“What the hell do you guys think you are doing?”
I stopped my boots from sliding on the gravel trail I was forced to a sudden halt on. I lifted my eyes; torn away from the ground beneath me, to met the stare of the imposing figure above me.
“Don’t you know where this trail goes? What the hell do you think you are doing?”
I watched as the mix of sunbeams and dust flecks seemed to swirl in hazard lights around his wide brim cloth hat. He was standing towering over me as I balanced myself on the incline just below his stature. His hands were gripping tightly turning his flesh to a white sweat as he wrapped them around the handles of his hiking pole. I nervously took him in as he held his ground smack in the middle of the narrow trail. From his REI brand cargo pants; beige with a black tell tale zipper giving away how they can be modified to shorts if needed, to his down jacket with egg designs to weather all conditions from hot to fridged. To the blue tube wrapping around from his back pack connected to what I assumed was his camelbak full of water to rehydrate; he reeked trail guide ego creating mountain man. And there he was engulfing me in his glory: standing as mountain ridge lines surrounded him.
“Seriously. You might be able to do this trail. Maybe. Maybe you could let’s be honest but what the fuck do you think you are doing with bringing those damn kids on this trail?”
And there it was. There it was as the words kids banged back and forth between ear drums inside my skull. I turned to look below me at my gang stomping up behind following my lead on the trail. My eight year old daughter had paused with her hands on her hips and her long and strong leg popped in confidence on a rock covered in dirt and sweat. I had not noticed how she somehow had made her way to stand right beside me and now gently rested her torso against mine. She was holding me up with her tiny body as I felt myself crumbling. She was my empathetic yet incredible confidence child. And as the winds blew fire upon my ever diminishing self-esteem; she saddled herself right beside me, as close as she could without crawling herself into me. Behind her was my husband, a now weary tall one, who held hands with our son Monkey and guest daughter Ella. They were a interesting sight the three of them with the miles of where we started far below us painting a unworldly backdrop. His tall and lanky white skin blushing the fail pink of a sunburn stood in contrast against Monkey’s Mexican-Cuban and Ella’s caramel mix of Black-Caucasian hue. They could be twins, Monkey and Ella, the both of them at four years old with battling curls. Monkey’s Cuban heritage made lush ringlets cascading long down his back. While Ella’s black ancestors bestowed her a crown of tight curls surrounding her face in all their glory.
“I hike this trail every week. This is my trail. And you have no right bringing those damn kids on this trail. It is too dangerous. Turn around. Turn around now. You need to just stop and turn around”
This was what prompted the onslaught of words. A aggressive recipe of trail self proclaimed owner and dismay that our children would in fact tackle routes marked above the easy scale. I opened and closed my mouth barely remembering I still must in fact breath the slender air at 9000 and some change elevation. I am known for my quick and often acid tongue that is witty and wordy; yet as the wind gusted hair to my hung mouth tasting of shame and guilt, I found no words would form.
“Oh this is easy. Trust me. This is nothing. We are pros.”
I stared gaping at my daughter as her voice so strong came forward from such a tiny creature with her wanderlust blue eyes, perfectly crafted button nose and pouty full lips. The wind blew a gust delivering her objections to the harassment to all ears listening. I looked from her to the man with my neck on a liver not sure what would break neck or who would back down first. The patriarch of the mountains stared stunned as well as he opened and closed his mouth in unsaid objections. As time slowed to a pace unimaginable we all stood motionless as she curled her lips to a sweet yet unafraid smile.
“Well thank you sir we hear your concerns and will be moving along”
The tall one began a gentle pushing using his words rather then his hands as they stayed full of Monkey and Ella gripping to him terrified. My daughter took the led and skipped past the hiker as rocks began descending down the side of the drop off. She sang – have a good day – as I lowered my head to avoid eye contact. The shock of what had just occurred left me confused and disgusted as I wiped my mouth dry and willed my feet to push forward. The four of us mumbled our way past him as his glare of scorn burnt my back more then the sun. He refused to step aside in his last battle against us. The rocks slide more in the awkward dance we started to move around him on the trail but we refused as well to relinquish to his demands to turn back. We made our way lumbering past the self proclaimed king of the hill. Slow in movement and slow in grace; we made our way past him.
The day continued. We continued. We kept hiking upwards. Our destination was the ridgeline above us. I calculated miles to go with every slight glance I dared to take from watching the trail sides, my daughters skips and the view surrounding us. The ridgeline played tricks on my motivation to continue rising above us. Every step I placed towards our end point; I watched in surrealism the point of rest impossibly moving farther and farther away. I placed my right foot in front of my left in a repetitive motion. Right and left; right and left. I kept walking lost in the cycle of feet until a sound out of place turned my eyes to gaze upward. But not towards the ridgeline this time. Instead the noise forced my neck to scan the blue skies behind us instead.
“What is that mommy?”
What is that? What is that? I pondered as the sound rose in might among the tree tops. I looked around me as I held a large boulder mighty in statue beside me for balance on the delicate trail with drops on both sides as my body danced back and forth to watch in growing horror what the sound was forming to be.
“It’s a rescue helicopter”
My gut ripped to anger as words not meant for children’s ears battled the sound of chopper wings. The intensity startled the singing of birds quietly. I watched in horror the helicopter taking form as it moved closer to where we were. I tried to make sense of this abnormality that somehow that Mountain man had managed to alert the rangers of us. I tried to wrap the senseless into sense that he would report us for endangerment for daring to try his trail. How could he mark us as such disasters that a rescue was the only logical way we could depart the mountain? The helicopter circled us as I exchanged glances of bewildermeant with the tall one. We were fine. My eyes pleaded. This trail was difficult; yes, but we were fine. His own eyes, a mystery of emotion, held mine without assurance that this was a comical scene where we would laugh about later. A rescue seemed like a extreme waste of time, money and effort. A rescue seemed ridiculous.
I grabbed my daughter’s hand hoping to seep more confidence from her charm as she, in all joy and smiles, waved happily to our observers in the sky. Her laughter was contagious as Monkey and Ella followed in childlike joy. We are fine – I smiled up. I smiled hoping the happiness of grins would in wordless communication inform the rangers to fly on away from us. They would see we were just a family making our way up the trail. No distress or devastation here; they would decide matching our happy mugs. I hoped they would look down from the view up high and see we were just a family on a hike. Nothing more and nothing less. We were justva family as we seem to always be; dirty, not lost and making our way step by step onward.
The helicopter passed us over once, twice, as many times as my skin itched incessantly from red anger biting against nerves. I calculated costs of fuel and risk of lives and all the other true emergency situations wasted in this circling of resources. The wind picked up to gust a pile of leaves away from me. I watched as one leaf with veins of yellow painted throughout its shape lifted and fell; lifted and fell from me. The sound of motor silenced as the birds began to sing once more. I stopped as the tall one adjusted his backpack to unload snacks to the hungry, dirty hands of our children. The helicopter was gone. The leaf flew from me. I looked at my family panting and sweating on a mountain with clouds painting halo glows upon them.
Three pairs of eyes looked up to me. I saw the strain behind them understanding this encounter had robbed the giddy endurance that was needed to walk to many miles at steep elevation. As I studied fallen faced my gut warned me that this was not the end of problems today. I glanced up to the impossibly near ridgeline which promised level footing as well as the point of the loop we begin to descend down. I summed up the length of trail left compared to the rocks we must scramble over. I looked behind the tall ones hunched back to from where we had come from. It looked invisible. It looked like a straight drop. I began to pinch my upper arms in the anxious habit to release never ceasing strain within me. Should we turn around after all that push and punishment? We had fought hard to gain feet of ground. The laughter was gone now I accepted. The joking and exclaims of beauty has been robbed. I looked back up above me. It seemed like the only logical solution was to keep pushing. The top was closer then the bottom and as my gut wrenched to knots I lifted one foot then the other as the march began again.
I began to see shadows of colors along the ridgeline. Our steep trail was feet away from intersecting with the more populated main trail. I heard shouts between strangers as they ebbed in and out of hiking poles clicking. We were so close. I felt my legs move like molasses trying in vain to add levity to the weight. But it was no use as the air around our family grew eerily stale. I knew this silence. The gap between the endless singing, bickering, storytelling of the children. As the silence continued; I knew with dread, it would soon fill with the most unpleasant sounds.
“I can’t go anymore. My legs hurt”
Ella was the first to go down. She let go of the tall ones steady hand and plopped herself on the rock trail. She was our natural nature girl. The first trail she ever ventured on was a magical experience that warms my soul at the thought of it. She will climb and walk and hike and skip for miles and miles without a hint of a complaint. But the mix of mountain man’s terror and th extreme elevation gain of the strenuous trail brought Ella to her knees literally in wails.
One by one all the children, and finally I, fell into tears. We were literally feet from the end of incline but the will to stop holding it all in to simply explode into screaming – evaporated. The tall one sighed as he took in the mess around him. Three girls and one boy in tears of joy anguish. He was not one to give into weakness as easily as his family was. He had always been the rock upon which we depend on. He sighed and accepted the scene without words to comment on the drama unfolding. He picked up Ella upon his broad shoulders. She was our nature girl but she also was our weakest link in terms of experience and strength. He adjusted her legs to grab both buckets and monkeys hand as he pushed past me to continue up the trail to our summit. We were crossing the popular trail to the more popular mountain next door to reach a less popular yet equally beautiful summit instead. I followed disheartening cussing under my breath but loud enough for the world to hear if I am being completely authentic. I was thankful that we usually choose less popular trails to give us much needed privacy from peering onlookers. But in this moment I was conflicted with the understanding that less popular meant more difficult which started this last few miles of shame. I stopped to scan the air for helicopters. My paranoia cutting my insides. I lowered my head to avoid open mouth stares of other hikers as we shuttled by as quick as sloths. Finally the tall one lowered Ella from his shoulders to let go of all hands as the three children collapsed on the bare mountain summit we miraculously had all to ourselves. I looked around me as the pressure exploded within my head. I looked out to the emptiness unable to hold it in any longer. And as cries surrounded me I took in a deep breath and I yelled to the purple shadows of mountains. I yelled one simple word.