Three years ago I watched as Caitlin and Barbie left to go backpacking. This is the tradition at our annual church Girls' Camp. The 4th year girls, ages 14-15, have the opportunity to backpack and sleep overnight in the wilderness. This teaches them survival skills and builds their confidence. For the prior decade Barbie and I went on these hikes as leaders. I had gone with Rebecca 5 years previously on the Appalachian trail in Vermont. Now it was Caitlin's turn. In January of 2008 I began training to get in shape for the June hike. Unfortunately, as the months passed, I only got weaker. Finally, the day before we left for the hike I was told that I had restrictive cardiomyopathy, etiology unknown. As they walked into the woods without me I was so sad. I loved to backpack; it always made me feel young. I knew that I would likely never be able to strap on a pack again. I was wrong.
This last year has seen significant improvement in my endurance. My heart is strong and, when I am not on chemotherapy, I have the motivation to move. Chris Alston, the leader of the hike, allowed me to come along this year. My brother in law, Craig, was also going with his daughter Catherine.
The first day was only three miles, but the vertical climb was just under 1600 feet from 5000 to 6600 foot elevation. The last mile was the hardest; very little shade and very steep. I moved slowly with my 35 lb pack. This gave me time to really enjoy the wildflowers. An unusual number remained along the trail this late into the season,likely due to the late snow-melt that has kept the alpine flora in bloom. My favorite was the Tiger Lily. I had never before seen one. As I lifted the drooping orange blossom I was surprised to see countless brown spots inside, "Of course." I thought, "Hence, the name."
Craig never left my side the entire hike. I know he would have carried my pack at a moments notice. At the last quarter mile, as the trail finally leveled out a bit, President Perez called out to the 25 girls on the hike and said, "Let Brother Kevin lead us in." The gesture gave new strength to my tired heart. As I walked to the lake's edge there was thick green grass under my feet. The clear blue waters ended at the base of two separate snow capped peaks framed by sun and clouds overhead. The light breeze rippled over the water's surface as the sound of effluent in the nearby brook bubbled continuously. It was as if I stepped back in time 38 years.
We spent two nights camped there. I had forgotten how much bending over and squatting camping involves: pitching tents, filtering water, cooking, gathering wood and building fires. I was frequently light-headed from getting down and up. Notwithsatnding, in the end I would have to say that my health score for the last 7 days has been 100.
The week ended with Barbie and I celebrating 30 years since our first date and 29 years of marriage, both yesterday on August 6th. We plan many more to come.