Wednesday, June 18, 2008

Donner, Party Of Twelve…

I’m supposed to be reading an excerpt from Hemingway’s “Hills Like White Elephants,” a story that I am completely convinced he wrote while A) inebriated & B) playing MadLibs, but, instead, am going to amuse you, Loyal Readers, with an anecdote about a recent happening in my life. I mean, it’s what you come here for, isn’t it?

*ahem* I said, ”Isn’t it?”


For the past two years, against all common sense I have volunteered at our church’s Wednesday night 5th & 6th grade youth group in spite of the voice screaming in my head to run the other way. It’s so difficult to fight the urge to put them all in a burlap sack & throw them in the river rewarding to see the blank looks on their faces look of joy on their faces as we give them candy in an attempt to bribe them into sitting still for five seconds lead them down the path of righteousness.*

[*I kid, of course.]

[A little…]

Anyway, we had a deal with the little hellions kids that whomever said a set amount of Bible verses from memory would be invited to a barbeque/hike at the end of this year’s session. We were to meet at one of the gems of our little town, the highly touted local soccer ‘complex’ (which is pretty much one weed choked field; man, I’ve gotta move somewhere else) to set up & then trek on over to the trailhead. When I found out which trail we were going to be taking, I pointed out to another one of the group leaders that this particular trail, according to the local trail map, was a ‘red’ trail.

Now, let me ask you – when has the color red ever signified anything good? Stop lights are red. Communists are red. Infections are red. Red is typically a color indicating ‘alert’ or ‘danger’, right? The red on this trail proved to be no exception.

The red on my face as we reached the first switchback after climbing what seemed to be a straight vertical ascent was a good indication of the danger my heart was in of popping out the top of my head.

We all started out in a tight little group. As I made it to the first switchback, the group had turned into two groups: the first being the trail guide, kids & most of the other group leaders & the second consisting of me & one other leader. He stayed behind with me either because he thought I was pretty cool & wanted to kick it with me or he was wanting to make a note of where I collapsed so he could retrieve my carcass on the way back - & let the kids poke me with sticks & laugh.

Initially, trying to play it cool, I’d stop when I needed to get my pulse down below 200 & take a few pictures (I figured I’d document my last moments on Earth for T to cherish). About ten minutes later, I gave up the charade, as the sound of me gasping for air & clutching my chest kind of ruined the illusion that I was just stopping to take pictures. I would’ve gladly passed out & fallen into the brush on either side of the trail, were it not for my innate dislike of being eaten by rattlesnakes.

We finally caught up with the rest of the group at a level spot in the trail where I decided that I’d uh…set up base camp & sent the rest onward. One of the kids was going to stay, but decided to go along with the rest. I guess the thought of climbing another 800 feet straight up sounded better than keeping the coyotes from eating my body after I keeled over. Kids these days, I tell you; no sense of adventure.

As I stood there, alone with only the sound of the wind through the tall grass & the machinegun pounding of my pulse in my ears, a voice that I hadn’t heard in a long time started speaking. It was the voice of the explorer in me, the explorer that, when I was a kid, would’ve had all of the hills & mines in this area thoroughly explored & mapped out; the explorer who always wanted to see what was over the next hill. So, at the behest of that voice, I pushed onward & upward from my comfortable little flat spot. About a hundred feet later, when met with another nearly vertical climb, the explorer in me, who apparently hadn’t looked in the mirror anytime lately & noticed that he was about a hundred pounds heavier, pressed me to go on, saying “It’s only a little further! We can do it!”

The explorer in me was then issued a severe beat down by my common sense & sense of self-preservation, bound, gagged & forbidden to offer any input for the rest of the hike.

Soon, the others were making there way on down the hill & I proceeded to do the same. As it was on the way up, I was soon passed by one group & left to forge my own way down. (At least this time there was another group a ways behind me, so I didn’t feel like a complete loser.) Now, most people will tell you that it’s harder to go down a hill than to climb one, saying that it’s hard on the knees trying to control your descent. While this is true, going downhill didn’t cause my aortic valve to nearly burst, as going uphill did. The way I see it, I can recover from knee replacement surgery a lot quicker than I can a heart attack.

I finally made it back down, just in time for one of the leaders to return from dropping off the first batch of hikers. We went back to our picnic area, ‘qued up some hot dogs (which probably didn’t do my heart any favors, but, hey, I could at least breathe & my case of jelly legs had momentarily ceased) & then called it a night.

So, since this entry didn’t start out with “Day 2: Rations dwindling. Have eaten all the children. Forced to eat own socks & a soup made from rocks & sweat. Can’t go on much longer,” I’d say that the hike wasn’t a complete wash. I even learned something in the process:

If anyone ever suggests taking the red trail again, I’ll stay at the picnic area & cook up dinner.

Ooo…maybe some cinnamon chili or squeeze cheese nachos!