Tabatha Deans

Bringing Integrity to the Written Word

I don’t have many regrets about my life. Maybe it’s because I think I’m such a great person that I’ve never done anything wrong, or maybe it’s because I know you can’t go back and change things. But a handful of events in my past haunt me. Most of which I can do nothing about except for changing the things I do and say now and in the future. A couple of them, however, I can do something about. I woke up yesterday feeling rested after my return from the Basin, and feeling restless. Overwhelmed with life in general, I originally set out to find a McDonald’s and soothe my restless soul with a greasy breakfast. After getting coffee and driving around, I decided I didn’t really want to do that. Instead I wanted to do something extraordinary. Not extraordinary by some standards, but extraordinary for me. With a nagging regret in my mind, and knowing I couldn’t go back and change it, but I could still accomplish it, I grabbed a sandwich, packed my backpack and donned my hiking clothes and headed for the mountains.

Ten years and 75 pounds ago, when Jessica was about 12 years old, she and I and our friend Leann set out for a hike up Bell Canyon, a scenic hike up the foothills at the south end of the Salt Lake Valley. Leann was staying with us and was a hiking fiend, and after much protesting on my part I found myself at the base of Bell Canyon. The trail was steep, but Leann assured me that at the top of it was a beautiful lake. Jessica was eager to be out of the house and excited about making the hike, so I begrudgingly started up the trail with them. Carrying an extra 75 pounds of weight quickly exhausted me, and my negative attitude screamed at me to stop hiking. We stopped for several breaks, each time I protested that I couldn’t go any further. “Please mama, come on mama, you can do it mama. Let’s go to the top,” pleaded little Jessica. She was so eager for me to make it she was nearly bouncing with excitement. “It’s beautiful, come on, it’s not that much farther, you can do it.” encouraged Leann. “I’m tired, I don’t want to, I can’t make it, I need a cigarette,” was my response. Halfway up I sat down and declared that I would go no further, and I watched as a disappointed Jessica followed Leann up the hill to the beautiful lake. I sat on a rock and smoked and berated myself for not continuing.

I have always regretted not finishing the hike, partly because I don’t like to quit, but mostly because I didn’t do it for Jessica. She wasn’t asking much from me, and it was my own stubbornness and selfishness that stopped me. The picture of her going on without me and me missing that moment with her, along with her disappointment of knowing that her mother was an out-of-shape quitter has haunted me for ten years. So now, ten years later, I decided to make the hike. Of course Jess wasn’t with me, but I yearned to finish the hike, see the lake, and let jessica know that I wasn’t the same person I was ten years ago.

So I loaded my backpack, let a friend know where I was going and headed for the trailhead. I sat in the car for about 10 minutes mentally preparing myself for the hike. Although I enjoy hiking in the wilderness, I’ve always had an irrational fear of hiking alone. What if a rock fell on me and I had to chew off my arm to get out? What if a bear/coyote/mountain lion/crazed maniac attacked me? What if I fell down a ravine and my body wasted away without ever being found? Whatever. Today, fueled by the encouragement of a good friend who assured me I wouldn’t die on the trail, I got out of the car and started up the trail, remembering very clearly the event ten years earlier.

I felt extremely small in the big world as I looked down at my little feet as I navigated up the steep trail. The path was steep and rocky, providing ample opportunity to twist my ankle and fall in the bushes and die. I put my fears aside and continued up, determined to make it to the lake. I’d heard there was a waterfall further up the trail, but in my mind I had to make it to the lake. I replayed that day so long ago in my mind, as well as many other times throughout the years that I felt I had let Jessica down. I wound my way up the steep hillside, and stopped to take a breather when it felt like my heart would pound out of my chest. I sat on a rock and looked behind me. What was left of my breath was taken away by the beautiful scene below me. The vision of the Salt Lake Valley sprawling far below was framed by trees with autumn leaves of red and gold. I caught my breath and congratulated myself for making it this far, and confidently started up the trail again. Before I knew it, I topped the hill and the lake lay in the valley below me. I had made it. I breathed the fresh air and realized that I felt good all over. Not just mentally, but my muscles felt alive and my heart swelled. I sat on the bank of the lake and jotted some notes in my writing book, proud of my accomplishment, but not yet ready to turn back. In reality, the hike that had haunted me for so long was a mere half mile. My pride turned to embarassment when I realized that I was so out of shape then that I couldn’t even make it that far. So I decided to go on. I was going to the waterfall. According to the Google machine, the hike was only four miles round trip, and I was going for it. I donned my pack again and headed up the trail.

It was brutal. I was drenched in sweat and my legs were aching as I climbed over rocks and up hills. Every hiker coming down I asked how much further. I kept going. I was hot and tired, but each time the trail became covered with shade from the trees above, a cool breeze blew over me, refreshing me like a reassuring hug that said I could do it. The trail became steeper, with bigger rocks to climb over, and I was sure I had taken a wrong turn and would never find the waterfall. I stopped to eat a granola bar and battle with myself. I had already accomplished what I set out to do. I had already gone farther than I hadn’t ten years ago. I had done a good job of facing my fears and hiking alone. I had done enough. I was going to quit and head back down the hill. I hadn’t completed my mission, but I had done well enough. I was back in the same mindset I had been ten years ago, convincing myself that I didn’t need to finish what I had started.

As I sat in the shade eating my granola bar and drinking my juice, my phone rang. It was Jessica. “What are you up to?” she asked. “I’m hiking up Bell Canyon.” I replied. “With who?” she asked. “By myself,” I replied. We talked for a while as I finished my snack, and I put my pack on to head back down the mountain. But I started walking uphill as we talked. I walked slowly and listened to her talk about her life, her woes and her joys, and I kept walking. I kept walking and we kept talking until the trail became too steep to walk and talk, so we said good bye and I continued onward and upward. I was close, I had to be, and at this point I was determined to finish. Pure determination got me up the last bit of the hike, where the trail dropped off and I was clinging to protruding tree roots to scale the last few yards of the trail. Then I was there. The hillside fell away and in front of me was the waterfall. The air was cold and since I was covered in sweat I began shivering, so I took my vest out of my pack and put it on. I sat on a rock at the base of the waterfall, ate half of my sandwich, jotted some notes in my writing book and took a quick self-portrait of me in front of the falls. Then I packed up and headed back down the trail, with a feeling of satisfaction and a huge grin on my face. Each hiker I passed coming up the trail asked if it was much further. “Yes,” I replied. “It’s a long way. But it’s worth it.”

October 16, 2010 - Posted by | Uncategorized

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