About half-way up the hill I knew that I could not reach the summit. I was dangerously out of breath with a burning sensation in my chest. My head spun and my eyes felt as if they were rolling around in my head. The logical move was to turn and go back—BUT there was no logic in my decision-making process that cold February morning so I tried to keep climbing. As I slipped further behind, the other hikers kept pace with our enthusiastic leader, a spirited young woman full of energy.
The Beaver Trail was described as being up a slight incline and then down to the Hughes River to view the beavers and their dams. Our leader called it ” moderate hike” and told us that it was an easy walk. She did not mention until we started that horseback riders also used the Beaver Trail. The horses left an abundance of dried “horsey deposits” as well as hoof-size holes on and along the trail. The deep hoof prints were now hidden under a skiff of snow.
My hiking companions were not known to me personally since we just arrived the evening before for a “Sweetheart’s Weekend” in the mountains of West Virginia. Our hosts at the state park promised us a fun weekend with plenty of food, entertainment, crafts, games, and a hike on the Beaver Trail. Eight of us joined the leader at the front desk in the lobby and she told us once again that we would just go up a short hill and down the other side. Easy for her to say and that was the only introduction we received. So “heigh-ho, heigh-ho” it’s off to hike we go.
The trail-head began behind the lodge so we started to climb immediately. I brought up the rear panting and gasping for breath and a couple from Massillon, Ohio dropped back to help me as I rapidly lost ground. Sharon (now I knew her name) gave me a walking stick to assist me and Rich (her husband) offered me his arm for balance. I took the walking stick and Rich’s arm and despite their assistance managed to trip over a tree root and fall. This caused a mild calamity among the others closest to us. The leader was far ahead so we did not try to call her back to help. After I got to my feet and took two or three more steps, I fell to the ground again. I realized that I was truly in trouble as I gasped for breath.
Into full-blown denial now and still convinced that I could finish the hike, I struggled to my feet and set out again. The top was in sight. It would soon be all down hill and that had to be easier. Right? Wrong. Mid-way down the “easy” part of the hike I fell again. This time I was so faint and winded that I could only sit in the softly falling snow and try to regain enough strength to get up and go on.
As I sat there surrounded by concerned well-meaning strangers, my sister’s face loomed before me in my imagination and she noted “how embarrassed she would be if this happened to her”. Her apparition was enough to get me on my feet again (with help from several hikers) and down to the van sent to pick us up at the bend in the Hughes River where the beavers live.
By now everyone on the hike knew that the “senior citizen” lagging behind the group had fallen several times. I was too scared to be embarrassed, and as I thanked those around me I remarked that “I must be in deep denial because once-upon-a-time I could scamper up and down the West Virginia Hills without falling. However, that was nearly 70 years ago and I have changed. My legs don’t work as well now, I rarely scamper anywhere anymore, and the Beaver Trail was too much for me today”.
Although we never saw the beavers, we did see evidence of their activity. But, more importantly, I learned an awesome lesson from the kindness of strangers who picked me up repeatedly when I fell. What an apt metaphor for people helping people.
Copyright-Phyllis J.C. Baker 2006