(part one is below)
The sun began to tiptoe across my face as the clouds that traced the mountains finally began to move on. The orange glowing inside of my eyelids gently woke me as the sun illuminated them through the mesh screen of my tents walls. Was it really morning already? It felt as if I had just lowered my head a moment ago, and now the day was already presenting itself with a chipper, optimistic smirk. Today was a new day, and there was a trail to conquer. I crawled at out my sleeping bad more slowly than I would like to admit to, and made my way to the campfire. Stirring the ashes revealed warm coals still glowing from the night before. I gathered some wood and got the fire going before the others crawled out of their bed.
Breakfast was the typical, nothing special freeze dried meal that you get from the outfitters, it was amazing! My body was still craving calories from the hike before; at this point peppered cardboard would taste like hibachi steak. Preparing the meal I spilled over my bottle of water, no worries as there is are water sources marked on the map. I would simply fill up my water and purify it then.
Eventually we all packed up our gear, wet from soft clouds that rolled across our tents throughout the night. I didn’t bother rolling my gear up nicely, instead just opting to stuff it into my backpack. I would have to unpack it later and hang it out to dry anyway. My bag today felt much lighter, most of my water, several meals and a few snickers bars I snuck in the middle of the night. Out here snickers are a form of currency, and very valuable. My crew, including our new friend we met on the trail heaved our bags over our shoulders, and hit the trail refreshed, full of energy, and ready for a new experience.
Being at the top of the mountain, we had long descents to look forward to. Instead of dragging ourselves up hill and worrying about exhaustion, we would instead be contending with slippery rocks and steep downhill grades. With heavy packs on your back, a forward fall could be disastrous. The forest began to thicken as we made our way back through the tree line. The woods were odd here. Huge tall trees were spaced evenly apart, and nothing was growing on the ground beneath them. All that was on the ground was dirt. No bushes, no grass, no ferns. It was just dirt. Looking through the now flat landscape through the long corridors of trees all you could see was fog far in the distance in any direction. This is the kind of place that you certainly wouldn’t want to get lost. Still, there was no sense of fear or even concern in my mind. Instead there was this sense of whimsy. It was almost as if I was looking at something out of a fairy tell. Everything looked so fake. The experience was surreal.
Eventually we made our way into a deep valley. The promised rivers were no where to be find. It seemed as if every water source we were expecting to find was completely dry. I was down to one bottle of water. Bobby was completely dry, so I halved the last of my resources with him; a bold move considering I was already thirsty and rationing my drink. Looking up we saw what we really didn’t expect, another mountain and branching paths, all marked white. This wasn’t mentioned on the map anywhere, and we had no way of telling which direction was the correct way home. One path would surely lead us home, but the other could lead us through days of woods, and we were almost out of supplies already. We could not make a mistake now. There was some debate, and no one knew for sure where to go so I called it, and we took the path to the right. I said that I could tell this path lead to the checkpoint on my map, but honestly I had no clue, but I had a gut feeling. It was all that we had to work on so I went with it.
Hours later, it became obvious that this was another one of those mountains that just wouldn’t end. Winding up and around the mountain the hills just climbed and climbed and climbed. My legs were somewhat shaken from the devastating climb of yesterday, and I really couldn’t explain how they were still moving. My last drink of water was used about half an hour ago. I was getting desperate for a drink. Every few miles I would cross another dry creek bed. I considered digging for water, but purifying out here would not be easy, and we wanted out of here before the sun came down again.
That looming sense of desperation once again began to fall on the group, but this time it was serious. Half of us were out of water, and without water our food was useless. If you have not water, the last thing you want to do is eat. It will only dehydrate you further. My lips were dry, and my mouth was parched. By now the sun was above and radiating through the trees a deadly heat. I hiked with my mouth closed to reduce the loss of moisture through my breathing. This made breathing harder but I didn’t have much choice.
Now the day was growing old and tired. Our bodies were once again aching for forgiveness, begging for a drink, and craving a meal, but there was no relief. I was wondering if we had made the right call on the split of the trial. Right path or not, we couldn’t turn back at this point. The day was fading and we knew there was no water behind us. We had to continue on, and on. The trail wound on up the mountains, higher and higher, eventually showing us a glimpse of hope. On the side of the mountain the trees broke, and revealed a might view of an enormous valley. The opening was narrow and restricting of our view, but you could see for miles! Far in the distance, you could see a small hut, or maybe even a house and something resembling a large building even further in the distance. If there are buildings, then there must a be a road somewhere. We may not be on the right track, but at least we are going somewhere that should have supplies. Our moral climbed as we christened another peak. Looking over the top, we were finally greeted with another downhill, a nice change of pace to be sure, but it wouldn’t cure my parched mouth or hungry stomach.
Another hour or so had passed, and no signs of civilization. There was nothing. No trail markers, no litter that some hiker had carelessly dropped as he made his way through, no previous camp spots, nothing. How could this be? We considered our options but still there was only one way, through. Further into the wilderness we walked, legs growing weary, backs getting sore, and minds growing reluctant. Wait, what was that? I heard a faint noise in the background. My heart beat began to rise. My eyes widened and I scanned the forest for signs. I wasn’t sure what I heard, or even if I had heard anything at all. I kept walking. My pace quickened. An energy filled my legs as a sudden burst of adrenaline propelled me forward. My steps were lighter, my stride was longer. I looked back for clues from the others… but no one was there. They must have fell back on that last climb. I looked around, and they were long out of view. I considered stopping, but I couldn’t. My mind raced as I followed the noise. Again, there it was! What was that? Was that it again? Was that just wind? I couldn’t tell, but I had to find out. I began to hike like I had just hit the trail. Dirt and rocks scattered under my feet. The leaves and branches seemingly bent out of my way as I passed. Over the rocks and roots and stumps I hopped and galloped through the woods faster and faster, fueled by adrenaline. At last, I saw it. There it was. It wasn’t the most impressive thing I’ve witnessed but it was strangely warming. I my heart filled with joy, despite it just being hard, hot and flat. It was more than what it was, it was a way out. A road cut through the mountain and severed the trial down the middle. This was what we were looking for; the destination of our trip. We had taken the right trail, and we were only a short distance from the nearest city. I landed on the pavement with a satisfying thud, and took a deep long breath, and released a sign of relief. Eventually the others caught up, smiles on their faces. We dropped our packs in the gravel beside the road, and sat in the shade blissfully, reclining against our packs and enjoying the breeze We shared the last bit of water we had between us, gave rations to our new friend, and laughed as we shared our thoughts about the brutal mountain climb of a trip we just made it through. Cars drove by and looked at us with a strange curiosity, twisting their necks as they strolled by in their vehicles. You could see the confusion in their eyes. A perplexing curiosity we were, crashed out on the ground yet smiling. Perhaps they could not understand the expressions on our faces, the joy and the sheer relief that we were finally feeling, but that didn’t matter. We made it, and we deserved this moment to ourselves.