I Get Knocked Down

For the first time in my adult life, I was disinterested in trail food! It always tastes like a chef poured their heart and soul into it when you eat it on the trail. But the lunch I packed for myself may as well have been chalk with a side of mould. I lost interest after the first bite, and rationalized any further attempts at eating with the perennial favorite, “I don’t need it anyways”. At least I was distracted from how exhausted I felt when it was suggested that someone in the group take out their campstove and light it. After the attempt didn’t go so well (I won’t say failed, because it really wasn’t a complete bomb), thoughts turned to the trail back to where we came.

I remember the thought process in my mind. I still had no idea the damage that was being done in my skull, with no outward signs whatsoever. Whenever I’ve been faced with any huge task and either didn’t actually have an option to get out of it or didn’t give myself that option, I’ve always done this. It’s like the slow winding up sound of a big engine droning to life. It’s like the calling to all corners of my mind and very being, saying “we shall never surrender!” In total Winston Churchill fashion. All the extra bits of personal fibre are roused from their slumber and called to action. I “mustered”. And it wasn’t so bad. Besides, there was no need to think anything was wrong. Like the Black Knight on the bridge in Monty Pythons Holy Grail, I had had worse.

The hike back was quite straight forward. In fact, I was proud of myself for having less trouble with the downhill grade than my chaperone partner. He had suffered an injury a few years back and needed to be cautious on his feet. His devastating physical injury was one of those very noticeable from the outside injuries. It took a long time for him to heal, and involved major surgical work. He had stumbled on a previous hike, so I understood why he was being cautious. Still, I would have beat him back to the parking lot if it would have been a race. By now, it seemed like I had gotten my wind back, and I was even finding an old familiar pace. Nothing was wrong except that I was out of shape, and that made me very tired.

The Outtrip To Die For

There was no way I was going to let my out of shape old body hold me back from going on this camping expedition!

Our boys were in grade 11, and a part of their schools heritage is a camping trip for the grade 12 students into the backcountry of our national park system. Although the trip is affectionately called the “Lake ‘O’ trip, meaning Lake O’Hara, close to Lake Louise, Alberta, the truth is that with around 140 students participating there is no way that they could flood just one small area of the national park. So there are groups of 8 students with 2 chaperones in many different areas.

The area I was to be chaperone was on the “Ball Pass” route which went up to Egypt lake. Stunning scenery…once in a lifetime chance to spend with at least one of my sons. The other was put in a different group, and that was okay. There are plenty of amazing hikes in the Rockies. Since we had been given maps and information about our routes, I knew that our first day would be a tough slug, climbing almost a kilometer vertical over 12 kms of trail. I was not in shape, but I had been out hiking with small amounts of weight in my camera pack, as much as I could find time and muster the will for. I wanted to prepare. And in fact, the chaperones were responsible for “practice hikes” to discover issues, weed out non committed participants, and get to know the group so we could prepare for what may happen on the actual outtrip. We had hiked a small day hike as a group before, but on September the 11th, I found myself on what was to be my last outtrip with my group.

Filling backpacks, lunches and a last minute add on to our group took up my morning. Finally the drive to the rendezvous point brought us all together as a group and we set out for a hike to go to the peak at about halfway on our trail up Okanagan Mountain. The hike was similar to what we would be encountering on the first day of our trip, so this was a really good sample trail to pick. As expected, the group of kids took off like a shot. The boys seemed like they had to prove how well they could handle the physical exertion of the hike; the girls trailed after them with resolve not to let any boys show them up. The 2 of us chaperones were the fallbacks. Slow and steady wins the race. And for the most part, I was the very tail end. Admittedly, most of that tailing was because of how out of shape I was, but there was a part of me that has always liked the vantage point of the last on the trail. Besides, if anyone would see a cougar, it would be the one at the tail end as the cougar jumps on your back and bites your head. I’ve always loved wildlife sightings.

Our plan was to walk until noon. We had left at 10 o’clock from the parking lot, and lunch seemed like a good break for us at the top of the trail. As we came to the top, where we knew we were going to stop, I lagged even further behind. An overwhelming feeling of exhaustion came over me. It was like a wet, cold thousand pound blanket. After years of determination to push through as much as I could and never give up, I found the strength to walk the last few hundred yards where the group had perched on a rock outcropping to enjoy their lunch. I dropped my backpack onto the ground, looked for a smooth place to sit and let gravity pull me into a resting place. I felt as spent as ash, and maybe that was my color, but no one commented or noticed. That whole lunch break, I had no idea of the damage that had begun to happen inside my skull, damage that I wouldn’t discover for some time to come. Tired was the only thing I felt. So very tired.