Saturday, February 17, 2024

Havasupai - Part 5

That night of was rough for Dad. Unsurprisingly, it was difficult for him to sleep through the pain that comes from a puncture wound of that sort, and at 4:30am we were both awake. It took all of his effort to get out of the tent to answer the call of nature, and as he tried to make his way around the outside of the tent in the night, he nearly fell. When he collapsed back inside the door, we tried to get some sleep for another 10 minutes or so, but we were up. My mind was racing (and probably his, too) through the list of things that needed to be done before we would leave- everything that had to do with getting ready for the day, repacking our stuff, and taking down a campsite- and we decided it was best to get started. Dad needed to be to the pick-up zone, a mile away, by 7:00am, and we didn't know how much time it was going to take him to hike it.

Thankfully everything was fairly uneventful in getting ourselves ready to pack out, and we left the campsite by 6:00am, giving us a full hour to hike the mile. And we needed most of it. I strapped my big pack on my back, my day pack on my front, and we left Dad's big pack at the campsite where the others in our group said they would figure out a way to get it up to the drop zone, and Dad and I set off. It was a long, hard walk for him.

I stepped back one time, just to take this blurry picture, but the rest of the time I was stepping right in his footsteps with my arms locked and ready. His hiking poles did a fantastic job helping him keep his balance from side to side through his pain, but he needed support behind him- especially on the steeper parts when the pain and gravity would often cause him to tip backwards.

We stopped every few minutes to let the throbbing settle down, and through it all Dad kept his positive attitude, a mix of gratitude for the helpers (including that mule we were working our way towards) and bewilderment for how much pain he was feeling. 

At one point along the mile during one of our many breaks he said, "Wow... I don't like to think about it, but what if we hadn't gotten a mule for me today? There's no way I would have been able to make it out."

But we had gotten a mule, and we made it to the pick-up zone by 7:00am. Just in time for him to wait 2 more hours for his mule to come and get him. (It's a rather loosely-run operation.) 

While we waited for the mule, the rest of our group went on. I wanted to stay behind with Dad to make sure everything worked out as it should, but after about half an hour of waiting, we both decided it was best for me to start the long hike back so we could make the long drive back to Vegas in time to be seen by Urgent Care. So I left him sitting there, my dad and all the bags, waiting to be carried out of the canyon by the mules.

The hike back out of the canyon was beautiful - truly - and I had a lot of time to enjoy being with myself and the scenery.

The energy of the earth was especially moving for me as I walked. For ten miles, I kept waiting for the moment where I would feel satiated with the landscape and soundscape enough to want to pull out my headphones and listen to a podcast, but that time never came. Mile after mile, minute after minute, hour after hour, I just walked, breathed, listened, and felt.

At one point a couple of stray dogs joined me for about a mile (I think it had a lot to do with the trail mix I was munching on). They trotted along beside and behind me, quiet and gentle, and I was grateful for the company, until a hiker going the other direction passed us and offered them some snacks. Those dogs switched their allegiance fast as lightning. 

One of the most interesting features of the canyon to me were holes in the rocks. It doesn't look like it in this photo because I have nothing to show the scale, but that little hole is about 20 feet above the ground.

It was a little off the trail, but there was something about it that made me happy to be there. Like this one, the holes were always filled with smaller rocks that people had thrown, and I smiled. 

I was alone but not lonely, and those little rocks nestled inside interrupted my solitary hike with an invitation for connection. 

People had thrown those rocks.

People had played here.

It's fun to think about people when you're alone but surrounded with big, big nature.

I ventured off the trail and picked up a smaller stone, throwing it towards the hole... and as anyone in my life could have predicted, it landed nowhere close. So I picked up another one, and another, and on the fourth try, my rock nestled in with the other rocks.

That's kind of like life. Sometimes connection with people is hard, and it takes us a few tries to get it right.

I took a few breaks to change my socks and eat some food, but for the most part, I was hurrying along at a pace that pushed me. I felt the pressure of the passage of time. Melani had been very clear that we needed to get his leg looked at as very soon as possible, and I knew that once we got to the car, we still had a three hour drive to get back to the Vegas area. Also, I didn't know when my dad would pass me along the trail, but I didn't want him to get to the top and have to wait too long for me. So, like I said, I pushed.

I caught up to the rest of my group rather quickly, chatted for just a few moments, and then continued on. For about seven miles I enjoyed every step, and then at about mile 8 I started to think to myself, "You know, I could use a conversation."

But the canyon conversed with me, and soon enough, I hit the switchbacks which signaled the last mile... and that, at a hurried pace and at my current fitness level, would have rendered me unable to have a conversation anyway.

Back and forth and back and forth, up, up, up, this was the last push before I reached the top, and I had yet to see my dad. I worried a little through the whole hike that something had gone wrong and that he hadn't been able to ride the mule for some reason, and with every mule train that passed without him, my worry grew. But I also wanted to make it out of the canyon at around the same time as him, so with every mule train that passed without him, I felt relieved that he was still behind me.

It was confusing for my brain. 

And then I saw him... well, I heard him before I saw him, interestingly. Something about the sound waves in the canyon at that point carried his voice well and when he was just a small speck in the distance I heard his voice say, "Are there many deer in this canyon?"

I turned around and saw a mule train far in the distance and knew that he was there. 

My father's voice.
I'd been watching and listening for him the whole hike.
Not in a distracting way. It hadn't taken away from my ability to be present and to enjoy my moments, but a portion of my brain had always been tuned and ready for him, listening and waiting, so when his voice echoed faintly through the canyon, I heard it.
And because I know and love him so deeply, I knew it was him.

It's not hard to find the symbolism in that.

I was so relieved, and it couldn't have been better timing as I knew I was about half a mile from the top. As he got closer, I got more tired- those switchbacks were tough, and I was all too happy to step to the side for a few moments to rest and let them pass. 

"Linds!" he said when he saw me. He looked so rested and comfortable up on that horse. (He wasn't, as I would learn later. The ride had been unexpectedly hard for him. He grew up on horses and knows a thing or two or twenty, but his horse would not respond to him and only had one speed- trotting- and because he didn't have enough strength in his leg to ride the trot, he bounced and bounced and bounced the whole ten miles which obviously had other negative consequences.)

But in that moment to me, he looked much more comfortable than I felt with my burning lungs and legs, so I couldn't help but feel a little measure of playful jealousy as he passed. 

"Dad, I kind of hate you right now," I joked.

He laughed and we talked for just a moment while his horse trotted passed (bounce, bounce, bounce), and then I continued my climb. 

As I rounded another bend, I passed some hikers who had just begun their descent down. 

"Wow!" one of them said to me, "You look like you're doing better than everyone else we've seen coming up today!"

I was shocked enough to be speechless for a moment, because I certainly didn't feel 'better' or really very  strong at all, but then I laughed right out loud and said, "Well, thank you! My secret? Let the mules carry your heavy pack." We all laughed and that interaction kept me company for the rest of my climb. I didn't feel strong in a physical sense, but there was no denying that I was quite, quite happy. And happiness is strength, so maybe that's what they saw in my face that day. Nature fills me, loves me, energizes me, and I can't help but feel better when I'm in it.

As I reached the top, I saw my dad sitting on a step with a smile on his face. Between the difficult mule ride and the angry stick, his butt, his left knee, and his right leg hurt intensely enough that he could hardly walk the five steps to the car and lower himself down into the passenger seat. Yet he smiled. He saw a small pick-up truck in the parking lot selling cold sodas and said, "You know, I think I need a Dr. Pepper," and as I stood in line and looked around at all the people, I saw a lot of long, tired, grumpy faces, some climbing out of that canyon and some not, and I realized that the descending hikers' words applied to my dad, too... to look at his face, he really did look like he was doing better than everyone else.

I don't know how he does it so well, but I am grateful to have a father who leads by example and demonstrates that attitude is important. In my home I recently put up a quote by one of my favorite apostles, Jeffery R. Holland. "No misfortune is so bad that whining about it won't make it worse." I think my dad gets that.

I knew I would love spending this week with him- he is truly an incredible man, and the older I get the more I see it.

The rest of his leg story is really not my own. It's been 13 weeks now and is still not 100% healed (though, I think he'd probably say it's just fine). A unique antibiotic regimen was finally found through trial and error that helped combat whatever infection was festering inside from the unsterile conditions, while a handful of ER visits and doctor visits combined to finally start improving his condition. More than once, his wound was stuffed with gauze and left to drain (eww), layers and layers of dead skin were ruthlessly cut off, probes were pushed up inside to gage how well the healing inside was going... His healing seemed to follow the two steps forward, one step back rule the whole time, and when I ordered him a pirate T-shirt for Christmas that said It was all fun and games until someone lost a leg, things were bad enough that I hoped it would be funny- because if he actually lost the leg, I'm sure it would not have been. That danger has passed, luckily, but even if it hadn't, even if he had lost the leg, I'm sure he would be smiling.

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