any indication as to it being the East End. Each is a direct shot south and into a deep canyon and each has considerable foot traffic on it. I march off confident that I had taken the East End with a fair amount of trepidation to say the least.
After about 3 tenths of a mile and a deep drop off the cliff face I scramble and fumble to a dead end. I gaze about in the now 90 degree plus weather and curse loudly to the skies as if it were their fault. I turn, shoot a few ounces of water down my throat and pull myself back up the cliff and back to the junction. Once I get to the top I realize that not only am I down to half my water reserves but they are now starting to warm up. This is unsettling. I drop off the canyon, head down, with high hopes of making it to Thompson Peak.
The loose scree and steep terrain carve at my heels and fill my soles with their likeness but I find footing where I can and survive the swerving switchbacks and get spit out into the valley floor amongst the washes and the others who can't scale their way out. The temps are rising fast and I can feel the sun which is visible from every possible angle as the valley floor is vacant of anything remotely considered an obstruction, just rolling hills and sharp valleys flowing from east to west. I search endlessly for a spot to pull off for shade and a few swigs off my bottle. Nothing. I feel the first real tinges of weakness and stress creeping into my quads as I hit the first gradual uphill and I try and blow it off as just a bad patch. I know I am wrong.
My mouth is dry, skin raw as I reach the junction of Bell Pass. Deep in the back of my mind I know I am in trouble today. My legs are feeling the 7+ miles accompanied by the now nearly 100 degree heat. I can only figure that in the canyon a few miles back behind me the temps are even higher. I look to the sky for help, a cloud, a helicopter? None. I tell myself: Call it off! Thompson Peak is not happening! I feel light in the chest meaning my bottles are nearly void of liquids. I pull them both out in unison and find less than a third in each. I make the decision right there to take them inside me before they get even hotter. I put them back empty. As I turn I make the conscious decision to take the trail back nice and easy as I figure if I can get back up to the ridge at the East End connection then I will just walk the remaining way back down to the trailhead which would be mostly all downhill on smooth singletrack.
I clumsily under the baking sun roll past two fellow hikers who must have been in their late 60's along the East End Trail heading back, them coming from my newly desired destination being the ridge above. Sucking up my pride and ego as best I can I trot by with a nod and a hello, keeping secret my death wish which I figure is soon to come. I figure they will hear about it in the news eventually. As take the last switchback before the steep portion of the climb out of the canyon I pause and take note of my physical state and realize that I may be in real trouble today. I know I am out of water and calories and I am physically vulnerable in almost every way. The heat is now flowing through the canyon like a rogue wave sweeping everything away, everything crushed by its weight. I look back down the valley and see that the hikers have turned around and are heading back up the East End. I feel a sense of closure at the sight.
The East End Trail looking east
The switchbacks carry a punch and I glance around frantically looking for a direct line to the ridge. I am pissed off! I am weary. I am way past dehydration, and most importantly I have no options other than to move forward with nothing in the tank. I look over my shoulder.
"What the hell? Are they stopping?" I say as I realize the hikers are just a small colored blip in the valley below.
Never before had I put myself in this much of a predicament on any trail, any run. I was starting to feel dizzy. I was now considering pulling my phone from my vest and calling in a rescue. I looked up the canyon and the ridge seemed no closer than it did 30 minutes before. What had taken me 12 minutes to descend had now taken me over an hour to ascend and I still had over third of it to scale. I look back again and find the men stopped on the trail below, hands motioning back and forth emphatically showing their amount of energy reserves dramatically to and from. I realize they will be of no help. I find a large dome shaped boulder off the right side which garners a touch of shade and slump to a heap at its base. I sit for minutes. Nothing changes. Clutching for a hand hold I stumble up and lean into the earth and continue up the canyon.
"Do you have any water by chance?" I hear and wearily glance over my shoulder after finally gaining the ridge.
Ashamed of myself I reply.
"No I don't. I am actually completely out." I say this acting as if I had planned it that way.
"Why are you out?"
"Yes. Completely!" She says under the sun as her head drops balancing on her walking stick.
I realize that this woman is in trouble quickly. Suddenly I feel a sense of energy filling me.
"How long have you been out? Do you have food?" I say inching close to her.
"Over an hour or so. I got lost and have been out for over 4 hours or so now maybe? I don't know?"
I realize that letting her know my current state will make things even worse so as I reach her I take note of her age and her physical state. She looks to be in her mid to late 40's and based on her stature she seems to be very fit and agile. She is drenched head to toe in sweat which leads me to believe that she at least had been hydrating well throughout her dilemma. She is English. London I presume?
"Well, how are you feeling?" I say looking into her eyes. "Can we keep moving? I will stay with you so don't worry!"
"I don't know. I am so dizzy. I am so fucking dizzy!" She manages with the last of her breath.
I realize now that my state is taking a backseat for the remainder of the day and I need to suck it up. I look over at her and she is bent over, 90 degree angle, staring into the fine dust.
"Well, this is a well used trail so someone has to be coming down it soon." I say this with a slight bit of uneasiness as I have not seen anyone in over 2 hours other than the two crazy retired army generals meandering down inside the canyon below us.
"If we can just make it up to the ridge up there than it is all downhill from there to the trailhead."
"I just don't think I can do it. It is so hot. I don't think I can do it. I need to sit down."
I watch her body break down over a rounded nub of a rock, her legs swaying back and forth with her head. I glance up the trail. Someone has got to be coming up this trail soon. Right?
"Let's just take it nice and slow. We can do it. Once we get up to the ridge it is less than a mile back to the lot. We can do it." Just at that moment I hear a voice. No voices. I look up the trail and 100 yards off see two men scurrying down the trail without a care in the world.
"Here is someone here! I will ask them for water for you, don't worry."
As they draw near I call out to the lead runner who is in his late 40's.
"Hey guys do you by chance have any water? She is out of water and needs some badly." I say pointing to the mass beside me.
"Oh! Yeah, yeah. Is she ok? Are you out of water?" He says with no hesitation as we all as humans are out to help one another in times like these.
"Yeah, I am out too but she needs it, I am ok."
He reaches into a fanny pack around his waist and pulls a full 20 ounce bottle which glistens and sparkles in the mid afternoon sun as it changes hands. I quickly uncap it and hand it to her and she puts it to her mouth without saying a word.
"Thank you so much guys. Are you sure you don't need it?" I say almost like a loving father over his ailing daughter.
"Don't worry about it just get her down safely!" He says looking me in the eye as if he did all he could do and now it was my turn.
"Oh my god, water is the best thing in the world!" I hear from behind my turned shoulder.
"Please take some? You need some too!" She says reaching out to me with flailing arms.
"No don't worry about me you just take as much as you need. I will be ok."
As we stumble up to the ridge again she says:
"Please take some." Bottle outstretched, less than 6 ounces remain.
I take one solid drag off the bottle and hand it back feeling less of a man.
"Ok, now all we have to do is just take this last mile or so very easy. I know it will be hard because it is so steep but we can do it."
She nods and we drop down the trail.
"What part of the U.K. are you from?"
"Yeah." She says obviously missing my question in her delirious state.
"So what part of the U.K. are you from? I noticed your accent." I say again, trying to lighten the mood.
"Mmmbasstonbury." She mutters, leaving me no closer to my desired answer.
As we inch closer down the trail I realize that she seems to be nodding off again. I spy her stumbling and catching herself a few times and realize that though we are only 3/4 of a mile from heaven, she is in hell.
"Are you feeling ok?"
I realize she is not ok. She stops in her tracks and collapses to her knees and I pivot and run to her.
At this point I think to myself how we on earth sometimes find each other. How we find love. How we find our fate. How we find distress. How we find hate. I wonder why today it was us that found one another? I am no hero. Why me?
I hover over her shielding her from the sun who above watches her with care. I touch her shoulder which is now dry, no signs of sweat.
"I don't think I can make it. Please go for help. My car is the yellow car at the end of the parking lot. It is unlocked. I have water inside."
"Does it have ice? I have ice water in my truck, a lot of it." I pronounce.
"No. No ice." Is all she can muster.
"Here, give me your stick. Give me your bottles. You don't need to carry these!" I realize today I am a hero.
My feet pound the sand and lift off and I find a rhythm that had eluded me all day. The trailhead seems miles away when I glance up under the unrelenting sun but I push on.
As I come over the last hill about 75 yards up I see a man, arms folded, and what looks like a small child glancing up the trail at me. My feet flow over the hot earth. As I get closer I lock eyes with the man. Suddenly I hear:
"Have you seen a woman in a pink hat up the trail?"
I screech to a halt half annoyed. I pause to think.
"Umm?" Then it hits me. "Uh, yeah, she is just up the trail up there."
"My god! Is that her stick?"
"Yeah, I was carrying it for her. I came here to get her water. She is in bad shape."
"Mommy! Mommy I have water for you!" The young child cries out letting go of his fathers hand and running up into the heat and earth.
"Mommy I love you!" I hear as I am bent over heaving.
I don't bother looking over my shoulder as I race off under the shaded trailhead awning and head straight for my truck not realizing I had dropped my water bottle in the dirt as I stumbled, finally to its resting spot at the far east end.
"He saved my life out there." Johanna says to me with her sons arms wrapped around her small neck, gripping tightly, too tight for her state.
"I was done for."
Gripping her husbands hand I knew I had done more than any race or mileage could bestow upon me. I was satisfied.
From my truck I watch the husband start up the yellow unlocked car and then her and the boy, in the other vehicle, slowly backing out of the parking space, pausing at every movement in the vehicle, the days events evident in every movement. I chuckle slightly as I see her veer off down an unmarked road before pausing and realizing her miscue, husband in wait. Their colors stream slowly across the desert and off out of sight.
I realize that this day had gone as planned.