Brian Doyle’s story reminds me of a summer long ago when I set out with my two older brothers and their friend on a summer adventure. I don’t even know why I was invited. I was probably 11 or 12 years old, and they were in high school. The idea was to hike down the old 1890s road in front of our mountain house, all the way to the bottom. I don’t think much thought had been given to getting back up. So, off we four went, no water, no food, just us.
What a good time we had tromping down the old road with all its twists and turns, amazingly intact after all those years. It was deep in the woods, so mostly leaves covered the road bed, like a brown protective blanket. We had to take a detour here or there, but after a couple of hours, we arrived relatively unscathed at the bottom of the mountain.
“Now, just a quick hike to the country store to use the phone,” my brother said, “and we can get a ride back up.” Those were the days before cell phones and many other modern conveniences. The country store wasn’t as close as we thought. Two more miles down the road. The store didn’t have a phone. By then, I was parched and very tired and very hot. Someone bought me an ice-cream sandwich, which probably saved my life. The store must not have had water. The clerk told us the nearest phone was 2 1/2 miles farther along at a farm house. Suppose the farmer wasn’t home. Suppose he pulled out his shot gun and blasted us for trespassing.
The decision was made, with my one dissenting vote, to hike back up the main highway 21 and maybe someone would pick us up. Soon, we would discover that going up a mountain was much more difficult than going down. An hour later, we were nowhere near the top. The sun was beginning to dip below the trees. I was getting slower and slower. Even the macho guys were starting to grow silent and worried. The two oldest decided to speed up and make it to the top. They would come back in a car for John and me.
Another hour went by before my mother showed up BIG TIME in her car to fetch us. No one knew where we had gone, only that we were missing. She was furious, not at precious little me, but most definitely at the big boys for their lack of planning, lack of telling parents, lack of water, lack of caring for little sister, lack of any evidence of good sense.
I remember being sick for a couple of days from dehydration and heat exhaustion. That’s probably what’s wrong with me today, brain damage from walking up a mountain. But given the chance, I’d probably do it again in a heartbeat!
Brian Doyle’s essay “To the Beach” from October 2015 Sun magazine was shared as the prompt for this piece at our Farther Along fall retreat (at the beach, of course). Read a part of it here.