Part II: Realization, Regret, and Redemption
Dehydration and exhaustion had Sparkle seconds from a full asthma attack.
The fear settling deep in our chests, we had not seen a single hiker in nine miles and had zero cell service. If she had an attack, I would not have been able to get help.
Letting Sparkle catch her breath, we sat on a cluster of roots to eat our last snacks and drink the last drops from our water bottles.
Alas, the time to rise and continue forth came too quickly. Although we were only traveling at half speed, the inclines did not get easier.
There was a point which Sparkle held my pack so I could pull her, much like a dog pulling its owner. I remember my legs burning and screaming at just the sight of an incline—I remember thinking:
“I must keep us safe.”
Of course I felt the entire weight of our decision. I was raised by an outdoorsmen.
I knew better.
I knew better.
I knew better, and yet, there I was fearing for our safety.
As if reading my mind, Sparkle uttered, “We should have listened to our future selves.”
Just when all hope was lost, the sheer cliffs faded away and we stumbled into a gravel intersection. The map at the fork indicated a nearby ranger station.
Newfound energy and hope, our adrenaline spiked again. It was 5:10pm and the sun had already dipped behind the tallest mountain—our timing could not have been better.
After a ten minute, easy, flat walk, we trudged into the cross road and found our weary, ragged selves in a parking lot.
Let me just tell you how rough we looked:
About twenty middle schoolers were gathered with chaperones at the station. They all took double takes, one student piping up, “I do not want to do that trail—LOOK AT THEM!”
Sauntering into the ranger station, our first instinct was to immediately chug bottled water and use the restroom. The morning felt so distant—like Sam and Frodo, we felt we were at journey’s end but really needed an Eagle to carry us the rest of the way.
So, we went to find our Eagles.
A man smoking a cigarette seemed nice—rather, he neither cowered at our appearance nor seemed to have a car full of kids.
“Excuse me,” we stammered, arms supporting each other, “We cannot finish our trail—she had an asthma attack.”
The man raised his eyebrows.
“Our parking lot is only a mile south of here. Could you please give us a ride?”
He raised his brows higher.
“We have cash.”
“Sure,” he flicked his cigarette at the ashtray, “Just let me check with the wife,” he sucked in the smoke and looked at us, “What happened?”
“We did more than we should have,” we followed his eyes as he turned his attention to a concerned-looking woman walking towards us, “My wife,” his cigarette snuffed out in the ashtray.
“Who are you?” she let her eyes unapologetically scale our appearance.
“They asked for a ride,” he pointed, “A mile that way.”
“No—that’s the opposite direction we are going,” slamming herself into the car, the husband shrugged and followed suit.
We sauntered back into the ranger station.
“Excuse me,” I continued to ask the ranger for a ride.
“No can do, ma’am. You’ll have to finish out the trail,” he continued with his paperwork without a second thought.
“But it will be dark…”
“No, ma’am. I cannot leave the station.”
Rather than burn anymore time, we headed out. Our hearts sank at the sight of the trailhead. The dark embrace of the boughs suddenly seemed filled with terror, bats darting forth into the young, dusky night.
Just as we began descending into the cloak of the forest, we heard a sound. No—a voice.
“Wait! Wait! Stop,” the older ranger approached, face red, “You guys really do not look like you’re going to make it. You’ll probably get lost,” sweat trickled from his brow, “Just wait at the benches and I’ll give you a ride once the shift is over—that’ll be in twenty minutes.”
He drove us back to the car, acknowledged our ability to make it as far as we did and gave some well-deserved advice against our decision making.
Now, what did we learn?
We learned to neither go against the plan, underestimate experienced travelers, nor overestimate ourselves. Due to our follies, Sparkle and I never hit a trail without a medical kit, 48oz. water bottles, a map, or at least six snacks and a sandwich.