Monday, July 16, 2007

A Coming of Age Story, Part Two

Note: For part one, click here.

The trail began innocently enough. It went gently uphill at first, and before long, opened up to a beautiful view of Lake Como, a local favorite for scenic family picnics and water sports. After this magnificent viewpoint, the trail dropped steeply into a deep and rugged canyon. The scenery was spectacular, and the bottom of the canyon contained a beautiful rushing stream, but the canyon walls radiated the hot sun. The two began to go through their fresh water faster than they’d anticipated—and the streams at this elevation all carry giardia, a microscopic parasite not to be trifled with—so replenishing their supply of water was not as simple as it might have looked. They forced themselves to cut back significantly on their water intake.

They hiked on.

It wasn’t long before the father took the boy’s bedroll off his pack and carried it in own arms, lightening the boy’s load and improving his balance significantly. It was a very practical act of love and the boy was grateful, but he was still tiring easily. Hiking with the pack was more difficult for him that either of them had anticipated. They were forced to take frequent rests. The father was concerned that they weren’t making very good time. They still had a long hike ahead of them.

At one point, the boy stumbled and sprawled headlong. He landed painfully on the rocky trail and was pinned beneath his heavy pack, unable to get up. The father removed his own pack and knelt down to help his son. The boy was not injured. He was scraped up, bruised and exhausted, but otherwise intact. The pair thanked God.

The boy needed a break to compose himself after his fall. They sat in silence for a moment, the father considering what he would have done if the boy had been seriously hurt, the son struggling with self-doubt. Finally, the boy pulled out his pocket knife and began to whittle a smooth handle into the walking stick he had found. As the wood shavings flew, so did the boy’s fear, weakness and hesitation.

But the father saw something else flying away—time. He had to let it go and relax. They would take as much time as they needed. Finally, it was the boy, not the father, who announced that the rest time was over and they should resume hiking.

“Let’s go, Dad. I can do this,” he declared resolutely, and then repeated it to himself again and again to reinforce his own resolve. “I can do this. I can do this.”

The father was impressed with the boy’s ability to dig deep within and find the strength that only God could be providing. An attitude of courage and determination was not the boy’s usual manner.

The trail eventually climbed out of the canyon and began the switch-backed ascent up the mountainside. They had been hiking for almost four hours already when they ran into a couple coming down the trail the other direction and stopped to talk.

“How much further to the lake?” the father asked, hoping to hear that they were nearing their destination. The boy, though courageous of heart, was close to exhaustion physically.

“I’d guess you’re about halfway there,” one hiker answered, then looked to his companion for confirmation.

“Halfway?” she questioned doubtfully, “Oh, I think they’re more than halfway by now.” But the father saw in her eyes that she was only being kind, sensing their need for an infusion of hope. They weren’t even close yet.

And the worst was yet to come.

Having brought only one Nalgene bottle apiece, the inexperienced father soon realized a significant oversight. The water purification tablets they had brought to treat the stream water took four hours to take effect, and of course they couldn’t fill their water bottles until they’d first emptied them, so that meant they would have no drinking water for four hours at a stretch. Both of them were sweating profusely from the exertion and heat, so this was a real concern. They decided they would need to ration their water even more tightly and both share what was left in one bottle while the other bottle’s contents were purified. This way, they would at least have a constant supply, even if they had to consume at a more cautious rate.

The steady climb continued.

The trail frequently crossed bare faces of rock and was occasionally washed out by small waterfalls or marshy areas. Hikers would make small piles of rocks in these places, to serve as trail markers and lead the way, but they were sometimes difficult to spot, making the path difficult to follow. Soon after they’d met the other hikers, they realized they had lost the trail. They assumed it would stay close to the stream, so they tried to follow along its banks, but it was slow going, climbing over boulders and fallen logs and fighting through tall weeds. The father was concerned, but pressed on, hoping to pick the trail up again soon.

They stopped and prayed that God would lead them, a sentiment often prayed in regular civilian life, but rarely with the same urgency.

Not five minutes later, they found it again; a heartfelt prayer of thanksgiving was offered up.

They hiked on, drenched with sweat and thirsty, really needing more than the occasional swallow of water that they were allowing themselves. The trail became steeper and more difficult, and the boy was near the breaking point, but he bravely pressed on.

“I can do this. I can do this,” he muttered through gritted teeth, more to convince himself than his father.

They came across another hiker, an older man with only a lightweight fanny pack. He had begun early that morning, hiked the five miles to the lake and was now on his way back down. Unencumbered as he was, he looked like he had barely broken a sweat.

“How much further?” the father inquired.

The man checked his watch. “From the lake to here took me thirty-five minutes.”

He offered to snap a picture of father and son, and the photo shows it all—the exhaustion and weariness is evident on their faces as they try to smile for the camera. Then he wished them well and went on his way.

The boy was encouraged that they were getting close, but the father knew that an experienced hiker in good condition, with no pack on his back and coming downhill, would make much better time than they would. It was already five-thirty. They’d been hiking for nearly seven hours and their packs seemed to grow heavier by the minute. Their bodies were tired and they were thirsty. The father guessed it would be at least another hour before they reached the lake.

The final mile of the trail was surely a step beyond “moderate.” Its switchbacks scaled tortuously across the imposing rock face of the mountainside, winding slowly and deliberately around huge boulders. The trail was so steep that father and son were frequently forced to climb on all fours, scrambling in the dust and gravel and climbing over boulders.

During this last push, they had to rest very often, many times after only twenty or thirty yards. Their progress was painfully slow, but they pressed on.

“I can do this. I can do this,” the boy panted.

When they thought they were almost to the crest of the hill, and wearily climbed what they thought to be the last few steps, they discovered with dismay yet another set of switchbacks leading still upward. They pressed on, resolved not to let the disappointment discourage them. Then the same thing happened again. And again. Half a dozen times they thought they’d reached the top, only to find still more trail looming ahead of them.

Then suddenly, they were at the top. Shining like a jewel before them lay their reward. It was a glassy lake, rimmed by steep cliffs and jagged snow-capped peaks, the most beautiful sight they’d ever seen.

The boy dropped his pack and ran, stumbling, to the lake’s rocky shore. He jumped up and down and pumped his fist in the air.

“We did it!
I did it!
I did it!
It was so worth it!
It was so worth it!
It was so worth it!”


alison said...

Oh my!

Am going to go drink a tall glass of water, just because I can.

Anonymous said...

Congratulations Tano! Good job. Ready to go again?
Uncle Ed

Jeannie said...

An unbelievable feat of courage and exhaustion! Well done, men! So glad you accomplished your arduous journey and lived to tell about it!!!

Eagle-eye Di said...

I read this story last night and loved it.What a beautiful story of triumph for Tano.I could just feel his excitement when they reached their achieved arrival point.It sounds like it would make a nice movie to watch.Congratulations Tano and Andy on your adventure.We take our running tap water like its nothing until something like this happens and makes it a more precious commodity.

Dan said...

Great story...and something I can relate to.

From a purely practical standpoint, for the next hike, I'd recommend for Andy to find a slick carry along filter. I hiked in Yosemite with a buddy a couple of summer's ago, and I went through gallons of water, or at least it seemed that way. He had a filter with a pump where you simply had to find a water source, pump it through the filter, and into your water bottle. Very speedy, and immediate. We filled up from streams, as well as filling up from some water-filled holes in boulders, caused by lightning strikes. It worked great, and I won't go hiking ever again without one.

paul said...

Whew, you kept us on the knife's edge there, Sherry! Good story & well told. Thank you for sharing it.

Well done Chidwick men - way to conquer!