I know this trail. It is the steepest one around, climbing up the side of a mountain where the snowboarders and skiers dodge avalanches. A man I thought loved me decided he didn't on this trail. Another time I climbed this trail with someone I knew I would leave. From "Picnic Rock," you could see your whole world: ocean, mountains, your past, your future. It was that kind of trail.
I hiked up it a hundred times and each time I vowed never to go back, that my knees hated the descent. We had to park illegally at the strange restaurant and wonder about bears and cling to icy slopes where people had hung ropes to hang on to and microspikes were never enough. Then we had to get to the place where we broke out of the trees and the wind blasted us as we climbed impossibly high to the place where we had to decide if we were woman enough to climb the Arrowhead or not. Usually not. But the trail was a badge of honor, something we all did even though it was ridiculous. A man disappeared on this trail and was never found. It was that kind of trail.
The man who died this weekend was someone I knew, but only kind of, someone I saw every day for years, and talked to sometimes at work, but didn't really hang out with. Just the kind of person you expect to be there, part of the landscape. He was 52 years old and out for a day hike. He was the kind of person who hiked mountains all the time. I'm sure the details will come out, probably a heart that failed him, because who knows what ticks in you like a bomb?
I know every inch of that trail and even though it's been five years, I can close my eyes and remember it. There's the deep forest where you can run just a little, before it steepens up. There's the first place where ice always lingered. There's the wooden steps leading to Picnic Rock. You can even, though I never did this, bail off the edge and do a big bushwhack down to other trails, if you don't mind the devils club and the bears and the descent. It was never my favorite trail, but it was a trail I went on when I needed strength. If you could make it to the top, you could pretty much do anything. It was that kind of trail.
None of us will ever know what happened to G. last Sunday as he climbed the trail. Maybe solo, he had less of a chance; someone with him, he might have made it. Maybe not. He had walked that way hundreds of times. He should have had years ahead of him; most of us think that we do. I know none of us who knew him, even slightly, will think of that trail the same way again, the same way we thought differently about one of the other trails when someone decided to hang himself from a bridge and my friends found him, cutting the rope too late. This mountain trail holds all of our memories tight. It's that kind of trail.