She was not gone yet, but the End was near.
The sky was finally a deep, clear blue, and the warm springtime sun was cooled only by the soft, tranquil breeze that caressed our part of the world. The birds were singing of their happiness at returning home after a long winter vacation. Life was finally springing back into these glorious mountains, and it looked as though the travelers would finally get a chance to finish the trail.
We had already tried twice before to finish this small trail that cut into one of our favorite places in the world. My mom, my brother, and I, however, seemed to be cursed, and the forest persisted in refusing passage to its inner core. The weather had been pleasant both times when we started the trail, but both times it had taken a drastic turn in an apparent effort to stop the intruders on the trail.
Both times, we had hiked about a mile to the top of the first mountain. We had been relaxing on the bank of the clear, bubbling, mountain river that provided guidance for the trail. Both times we were perched at the same spot in front of a small cave, resting comfortably on the soft pine needles, listening intently to Mother Nature's many voices.
It was at this point, each trip, that the sudden, drastic change in weather occurred. It began as a quiet, deep rumble in the distance.
At first, it hardly even sounded like thunder. And even if it were, it was far enough away to not be a threat. But quickly the number of drones increased, and the entire world seemed to shake from the fierceness of the thunder. Next, the sun was gone, and the air, heavy with rain, felt oppressive to the very soul. Then it began. With one, near whip of lightning, and the immediate shouting response of thunder, the Storm unleashed its total fury. We, still perched beside the river on top of the mountain, found ourselves scurrying for safety in the small cave.
The Storm continued to rage only for about fifteen minutes.
Then its forces withdrew as suddenly as they had assaulted.
There were still deep blue clouds all around, and the thunder was still dangerously close, so we decided to get back to the car as quickly as possible, and to try again another day.
This happened twice.
But now, in the beautiful spring, it finally appeared that the third try would be the last noble attempt needed in order to surmount this trail. We believed the trail to be a simple two mile stroll through the woods, so we prepared ourselves for nothing more than an hour or two of hiking.
The trail began at the top of a large waterfall. After enjoying the swollen waterfall from the bottom, we hiked to the top and smiled as the glassy, tranquil river reached a dead end and plummeted with a roar to another river eighty feet below. We watched this wonderful sight for a few minutes, then we started the trail and plunged into the wilderness.
The trail was easy going. We were happy and talking and laughing, and we were ever so happy to be together. The first part of the trail, running alongside the ever present river, was unexciting. But after a half mile, we mounted the first mountain, where our mom found a large rock outcrop. We crawled out to the end of these rocks, and were in awe. We were on top of a very tall mountain, and the outcrop was only about ten feet wide. We had left the river, but by leaning over the edge we could just barely see it far, far below, straight down. By looking up, we could see bright, blue skies. And we were surrounded on all sides by tall mountains. Below us, circling between the mountains, was a lone hawk enjoying the day. We sat for awhile enjoying the hawk, and then moved on down the trail.
We hiked slowly down the other side for some time, and then came back to the river. We continued alongside the river, and then we came to our cave. Humans are so easily conditioned, and we actually found ourselves stopping in front of the cave and looking up in anticipation of another Storm. But the birds were still singing, and the sky was still devoid of clouds. It looked as though we would actually be given an opportunity to finish the trail the third time around. We decided not to stop, and we continued laughing on down the trail.
Now the trail was interesting. Maybe it was the mystery this part of the trail held for us, or maybe it was the simple beauty. Whatever the case, we were definitely excited over the unknown.
The trail climbed ridges and sunk down into valleys. It crossed a couple of small creeks, but it always maintained a close proximity to the river. We were enjoying our stroll, but we were beginning to think we should be reaching the End, when we arrived at a fork in the trail. We had not been faced with any problems up to this point, so it was inevitable that a dilemma would present itself. One fork continued along the river, and the other turned and plunged deep into the forest. My sense of direction told me that the trail leaving the river headed in the direction of the road, and might get us out quicker. My intuition, however, nagged that it was better to stay with the river since it would always lead back to the car if we got lost; it, at least, would offer some semblance of guidance. The decision was left to me, and I decided to trust my intuition. As I found out several years later, if the right decision were the trail that would have led us out of the wilderness quicker, then I picked the wrong trail. But if the correct choice was to follow the trail that would, very symbolically, reveal more about one's journey through this life, then I picked the right trail.
There was more apprehension in the air now. We began to see the trail as something that must be overcome, and not just a relaxing hike. Not only that, but we were beginning to wonder what else the trail had in store for us. We never knew, from one moment to the next, what beautiful sight we would behold just over the next ridge, or what horrible animal lurked just around the next bend. We soon realized, as the wilderness unfolded before us, that we could not possibly predict the events on the trail, so we continued...one step at a time.
Naturally, the trail continued presenting us with just beautiful sights, proving our fears to be unfounded. We were in valleys most of the time, and we would sometimes tread through patches of thick, green Laurel trees, in which we could hear small animals scurrying around in their eternal search for survival. At other times, the river would open into almost swampy areas, and the sparse woods were so very relaxing. The thread of the river was constantly a source for enjoyment, with foaming, white rapids and still, deep pools, we would sometimes just stop and sit on a rock in the middle of the river: a mother and her two sons.
But the stops became less and less frequent, until they finally stopped altogether. We were beginning to get worried because we had been on the trail an eternity: three hours. We did not foresee any End to the trail, and when we did find it, at this point we would still be a long way from the car. With a diabetic brother, very little food, and waning light, my mom and I were becoming seriously concerned about what to do. We decided to keep going, because there might be something to help us at the End. Not only that, but we also refused to let this trail defeat us a third time.
The mood was completely changed by now. We had started the trail filled with joy, laughter, and naiveté, but now our tempers were quickly mounting. We were genuinely scared, and we were reacting with anger; scared that we weren't certain we were doing the right thing by continuing, but angry that the trail might again send us crawling back home. But while our earlier misconceptions of the trail were destroyed, and we were openly blaming each other for getting us into this predicament, we did not let the trail completely break our spirits, and we continued hiking.
At one point, the trail had left the river, and passed into a flat valley. Passing through, with no landmarks around, and very thick foliage on either side, we suddenly heard a strange noise ahead and around a sharp turn. We stopped and listened, and then we heard the noise again, this time closer. It sounded like several birds, and I was immediately afraid that a bear had scared some birds. I decided, however, that I would take the chance, round the turn, and accept what came to pass; after all, we had to find the End.
The trail had been completely deserted throughout the hike, and we did not foresee meeting anyone who could help. That is why I was set back three steps when I turned the corner and came eye to eye with a camouflaged hunter. He had a rifle slung across his back, a turkey call in his mouth, and an equally surprised look in his eyes. I was more than relieved to know that I was not going to be attacked by a bear or mountain lion, and I called for my mom and brother to come on up. We talked for a minute, and I asked him for directions. He informed us that we should just continue on for about forty-five minutes, and we would reach a small town on the road we had started from. We thanked him for the guidance, and continued on our trek.
An hour and a half later, after several arguments and more than enough worrying, with very little light to see by, we left the trail.
We had not noticed anything else of interest on the trail, because we became so single-mindedly focused on reaching the End. And now we had finally reached the End that we had so desperately sought; the End that we had tried so many unrewarded times to reach...we had finally found it. We had, unfortunately, no comprehension of where the trail had taken us.
We were on an unfamiliar dirt road in the middle of the forest, and we could find no sign of help. We had no idea which way to turn to get back to the car, and we did not even know how far away we were from the car. We walked down each end of the road looking for signs, but finding none. We had almost decided, with twenty minutes of light left and at least three hours of hiking, that we needed to take the trail back, when we found a lone camper. I was apprehensive about all three us defenselessly approaching a potentially dangerous situation, so I told my mom and brother to wait down the road. As I approached his camp, I kept thinking that we were out here alone, and I did not much like the odds. Each step was a trial, but it was either this or face the forest. So I went into his camp.
His dogs were big, but he was nice. I talked with him for a minute, and then told him my predicament. He could not believe that I had started from where I told him, and he said I would never make it back before late into the night. So he offered to give me a ride back.
I then told him about my mom and little brother, and accepted his offer. We got my brother and mom, and thirty minutes later, after a very fast drive, we arrived, however indirectly, back at the point we had started from five and a half eternal hours earlier. We were so far from the car when we reached the End, that I am not certain what we would have done if that man from Luttrel, TN had not been there and been nice enough to give us a ride in his truck.
After it was all over and we were back in the safety of the car, we realized that we had surmounted the trail; we had finally found its End. And we also realized that, even though there had been several toils, trials, and arguments, we still had a really good time. It had been fun, and we had seen many memorable sights. It was something we all, to different degrees, had enjoyed. We even talked of preparing ourselves like we should have done and hiking it again sometime.
But that was not to be.
Nothing was ever to be.
One week later our mom was pronounced dead on impact.
She feel asleep at the wheel and hit a truck head on. The driver was from Luttrel.
My brother and I had been out of town for about five days before the wreck, so the last important thing my brother, my mom, and I ever did together was that hike through the wilderness. And while we had hiked many other trails before that one, this journey, the more it is reflected upon, seems to portray so much more than a simple, innocent hike down a trail.
The events that surrounded the trip seem, so horribly, to portray life in all its beauty and all its horror: the beautiful countryside that bestowed freedom on the soul and the unknown that handed over fear; the perpetual river that always managed to be somewhere close to offer some guidance; the choice in paths that led to two completely different endings; the misguided directions that kept us going down the trail; the aid of a kind soul that always seems to be there when the trail ends somewhere unexpectedly; and the irony that always introduces itself in times of distress. It all seems so vividly to be an intentional microcosm. It is almost as though God tried to lay it all out (what we meant to each other and what it was going to take before we could reach the End) before us, while He still had the chance, with the faint hope we would understand what it meant.
Whether we understood or not, it still came to pass. As life always does, it just has to continue onward. And while I feel as though I now know more about myself and my life, that trail still continues to wind through the secrets of the forest. But it will never again hold for me the simple beauty that it did in the beginning.
(c) 1989 Me
[Safety] [The Room] [The Trail] [Cool Summer] [Achievement] [Valkyries' Last Ride]
[Infinity] [The Eagle] [Spring Sunday] [Astray] [The Bumblebee] [Plastic Toy Soldiers]
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