I like fresh air just as much as the next person. What I do not like, is risking my life just to "Take a Hike." For me, what began as an anxiety-filled, fearfully dreadful quest...ended that way as well. I understand that a lot of people shook their heads at me with disgust (more than likely behind my back) when I told them that I refuse to hike 16 miles through the Arizona desert. Not one part of me wanted to do it and not one part of me will ever have desire to do it. Unless of course my desires consist of developing heat stroke 4 miles in and that being only if I managed to avoid getting mauled by wildlife, bitten by a rattlesnake or gila monster....or if I don't mind excusing myself every 3 miles with the roll of toilet paper from my backpack to the nearest prickly pear cactus to squat behind to use the bathroom, resulting from drinking the 8 bottles of water I needed to keep hydrated, that added 3 more lbs of weight for me to carry to my already out-of-shape body as I try to "hike" through the treacherous, rocky, desert landscape as weeks and weeks of future blisters form on my feet......all while I really have no idea if I'm even hiking in the right direction. Yeah, that sounds fun.
This mission started with a company-wide effort to hike the Arizona portion of the Arizona Trail and raise $30,000 in honor of the trail's 30th anniversary, to help preserve it. I'm all for the raising $30,000 part....but I don't think anyone should have to feel forced to hike anywhere. It was definitely proven to me that I was the rarity. Everyone was pretty excited about the hike....and after we were assigned "Passage #3" (aka 16.6 miles with no turn-around points).....the adventure-driven nature lovers grew more and more enthusiastic about the whole thing. I did nothing but have doubts. Nevertheless, I had my assignment, which was given to me in a condescending way, just because I refused to go on the hike. "Amber you have to go with us, wait around for 9 hours and meet us at the end....oh yeah, you also have to raise the $700 for our part of the donation." Also, I was basically teased throughout the weeks leading up about my fear of the wilderness. I was the nicknamed the "scaredy-cat" of the group. If having that nickname meant I didn't have to go get attacked by a mountain lion...you better bet I was ok with it. The opinions and doubts I had about ANYONE finishing a 16.6 mile hike in the Arizona heat...without any prior training and without any turnaround points...didn't seem to phase anyone. And no matter how much it was claimed that nobody was to feel obligated to do the hike, I know how it feels and I know, without a doubt, that I was still looked down on by certain people and judged for my lack of participation.
The dreadful day arrived and as I predicted...it was one of the worst days of my life. We started at Canelo Hills at 6am. As I waived goodbye to the brave group, David and I each drove a vehicle to Patagonia, where "Passage 3" ended. It was a peaceful, beautiful drive and I enjoyed it in the comfort of my Jeep Liberty with air conditioning and my radio on. Patagonia is a small, charming lake town with cute little shops and diners. After enjoying a butterscotch scone and coffee for breakfast, we went and dropped one of the vehicles off at the "end" area. We then, drove all the way home to Sierra Vista, so I could drop David off (Why you ask? Well, that's another story....it was a "I can't possibly miss the Final Four game" situation) and pick up my sister, Bri...who volunteered to hang out with me in Patagonia until the hikers were done and we could shuttle them home. Little did Bri know...she had just volunteered to risk her life in a few short hours. Neither her or I could have imagined what was in store for us next.
After we arrived back in Patagonia, we drove around, went into a few shops and ate our picnic lunch. Then, when we were browsing a local beaded jewelry shop, I started to get text messages from one of the hikers who was telling me that another hiker wasn't doing well and that they were hours and hours away from being done. Now, keep in mind...there are no roads on this trail...no motor vehicles are able to get through on this trail...and here I am getting a text message that someone is overheated and I'm supposed to know what to do?? That's when my sister said something to me that I will never forget. She said...'"If it was you, wouldn't you want someone to come and find you?" Yes, of course I would...She was right. At that moment, I knew we had to go find the hikers.
Seconds later, I received a phone call from Jodi (one of my close friends and part of the hiking group)....and all she said was..."Yeah, come get us." At that point, I was in panic mode. I had my jeep and my boss's big truck. I got a text (Thank God) from one of the hikers who was able to text me their location with the smart phone locator. Bri and I went back to the end point and thankfully found another girl from my work there, Amanda, who had taken a shorter hike with her family and was waiting for the rest of the hikers, too. Amanda and I took the truck and Bri followed us in the jeep. We headed for the trail....with no idea what we were about to face.
According to the location of the hikers on my GPS, it said they were 5 miles in, which doesn't seem like that far, right? Well, no...wrong. It took us almost 2 hours to drive 5 miles. We weren't on roads, dirt or paved. We weren't on a road at all. I was so worried about Bri risking her life behind me and she kept reassuring me that she was fine following and that I would have to ride back in a crammed car if she didn't keep following to allow more space. We went through private ranches with signs that said, "Pass in 9 seconds, or I will shoot." We were mainly on huge rocks the entire time...wondering if we were going to tip over with every push of the gas. We were making our way up a mountain and at several points had to stop, get out and look in front of us to make sure it wasn't a dead drop. We were driving on narrow, windy mountain trails...only there was no trail....it was just huge rocks, trees and us...the idiots who entered into this death trap with only our worry for the dehydrated hikers and lots of "I told you so" power, which I believe in the end is what got us through. To make matters worse, I kept remembering that we were going to have to do this again....to get back out, only with 10 more people piled in. We finally reached a point where we could use our phone to try and call one of the hikers to see if were anywhere near us. I told them that I was going to cover the phone and honk to see if they could hear us.....So, I laid on the horn.....BEEEEEEP.....only to hear cheering and applause. We were almost to them!
When we finally arrived to where they were....I saw bright "Safety Green" in my sight, which were all the hiker's shirts! (another "I told you so" on my part, because I insisted on that color shirt for the hike). They were lined up, sitting on the side of what was left of the trail...10 miles behind them...over-heated and exhausted. Aside from a few comments that made me want to turn around and leave a few people there, everyone was super thankful to see us drive up. We had cold waters and lets be honest...we had the "rescue" vehicles. I could not have done it without Amanda and Bri there with me. Those girls were the calm, logical ones while I was the freaked out, dramatic one. As I drove, Amanda put a positive twist and reassuring downplay on every impossible situation we came across. Bri was the navigator who kept letting us know when we were heading in the wrong direction and ultimately, somehow made sure we were on the correct route towards the hikers. We were a great team! The way back down was just as scary...but everyone was so happy to be in air conditioning and off their feet, I don't think they minded at all. Curse words flew out of our mouths as we didn't know if we were going to plummet to our deaths on several instances, but we powered right through the rocky ravines and the "...I'll shoot you" properties....and eventually made it back to Patagonia. It was definitely a rescue mission....and the lame, "scaredy-cat" did the rescuing. Ironic, isn't it?
My overall feelings towards this charity project have nothing to do with the ridiculous decision to try and hike 16.6 miles. I think raising $30,000 for the trail is honorable and extremely generous. I like that part of it. However, deciding...(and being authorized to go through with it)....to hike our passage will forever pave my fear-driven hesitation to participate in anything that takes me out of my comfort zone. I wish I had just overreacted....but it turns out, I was dead on.
|Before the hike started....|
|All goof and smiles....until someone's toenail falls off..|
|The peaceful drive to Patagonia...|