Ronan. I did something a couple Saturdays ago that ended up being not all that smart. I was in a mood. It was a Saturday and the weekends around our house are still really hard on me. So much family time that I know you know I am thankful for, but weekends always seem to hurt so much more. We spent the morning at your brothers’ basketball games, a place where I am normally my happiest. On this particular day, not having you there to watch and cheer for your brothers was just too much missing you for me to handle. I did my usual put on my happy face while I did my loudest screaming my head off for your brothers as I watched them dominate on the court. After another victory (insert proud bragging rights here) we all went home and your brothers ended up getting invited to go swimming with some friends. I volunteered to take them as Poppy was getting ready to take her nap. I threw on my hiking gear as your daddy looked at me and said, “You’re going hiking? It’s the hottest part of the day and about 110 degrees outside. You shouldn’t go.” Your daddy knows me well enough though to know that his words were falling on deaf ears. I was on a mission and destroying Camelback Mountain during the hottest part of the day was what I was set on doing. There was no telling me otherwise. I packed my backpack full of a ton of cold waters, made sure my phone was totally charged as bounced out the door to drop your brothers so I could take my anger out on something… anything to get me through the day.
Hiking Camelback on a normal temperature day is not an easy feat. Throw in the scorching heat, not to mention my anger/sadness/grief and the inferno that day went to a whole different level of hell. I climbed as fast as I could, feeling the pain as my hands burned every time I would go to grab a boulder to pull myself up on. I could only let my hands touch them for a few seconds before I would end up pulling them away so they didn’t get burned too badly. Not many people were on the mountain that day, but yes, there were a few who were just as crazy as me. I found myself wondering if they too had dead kids or parents or lovers or friends. Was it possible that somebody up here hurt just as much as me? What in the world had they endured in this lifetime to make them climb up a mountain during such an intensely hot day?? I let all these thoughts fill my mind as I continued to climb. I had to stop quite a few times which I normally don’t do. After about 45 minutes, I knew I had enough and I made myself turn around even though I was still about 5 minutes from the top. I’ve never not made it to the top, so this was a first and I was not happy about it. But I also know my limits and just how to come really close to the edge of things in life without not totally falling the side of the cliff. I had just turned around when I noticed a guy in black shorts coming up as I had to move out-of-the-way so he could pass me. You always give the right away to the people coming up, at least on my mountain where I follow and respect all the rules that my veteran hikers have put into place. I didn’t think much of this person passing me, but I gave him a quick hello, made eye contact, and really wanted to say, “What is causing you so much pain to hike on a day like today?” I made my way down the mountain, slowly. I started to get really disoriented and dizzy from the heat. I have hiked that mountain no less than 300 times, so I was not worried about getting lost, but I was worried about passing out. I got to the part where you have to hold onto some rails to climb back down. I know I was delirious at this point because my head starting saying things that maybe used to fill my mind a lot, but do not very much anymore. I heard myself talking about death, dying, and was I dead?? Maybe I was really dead and this was really hell. Did I want to die? I was so out of it at that point that I couldn’t really answer my own question. I let my mind drift and wander to those morbid places for a couple different reasons. One being that I really wasn’t in control of the thoughts that were taking over my brain and two because sometimes I just have to go there… to the darkest of the dark places. I live in that place, but I don’t visit it very often anymore so when it’s time to take a little vacation to all things dark, I just allow myself to go and don’t really question it much. I cannot live in the constant sunshine every day of my life as it gets so exhausting to do so.
I ended up calling your daddy at some point and I don’t remember what I said, but I think I told him I wasn’t sure if I was going to make it to the bottom. He offered to come and get me and of course I said no. Don’t forget I have that whole ‘I’m not a princess and I don’t need saving’ thing still going on. I made it to the car where I blasted the A/C and sat for a bit as I recovered before I attempted to drive just a few minutes home. I came crawling through the door as your daddy handed me a big Gatorade and watched me sink down to the ground where I passed out for a few minutes on our cool tile floor. I opened my eyes just in time to see him hovering above me and heard him say, “Have you had enough self-torture for the day?” For the day, yes. For life, never. I rolled my eyes and went to our bedroom where I showered and passed out for a good hour or so only to wake up to a raging headache that was brought on by my stupidity. Do you think I learned my lesson and will never do that again? You know me better than that, Ronan. You know I’ll be back up that mountain in no time to do it all over again. I’ve been hiking it still, but going really late in the afternoon where the temps are in the low 100′s. Those temperatures are easy to hike in for me compared to the 110 in the middle of the day.
A couple of days after my Saturday inferno, I heard on the news that a hiker was missing on Camelback Mountain. I didn’t think much of it until they mentioned he had gone missing on Saturday, around the same time that I was on the trail. I googled the story and found it almost immediately. He was 23, from Washington State and his dad was pleading for his son’s life. I tried my best to remember if I had seen him on Saturday and my mind went back to the guy in the black shorts. Could that have been him? In my mind, I thought he looked much older than the person I was looking at on my computer screen before me, but still I couldn’t shake the thought of somebody missing on that mountain. My mountain of all places where I have hiked over 300 times and it’s one of the few places that I can count on in life to accept my grief, nurture my grief, love my grief and never judge my grief. My place of solitude and peace and now you’re telling me there is somebody missing up there? I couldn’t stop thinking about it and didn’t know how he hadn’t been found. It’s a big mountain, but not that big and the helicopters/search and rescue had already been looking for days. On Tuesday, I was restless and left the house after your daddy got home to go hike Camelback to see if I could maybe help look for this kid. It had been 3 days and I knew if he was up there and found, that it was not going to be good. Still, I asked whoever is in fucking control of this life, for a miracle. Just as I pulled in, I saw that the mountain was closed and a sign was posted saying a rescue was in progress. My stomach sank as I drove off to hike my little back up mountain as I watched the helicopters hover about. Please let him be alive. Please, please, please. I came home and checked the internet for the news. A few hours later the updated story was posted. A hiker was found dead about 200 feet from the top of the mountain, but they would not confirm that it was indeed the hiker that went missing on Saturday. The next day it was confirmed that it was the missing hiker from Washington State. My thoughts immediately went to his family as I could actually imagine what it was that they were feeling due to knowing what it is like to know your child is dead. The shock. The numbness. The pain that hurts so badly that it is almost indescribable to put into words. I know what all of that is like and I’m just sorry that those parents now do, too. It’s been over a week and I can’t stop thinking of this kid and what happened. I will never be able to hike that mountain again without thinking of him and his family. It’s just beyond sad.
I talked to some of the regular hikers after it happened. Eric’s body was found about 500 feet below the summit. They showed me where he was found as I wiped the tears away from my face. The cause of death has not been released, but I imagine it had to do with the heat and the fact that he was not familiar with the mountain which caused him to end of getting lost and disoriented. The whole thing just makes me incredibly sad and not that I need it but it is a reminder of how precious and short life really can be. And yes, it is also a reminder that I know I need to be careful up there because I do not really want to die. Sometimes I just want a break from all of this pain though. I maybe need to find a better way to help with that instead of hiking up a mountain during the hottest part of the day.
Your brothers turned 11 yesterday, Ronan. I cannot believe I have 11 year olds and more so I cannot believe I am lucky enough to have the amazing 11 year olds that I do. I could not be more proud of the little men they are becoming and I know without a doubt they are a big reason of why I have been able to survive the loss of you. They have saved me and someday, I will tell them this when they are a little older to understand exactly what that means. You were missed yesterday so very much.
I’m going to run now. It’s 4 in the morning here and I’m back to keeping the hours of a vampire. Up most of the night and functioning on just a few hours of sleep. It’s the only time I’m able to work on this book writing as Poppy takes up any other time that I have left. Dr. Sholler is actually going to be at our house in about an hour. She is here for the next few days and I’m taking her up Camelback for an early morning hike, before it gets too hot. No way I would ever take that precious cargo to the inferno. She has too many kiddos to save.
I miss you. I love you. I hope you are safe.
Bye, little man.