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They Wouldn’t Leave Me Behind

May 11, 2020

I stood on the side of a mountain propped up by my walking stick. The stick was the only thing keeping me upright. I was wheezing and fighting to fill my lungs with the thin air at 6500 feet.

It wasn’t just the thin air. After all, I live at 5000 feet above sea level. It was the weeks in quarantine, but also the sedetary lifestyle that a computer guy naturally settles into. Oh, and middle-age didn’t help.

But, here I was striving to pull my overweight body and a pack that felt about 20 lbs heavier than it had when I left home, up a mountainside. Not exactly a mountainside. More a canyon. But, mountainside or canyonside, the hike was killing me. . .slowly. Like over years.

Not a lot of people were out hiking Grove Creek Canyon on a Thursday afternoon. The trail behind me was empty, snaking along the side of the canyon. Ahead of me the trail wound around a bend in the trail.

The bend in the trail had been my goal. I figured I was maybe 50 feet from it when my legs and lungs decided I should take yet another break. I would later calculate that my hiking speed was 1.5 MPH on the trip up the canyon.

But, I wasn’t alone on this hike. Somewhere up ahead were two of my sons. I announced I was making “the baldy hike” and asked who wanted to go with me. My daughter had to work. Another daughter wasn’t much of a hiker. One son had another conflict. That left my oldest son and my second youngest.

The thing is, one son is 20 years old and was always athletic. The other son is 17 and is an athlete. He will be playing Varsity cornerback on his 6A High School football team in the fall. That’s assuming there is a football season in the fall.

The point is that, my two sons could have jogged up this trail, despite it being 4 miles long and over 1500 feet in elevation change. And they were somewhere up ahead. Possibly far ahead by this point.

My pulse was back down in the normal range and my lungs were no longer on fire. I took a step up the slate covered path. The path at this point was barely wide enough for one person. On a clear day, there was no trouble staying on the path.

We’d made this trip multiple times. My 17 year old son first made the hike when he was 12 years old. It wasn’t a clear day that day. It was in May, but not the warm Spring day we enjoyed today. That day, it was raining. And it was cold. I was in better shape that day. But, my son wasn’t. I put my oversized gloves on his freezing hands and tried to cheer him up.

He was miserable. And as we made our way along the narrow path he stumbled against the canyon trying to stay as far from the drop off as possible. He was cold, soaked through, and afraid of heights.

How about if I walk on this side and you hold my hand?

But, is there enough room for us to walk side by side?

Oh, sure. I’ve got plenty of room. Let’s go.

Some people think it’s wrong to lie to your children. Those people have never been stuck on the side of a mountain in a rainstorm with a scared 12 year old.

For parts of the hike, every other step was knocking rocks down the side of the mountain. Fortunately, in the dark and with the rain, he couldn’t see my feet. As for me, I just tried to focus on helping him. I had the same walking stick that day in the rain as I was using on last week’s hike. It kept me on the trail and kept both of us headed up the path.

I trudged on alone up the path. As my lungs started to burn again, I thought how long ago that other day had been. He had needed me back then. He couldn’t have made it without me. Now, I literally couldn’t keep up with him. He certainly no longer needed me.

Once again, I picked the bend in the trail as my goal. Fifty feet was a long ways as I went one agonizing step at a time, clinging to my walking stick like some magical wizard’s staff.

Five more steps. . .four more steps. . .almost there. . .three more steps and then I’ll take another break. . .why do I put myself through this every year? . . .two steps. . .I wonder how far ahead my boys are now?. . .one more step. . .SUCCESS. . .I staggered around the corner.

And I stopped.

Not because I was tired. Although, I certainly was. There standing in the shade provided by the shale cliff to the left stood my two sons. They weren’t stopped because they were tired. They seemed not the least bit annoyed at the wait.

For that’s what they were doing. My sons, whose hands I had held as they made this same hike years earlier, were waiting on me now.

You guys don’t have to wait for me, you know.

Yeah, we know. Ready to go, or do you want to take a minute?

That’s why we do this hike every year.

Rodney M Bliss is an author, columnist and IT Consultant. His blog updates every weekday. He lives in Pleasant Grove, UT with his lovely wife, thirteen children and grandchildren.

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(c) 2020 Rodney M Bliss, all rights reserved

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