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A Woman and Her Van

Part 5

By Christine ReedPublished 3 years ago Updated 3 years ago 6 min read
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A Woman and Her Van
Photo by Omer Nezih Gerek on Unsplash

In the forests of the Rocky Mountains, long days of summer descended into cooler nights and darker evenings. Sunset crept forward on the clock, and I found myself sleeping longer hours. The desert heat became more and more appealing as September passed into October. Part of me longed to go, the other part seemed incapable of moving on. I wanted to recapture that day in the sun—to prove that Colorado had been the escape I’d been seeking, not Landon.

“I thought you wanted to see the Grand Canyon,” Frankie’s voice of reason struck through the phone this time.

“You’re right,” I said. “I’ve stayed too long in Colorado.”

“What have you even been doing there?” She asked.

“It’s just been hard to leave.”

***

As I headed south and west toward Grand Canyon, the aspens gently shed their red and orange leaves. A whisper of winter chilled the morning air. The trees and mountains of Colorado leveled out to a desert scrub in Arizona. It was nothing like the tan deserts in the movies, made up of tall, long-armed cactus and sand dunes. The natural reds and browns created depth and warmth like lipstick and bronzer from the road to the horizon.

By Sam Moqadam on Unsplash

The familiar brown National Forest signs greeted me as I neared the park late in the evening. I searched for a suitable place to stow away in the desert forest. I would have considered desert forest an oxymoron before today. Like Landon had shown me, there were winding dirt roads leading off between the trees. Each one inviting me into a quiet world hidden from the main road.

“Kaibab,” I tried out the new word. A new temporary home. A completely new landscape.

With a hot cup of tea, I wandered the wood outside Juniper’s doors. Ponderosa pines had followed me there and their sweet scent mingled with the earthy spice of plentiful sage. By nightfall, I was tucked into bed with my journal and a flashlight. When I clicked the flashlight off, I peered out from behind the curtains to the night sky. More stars than I had ever seen explained to me why we refer to the sky as “the heavens”.

By Wesley Armstrong on Unsplash

Standing on the edge of the canyon, I gazed down into its depths. Nothing could have prepared me for the expanse of it. I tossed a pebble down and it bounced off the walls, down down down forever. At the trailhead, signs warned against ill prepared ventures into the canyon. It’s hot, they said. But not today. An October breeze issued forth from the chasm. It’s dry, they said. But I was filled with tears that would never run out. It’s dangerous, they said. But maybe a little danger was what my heart needed.

I wasn’t a runner, but sometimes we all have to run from something. I pointed my feet down the trail and charged like a raging bull. Hikers turned to look as I stampeded toward them. They jumped out of the way when they saw that I couldn’t slow down. Brutish grunts issued from the core of my being. Tears left deep tracks in the dirt smeared over my face, letting the world know that my heart was broken.

I thought I could have run downhill into eternity. Never reaching the bottom. Maybe there was no bottom. The trail would continue to give way as long as I continued down it. The depth was only determined by the heart—I continued to sink lower and lower; grief begets grief. I could only stop digging deeper when I stopped digging deeper.

Past the mile and a half house, I saw far fewer hikers than before. My steps slowed as most of the frantic energy had been run out of my body. I came to a stop. In the distance, the other side of the canyon stood—a mirror to this one. Behind me, the walls gouged the sky above. I gasped and choked, bent over with my hands clutching at my sides.

A panic gripped me. I had come too far, sunk too low, dug too deep. A cool breeze evaporated every last drop of moisture from my body. I poured half of my water bottle down my dusty throat and tried to collect myself. In some sense I had known that the farther down I went, the harder it would be to come back. But I hadn’t been watching the top. I didn’t realize how fast I’d been moving. I never meant to come this far.

Minutes ticked by as I stood paralyzed on the trail. Hikers moved like ants on the switchbacks above me. A condor swooped menacingly overhead—I wondered if it could sense my weakness.

By Alan Carrillo on Unsplash

“You alright?” A too-close voice made me jump out of my skin. A man in bright spandex and a tiny vest appeared out of nowhere.

“Oh!” Tears welled up, blurring my vision. “Well. I ran down.” I struggled to convey my situation. But it must have been painfully obvious.

“Here, I’ll walk with you for a minute,” he offered. “You’ll find your legs. Just gotta get moving.” A toothy grin split his tan leathery face. He ushered me slowly upward from my lowest point. Each step was a monumental effort. The trail was dusty and steep, and my legs felt battered from barreling downhill.

“Where’d you come from?” I managed between gulps of air. “The bottom?”

“The north rim!” he said. His cheerful buoyancy pulled against the weight that dragged me downward. “Got an early start.”

He chattered on about his day, the perfect weather, the views. All the while, he slurped down the contents of two little foil pouches and sucked from the straw hanging over his shoulder.

“Well, I’ve really gotta run,” he said, after only a few minutes of moving me along. “You’ll do great. Keep moving. Drink that water.” And he scampered ahead to the end of the switchback, giving a small wave as he ran the trail back toward me on the next level. Before long he was far ahead, and I trudged along behind.

Going uphill, the sun felt hotter, the ground harder, my body weaker. A thousand times, I must have stopped to rest. A thousand times, I had to will myself to move again. Sometimes, I used my arms to pick up one leg and move it forward. Other times, I pushed into my thighs with my hands, forcing myself uphill at the same time unable to stand up straight.

As I approached the rim, hikers and tourists surrounded me. At least then, if I had collapsed, somebody might have been able or inclined to help.

***

Not wanting to be alone after my experience in the canyon, I rented a campsite in the park and drove Juniper to the designated parking spot.

I washed off the day in a coin-operated shower. The water swirled reddish-brown with dirt around my feet. Too tired to cook, I settled clean and damp into a camp chair next to the empty fire pit with a box of Cheerios and a book.

A family pulled up to the campsite next to me. They erected tents, set up camp chairs, and threw a bundle of packaged wood down next to the fire pit. The father started working on the fire as the two little girls ran in circles with bubble wands, releasing soapy spheres into the air and erupting into fits of giggles as they popped each other’s bubbles.

By Paul Wolke on Unsplash

I had always wanted a second child—a little brother or sister for Jade. All things equal, I don’t know how I could have made it work. As Jade got sicker and sicker, I could hardly be a wife to Ben, let alone a mother to another child. And now that Jade was gone, I couldn’t be anything to anyone. I only half-way managed to watch after myself. I didn’t know who I was anymore. Was there a Samantha without Jade? Without Ben? If there was, I didn’t know her.

***

This is Part 5 of an 6 part story-- Click to PART 6

RETURN TO PART 4

***

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Adventure
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About the Creator

Christine Reed

Author of the award-winning debut memoir, Alone in Wonderland. Christine writes about outdoor adventure, familial relationships, friendship, grief and trauma. She's passionate about hiking, backpacking, rock climbing, & storytelling.

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