Tales of the Trails: The Adventures of the Fabulous Five – Pt. 4

I glanced around the arch, circling it several times to find something, anything that would lead me to Arthur. I didn’t find even a clue, and I was becoming more and more worried. Puzzled was more like it. I stood underneath the arch, looking through to the other side, and I saw a breathtaking view of Mt. Whitney just beyond.  I stepped onto the rock and stopped directly under the arch. Suddenly, I was overcome by a strange sensation–something like AMS (Acute Mountain Sickness).  The weird thing about it was that I wasn’t at a high altitude, so there was no reason for me to experience those symptoms.

I thought that perhaps if I stepped through the arch I would end up passing through to some other world where I might find Arthur.  Then I thought better of it.  How silly a thought.  Being a writer, sometimes I let my imagination get away with me.  But maybe it wasn’t such a silly thought after all.  It was obvious that Arthur was close, yet not so close.

Joyce!

It was Arthur’s voice again.  He sounded more desperate this time.  I had to do something, but I was afraid to go it alone.

“Guys!” I shouted.  Eddie, Farrah and Gina emerged from the boulders.  “I think I found Arthur.”

“Where?” Eddie stood behind me at the arch.

“Follow me,” I said.  With that, I stepped through to the other side of the arch.  Immediately, the wind was sucked out of me and I felt as if someone had grabbed hold of my lungs and squeezed them with all their might.  I was engulfed by a blinding light and my head was spinning as I was sucked into some sort of vortex.

I heard a deafening roar and then, suddenly, everything just stopped.  I thought I was dead, but then felt something warm and rugged on my face.  When I realized it was the ground, I knew I still had life in me.  But I couldn’t move.  I opened my eyes and glanced around, but everything was a blur.  From what I could make of the surroundings, it seemed as if i were in the same place as before.

The sun was blazing hot and I desperately wanted to get up, but I couldn’t.  I could feel my arms and legs, so I knew I wasn’t paralyzed, but for some reason I was immobile, no matter how hard I tried to move.  I was suddenly gripped by fear as I realized that there was no sign of life and no sign of Arthur.  I wondered why I heard him earlier, but now that I was in this “place,” I didn’t hear a thing.  I didn’t even know what became of Eddie, Farrah, or Gina.

The one thing I did hear was a gunshot.  It was distant at first, but then another shot rang out that seemed much closer.  Dangerously close.  I then heard what sounded like a stampede, then more shots, getting ever so close.  I knew at that moment it was time to arise from the dust, but I still couldn’t move.

I tried to speak.  “Arth—”  It was no use.  I could barely form the word on my lips.  The stampede grew closer and closer, until I could feel the earth trembling beneath me.  I heard another gunshot.  This time, I could almost feel the bullet pierce the air right next to my face as I struggled to will myself up from the dirt.  I’m dead, I thought.

Suddenly, I felt a strong set of arms wrap around me and I was lifted from the ground.  My vision was still blurred, so I couldn’t make out the figure.  I was being shaken as the figure ran with me and then whisked me across something hard.  As I began to fall over, I felt myself being held up, supported by a warm body pressed against mine.  A slew of gunshots resounded, causing my ears to pop with each release.

“Yah!” the man shouted, and we began to move–or rather gallop–across the desert.  At that moment, I knew that I was riding a horse.  What I didn’t know yet was who had just risked his life to save me?  And where was he taking me?  More importantly, where was Arthur, and was this mystery man going to take me to him?  Or had something terrible happened?

Life on the Edge…(Chapter 26-Serpents and Scorpions)

I didn’t do any hiking for about two weeks after I returned from Yosemite.  It wasn’t because I was sore; I had very little soreness, which got better after about a day or so.  I didn’t hike because I had reached a goal that I had spent months preparing for.  It’s very difficult to motivate yourself to do things when you don’t have a goal or a purpose.  I had grown complacent and didn’t want to exercise at all.

Do it again.

I heard the voice of God speak to my heart.  What?  Again?  Why would anyone want to put themselves through that kind of torture another time?  Then, it came to me.  I would start training to do the hike again the next year and purpose to finish in less time.

It took me about 13 hours to finish the hike, not including the time spent at the summit.  For most people, it takes less.  I decided that I was up for the challenge.  I got up one morning, put on my hiking gear and went on one of my favorite trails: a five-mile hike in Santa Clarita.  I went during a weekday, so I hiked alone.  Sometimes I do that.

It felt good to be back on the trails again and inhale some fresh air.  Of course, the air wasn’t as fresh as it was at Yosemite, but it was better than breathing in smog.  I noticed that I fared much better on the uphill than I had on that hike previously.  I didn’t have to stop as much to catch my breath, which was a good sign.

When I had made it almost to the top of the ridge, just past a fork where the trail split, something in the middle of the trail caught my eye.  I almost stepped on it as I thought initially that it was a big stick.  When I realized it was a snake, I immediately stepped back a few feet.  At the time, I didn’t know what kind of snake it was, but it didn’t matter.  To me, a snake is a snake, and they are all ugly and disgusting creatures.

Although the snake didn’t move, I knew it was alive.  Thankfully, it didn’t lunge at me.  I took a picture of it and went back to the fork in the trail and took the other path.  The trails converged later, so it wasn’t a big detour.  That was enough excitement for one day.

I didn’t necessarily fear the snake.  I just didn’t want to have to deal with a snake bite, especially while I was out in the wilderness alone.

I have given you authority to trample on snakes and scorpions and to overcome all the power of the enemy; nothing will harm you.
Luke 10:19 (New International Version)

Life on the Edge…(Chapter 25-Beauty for Ashes)

The wind was beginning to pick up and it was getting chilly, so Andy, who had taken the lead, suggested that we head down the rock so we could start the 8-mile journey back to the car. After all, we still had a five-hour drive ahead of us that evening.

I changed my socks, strapped on my backpack and got ready to leave. I knew going back down the cables was going to be fun, but I almost forgot something very important. The rock! It was still in my backpack and. I told the others and asked them to wait while I found the perfect spot to leave the rock.

I set it on a boulder and took pictures of it for the memorial. Then, I left it there, along with the painful comment that nearly destroyed my life. I didn’t even look back. It was no longer my burden.

I walked toward the cables with what I had dubbed the “Fellowship,” Andy, Bre, Mike, and our new addition, Ms. Rosemarie, who had decided to ride back to L.A. with us.

I was again first to get on the cables. Going down wasn’t as bad as I thought it would be. The biggest challenge getting down was the crowd. There were people coming up as we descended and everyone had to stay inside the cables, so it got a little congested. There were occasional weirdoes climbing up outside of the cables and they were pretty much free to do so since there were no rangers present to monitor the situation.

When I reached Sub Dome, I took pictures of everyone as they came down from the cables. The mission had been accomplished and I felt so much lighter.

Although I ate some of the food I carried in my backpack and drank more water, the reason my backpack was lighter was because of the burden that had been left behind. The rock was small enough to fit into the palm of my hand, so it wasn’t very heavy. However, what the rock symbolized in my life was a heavy burden and it was now gone.

To console those who mourn in Zion, to give them beauty for ashes, the oil of joy for mourning, the garment of praise for the spirit of heaviness; that they may be called trees of righteousness, the planting of the LORD, that He may be glorified.
Isaiah 61:3 (New King James Version)

Life on the Edge…(Chapter 24 – On Top of the World)

When I made it to the top, I was immediately welcomed by a fellow member of Team Half Dome. He thought I had turned back and was thrilled to see that I’d made it.

Gretchen was next to come up, followed by Andy, Bre and Mike. Gretchen’s husband was waiting and we all cheered when she came up. I was so proud of her. Like me, she overcame her fears and dared to do the impossible.

No chance at all if you think you can pull it off yourself. Every chance in the world if you trust God to do it.
Matthew 19:26 (The Message)

Walking on the summit of Half Dome, which stood 8800 feet above sea level, was like walking on the moon.

I had never walked on the moon before, but I could just imagine the moon’s surface looking a lot like what I was standing on. The surface was a lot bigger than it looked from afar. It was probably the size of about 3-4 football fields.

We met up with Ms. Rosemarie and the rest of Team Half Dome, but most were ready to head back down. I had surprised everyone. They were certain I had turned back. I can’t say I blamed them for thinking that. They just didn’t know me very well.

Since Andy was our driver, he said that we would stay at the summit longer to give us all a chance to take it all in and enjoy the euphoria of the moment. I saw little Katelyn and her family and they were excited to see me there as well.

I took a few moments to explore the surroundings, then I did the unthinkable. I went to the edge and guess what? No fear of heights. I laid down flat on my stomach and peered over the edge. I held out my camera and took a picture of the valley floor below. I guess it didn’t dawn on me that I was hanging over the edge of a 4800 foot sheer drop.

I backed away from the edge, got to a seated position, and carefully scooted over to where my legs could dangle freely. Andy came up and asked if I wanted my picture taken. “Sure,” I said. He stood behind me and I smiled up at the camera. I told Andy I wasn’t scared and he said that he was because of the vantage point where he was standing.

My risk taking didn’t stop there. I went and stood on the Visor and had Andy take my picture there, too. I had said that I would never, under any circumstance, go on the Visor. If you’re not familiar with Half Dome, the Visor is this rock ledge that juts out over the sheer drop. Walking onto it is like walking the plank. However, I wasn’t scared. I was free of the fear of heights and it felt so good.

Therefore if the Son makes you free, you shall be free indeed.
John 8:36 (New King James Version)

Life on the Edge…(Chapter 23-Paying it Forward)

I took a few pictures, ate a little bit and drank some water. It’s easy to become dehydrated at high altitudes and develop altitude sickness, which I was prone to. However, the altitude no longer affected me. I was wired and ready for the cables.

It was a comfort to me that the cables were so crowded. I knew that if I happened to slip and fall, there would be people behind me to break that fall. I didn’t want that to happen, of course.

I rejoined the group and saw that Bre was talking to a lady that I had met previously on the trail. Her name was Gretchen and she was sitting on a rock at the base of the cables. Apparently, she and her husband had gone up the cables together and Gretchen got scared early in the ascent.

She decided she couldn’t do it and came back down. Her husband continued up the cables and was probably at the top already. Now, Bre was trying to encourage her and talk her back into going. I got after Gretchen.  (If you look to the right of the crowd in the picture above, you’ll see Gretchen sitting on the rock.  She is wearing a white hat and a dark blue jacket.)

“What do you mean, you’re not going up?” I said. “You have to go up. If I can do this after all that I went through back there, you can do it, too. I am not going up those cables without you, Gretchen. You’re with us now, and we will help you.”

I was determined to not let Gretchen sit on that rock and miss out on her victory. I meant every word I said to her, that I was absolutely not going up those cables without her. She was one of the people who encouraged me way back when I was contemplating giving up and I was giving it back. She must have realized that I wasn’t playing and that I wasn’t going to leave her alone because she got up and stood with us in line. I was so happy that she chose to give it another try.

Andy agreed to go up behind her and act as a safety net, while I went ahead of everyone. I was first on the cables and Gretchen was right behind me. Bre and Mike followed behind Andy. I looked fear in the eyes and laughed in its face.

About halfway up the cables, I felt confident enough to take out my camera and snap some pictures. Yep, I know it was probably foolish of me, and I saw no one else doing this, but I just had to get those spectacular shots. I even snapped a picture of myself on the cables.

Even though I walk through the darkest valley, I will fear no evil, for you are with me; your rod and your staff, they comfort me.
Psalm 23:4 (New International Version)

Life on the Edge…(Chapter 22)

We rejoined the guys and headed toward Sub Dome. To say those freakin’ steps were brutal is an understatement. The best way that I can describe them is that they were stairs carved into a huge rock leading straight up into the sky, or so it seemed. They made the Mist Trail and Nevada Fall steps seem like steps in a kiddy park.

I saw healthy-looking, athletic people stopping multiple times on the way up to catch their breath. And, of course, every couple of steps, I had to stop. I kept waiting for Bre, Andy or Mike to complain or say something, but neither of them did. They were so patient and true examples of God’s love and grace.

Finally, we saw the light and the end of those crazy steps. What was funny to me was that I had miraculously gained a fresh wind. I also didn’t fear heights as I thought I would up there, at least not where we were thus far. We hiked up Sub Dome to the saddle, which connects Sub Dome to Half Dome, the “mother lode”, as some call it. I couldn’t believe my eyes. We had finally made it to the cables. There was a line, so we didn’t get to just latch on and go up. We had to wait a while. However, the wait turned out to be a good thing.  A very good thing, indeed.

Life on the Edge…(Chapter 21)

Bre pointed to Andy and Mike, who were waiting for us just ahead. I didn’t want the guys to see me all messed up like that so I grabbed some baby wipes out of my backpack to clean my face. Then, we went and met them.

They were happy to see that I had made it, and I was overjoyed to see them. I caught a glimpse of what was ahead, the Sub Dome steps leading, figuratively, straight up into the sky, and the famous Half Dome cables.

I almost choked. I told my friends I didn’t think I could do it. They insisted that they would not go up without me. I told them I would be slow and need to take frequent breaks. They were so patient and gracious that they were even willing to take the breaks with me and not complain about it.

My next concern was that I had to go to the bathroom. I had needed to for a while, but I had spent enough time in the outdoors that I was trained to hold it for as long as the entire day if I had to. I absolutely refused to use nature’s potties. (Hey, I might be an outdoorsy girl, but I am still a diva.)

The nearest bathroom was in Little Yosemite Valley, about 3 miles away from where we were. There was no way I was going all the way back there. I would normally just hold it, but when I took one look at the feat that stood in front of me and thought of my fear of heights, I figured it was best to cast off my daintiness for the moment, pick a tree where I would be well-covered, and just go. I didn’t want to get stuck halfway up the cables, get scared, and then wet myself. The scenario was terrifying.

Andy couldn’t believe that I was actually desperate enough to use nature’s bathroom. A couple of days before, we had a conversation about that very subject. I swore that under no circumstance would I ever use it anywhere other than an actual bathroom, whether it’s a port-o-potty or a brick and mortar restroom. I told them that I would hold it all day if I had to and that I had done it before, several times. Andy couldn’t stop laughing at me.

Bre volunteered to be my lookout. I asked her to help me find a tree where I would be hidden. We walked downhill a bit and spotted a big tree. No one was around and the guys certainly couldn’t see me from where they stood. I was grateful to have baby wipes and some zip lock bags with me. They came in handy. I had brought the baby wipes for my face and hands. I had no idea I would need them for something else.

Life on the Edge…(Chapter 10)

Ms. Rosemarie and I hiked together until we met up with the rest of the group at the Vernal Fall Bridge. I had made it a point not to take many photos on this hike since we had done a portion of the trail earlier in the week and I had already taken, literally, hundreds of photos. My aim was to concentrate on the hike itself and not worry about trying to be the next Ansel Adams.

The sun had come up by the time we made it to the bridge, so we put away our headlamps. The next leg of the journey was the Mist Trail, which would lead us to the top of Vernal Fall. This was my third time hiking the Mist Trail, the second within three days that week. On the Mist Trail was a seemingly endless set of about 700 or so stone steps that passed right in front of the seriously gushing Vernal Fall.

The reason for the trail’s name is that you get doused with mist from the waterfall as you proceed up the steps. Depending on the time of year you go, the mist could be refreshing or it could make you turn into an icicle. Most people wear ponchos or some other type of rain gear when going up the steps. I wore my poncho, but even with that protection, I was soaked to the core.

I got separated from the group on the Mist Trail steps. Even Ms. Rosemarie passed me up this time. It wasn’t because I was taking pictures, though. I got left behind because of the frequent stops I made to catch my breath. Those steps were no joke. I was also feeling more and more fatigued. The lack of sleep was catching up to me in a major way.

This is my favorite stopping point before ascending the next set of steps.

Finally, I reached the top of Vernal Fall where I got to take a bit of a break with the rest of the group. After we passed the Emerald Pool, which is a cool-looking emerald colored body of water that supplies Vernal Fall with its beautiful, gushing torrents of water, we began the ascent up toward Nevada Fall and another set of stone steps. There were probably about as many steps there as at Vernal Fall, if not more.

The view of Vernal Fall from the stone steps.

Looking down from atop Vernal Fall

The Emerald Pool filled with logs

After we crossed over the Silver Apron Bridge, I fell further and further behind and became so fatigued that I was a bit disoriented. I was coherent, for the most part, just extremely exhausted. I made slower progress and became worried that I would never catch up to the group.

Getting ready to cross the Silver Apron Bridge toward Nevada Fall

Before I completely gave out, I remembered the Gu drops I had stashed into my backpack. Filled with caffeine, Gu drops give you a fresh wind when you feel like you’re on your last leg, which I certainly was at that point. I ate a package of Gu drops as I walked through a section of trees. I could hear the waterfall nearby and when I got a visual of it through the trees, I knew I was getting closer to the next segment of stone steps.

Nevada Fall beyond the trees

I cringed at the thought of tackling yet another set of those atrocious steps when I already felt like I had been run over by a truck.

Life on the Edge…(Chapter 7)

I’m an avid rock collector and consider myself a geologist by hobby only as I love exploring rock formations and seismic activity underground, caves, waves, hurricanes, tornadoes, all of those exciting natural phenomena.

I rode out Hurricane Ike in Houston 3 years ago and slept peacefully while pellets of rain and fierce winds beat against the house all night long. One of my friends, who shall remain nameless, was so scared that she camped out in the bathtub cowering under a mattress. I laughed when I saw her, but she was genuinely frightened. To me, it was a great adventure.

Many years ago, I was in my parents’ driveway and a rock caught my eye. I didn’t know what it was at the time, but thought it looked interesting because it had crystals in it. Later, I discovered that it was just a piece of limestone with some quartz deposits. The rock became a part of my collection.

Throughout the years, I’ve moved several times, but somehow this rock stayed with me. I even brought it all the way to California when I moved here. I had forgotten about the rock, to be honest. Prior to the Half Dome trip, I spoke to Lynn, our leader, about a long time issue that had been troubling me. It was an issue that I didn’t think had much significance in my life early on, but I came to the realization that it really did. It was a lie that somebody told me when I was in high school that I accepted as truth.

I was in tenth or eleventh grade getting some books out of my locker when a classmate stopped what he was doing to look me in the eye and tell me, “Do you know that you are hideously ugly?” I wasn’t even bothering the guy. I was at my locker minding my own business. I had never really spoken much with this boy at all, so it was beyond me why he would even say such a thing when I did nothing to provoke him. I was very hurt, but I let it go, or at least I thought I did. Little did I know that Darren’s comment would haunt me well into my adult life.