Thursday, May 29, 2014

that kind of trail

I found out this week that someone I knew in Alaska was found dead on a trail.

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.


  1. What terrible news! I especially don't like to hear about folks close to my age dropping dead.

  2. I know! And he had passed his firefighter work capacity test and hiked all the time!

  3. I know the trail. But I hope I don't know the person. As tight as everyone there is, I'm certain my friends know him, though. Will check Raven Radio now...

  4. Gulp! Well written, leaving photos of the trail in my mind. Such a reminder to live life without regrets and even when we do each day may be our last.

  5. Sorry to hear this. Life can be so quickly taken away, to even those that seem so healthy and able-bodied. I liked the ticking heart/bomb analogy.

  6. I remember that trail, though I walked only the top part with you. Really sorry for this, Mary. All of us always say to live every day as if it were your last, but probably we don't really believe it.

  7. How did you do just the top?

    I didn't know Greg, but must of crossed paths with him occasionally. His wife sure looks familiar.

    There's a nice slideshow tribute to him--with lots of sunny days:

    I'm glad he died close to home and was quickly found and not while out alone on one of his deep wilderness trips.

    I never hiked Verstovia, mainly because I could do Gavin Hill, Harbor Mountain and the connecting ridges from my front door. I did watch hikers and the occasional brown bear crossing the snow field below the top of Verstovia from my window.



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