Widows Tear 7/20/14

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Status: Finished  |  Genre: Non-Fiction  |  House: Booksie Classic

A documented account of being lost in the mountains

It was pitch black, cramped and hopeless.  With the sun gone and knowing we were so far from the bottom of the mountain, I could feel my sanity and rationality turning against me.  I would close my eyes take long deep breaths trying to keep them under control.  The thick brush in our path was like walls, making us struggle for every step taken.  Time and time again we would hit these barriers, having to tear through, crawl under, or try to go over.  I could feel a sense of panic washing over me, and with no disregard I would push through letting the thorns tear at me just hoping we would reach the bottom and this nightmare would be behind us.  Another wall…  I wanted to scream.  Just lay down and give up; exhausted and dehydrated, I looked up towards the scattered, vibrant stars above me and I prayed.

Starting at the top of a popular spot in Santa Barbara, California, called Lizard's Mouth, Andrew, Allyssa, and I looked down over the city beneath us.  The houses, tiny and barely able to make out, only the larger structures and the airport were recognizable.  The day was warm, but not too hot; the sky clear, making the ocean a bright blue with the islands very clear on the horizon.

 We had already started off late, missing our starting time by a couple of hours.  Against all protest, a dog was tagging along, and just fresh from a recovered broken leg.  The Widow’s Tear hike was hardly a hike at all.  It is a canyon route with no trail that goes all the way down from Lizard's Mouth rock, all the way to Glenn Annie road in Goleta, California, just North of Santa Barbara.  With normal, fit hikers and adventures, it could be done in seven hours or so. 

 Having never done this hike, I hate calling it a hike, I trusted the experience of my best friend that we would in fact, with the dog, be able to still make it to a trail and roads at the very bottom just before the sun would settle behind the mountains for the day. 

 We started our way down, and for much of the hike we were having a great time, enjoying the awesome view, talking and laughing, and to Andrew’s and my surprise, the dog was an extremely capable at hiking.  Even with no path, he would follow the three of us or make his own way, wagging his tail and having one of those big dog smiles on his face. 

 The brush was thick, but manageable and we got to Widow’s Tear waterfall, with completely no water due to our drought, and set up a repel that would take us to the bottom of this dry fall safely.  Everything was still good and fun, but I do recall seeing the placement of the sun and where we were at this point and feeling a little nervous that we would get caught in the dark.  Even with the dog’s underrated capacities of navigating this canyon with us, for much of it, he still need to be carried down large steep drops, causing us to take a great deal of time and slowing us down immensely.  Assured that once we got to the bottom of the waterfall, the path would open more and we would be able to quicken our pace, I did not think much of it and I loaded myself up with gear.  Andrew and Allyssa placed the dog in a backpack for Andrew to take down and the three of us slid down the rope to continue our journey. 

 At the bottom now, we went on, and the sun was just over the mountains, and the brightness of the day beginning to dim away.  I am not sure if the canyon actually became more dense than it was up top or more of a reality was sinking in that we were still so far from the bottom, but all I do know is that the situation started to unravel very fast.  The once great super dog was now running out of gas and had to be carried the remainder of the way.  Much of what we walked on now was all the dead trees, branches, and other debris from all the mountain; natural gravity would make everything find its way to this canyon that we were following down.  With the drought, everything was brittle and dry, and being mostly desert type plants, everything was surround in sharp thorns. 

 Trying to make up for time, I would go ahead and clear a path for the other two as they helped the dog down, now completely refusing to walk on his own.  Before, I would carefully break branches and make paths or tunnels for us to go through, but with the thought of getting free from this canyon, I pushed through with little care for my arms and legs, letting it tear at me as I cracked and snapped all the dry, sharp branches and sticks.  Occupied with my own struggle of clearing this path, I still did not envy the duty of Andrew and Allyssa as they fought to get the 40 pound dog down the mountain.  If 40 pounds does not seem like very much weight to you, go lift a 40 pound weight over your head repeatedly for about 22 hours and give me your thoughts on that. 

 Behind me I could hear Andrew trying to stay positive for Allyssa, as she was beginning to break down.  Like me, she had never done Widow’s Tear before and didn’t have a real idea of what to expect.  She was quickly losing energy and pushing the dog down the drops, having Andrew catch him, just adding to the weight being forced on Andrew’s rapidly depleting arms. 

 Time after time we would power our way through these walls of thick debris, open up to a very small and confined area to take a breath, only to be greeted by yet another wall.  As we got lower, pockets of water started forming and soon became flowing.  Completely dark now, as well as dehydrated, hungry, and now wet, frustration was setting in.  I remember feeling the frustration, mixed with such a hopelessness and heavy feeling of being alone.  Fear and a sort of panic was in the back of my mind; it wasn’t that we were lost, we just had to follow the canyon, but just not knowing how much further there was to go, caused that fear and panic to bubble in the back of my mind, wanting me to be selfish and leave the others and get away.  I am not proud of that, but I would constantly close my eyes and breath slow, and try to stay positive with Andrew for Allyssa. 

 Writing this, I do not want to sound like Allyssa was totally losing it.  She is for sure a trooper and was only feeling the same discouragement we all did.  Seeing her dog in such a state had to be extremely hard, and feeling so hopeless trying to get him to safety.  I remember being very worried about him as well, I can’t even imagine how amplified it was in her mind.  Andrew and I, we have been climbing cliffs and finding adventure forever, so we are completely comfortable in times of adversity like this, but her coming out with us for the first time, must have made it really hard not knowing us totally. 

 Talking about me and Andrew, he has always been more of the thrill seeker compared to me; always the brave trail blazer that takes the lead and I back him up with my more cautious and planned out nature.  Together we make a rather good team when it comes to taking on large endeavors like this.  When we were finding ourselves trapped in this Widow’s Tear canyon, it was the first time that I ever saw Andrew show any signs of unravelling.  He is always the guy that saves the day, and seeing him begin to slip into that mindset was hard for me.  Andrew and I always can take on anything together, and that night, we lost, we lost extremely hard and it was a new feeling to accept.  Failing something with the option of quitting and opting out is one thing, but not having that option, any fail safe, is a whole different dynamic; it is daunting and heavy.

 I was about 20 yards ahead of Andrew and Allyssa, and I broke through to another small opening in the thick unrelenting debris, and ahead I saw yet another fallen tree, three actually, a small drop and another wall to power through.  I heard Andrew calling to the dog, trying to encourage him to move on, and I heard Allyssa crying.  I couldn’t stand to tell them again, like a thousand times before that it was still not opening up.  Andrew explained to us that eventually we would come to man-made bridges, and there we would find a trail; a trail! Open, cleared, easy walking… heaven.  Every time I pushed through I would look for the bridges, hoping with all my soul and heart and every time I would shout back my dismal findings of just more thick merciless debris and plant growth.  I was in this small open area, hearing them behind me, I felt so utterly broken.  I couldn’t get the words out of my mouth to tell them again.  I sat down and looked at the stars.  Feeling my sweat stinging all my cuts and gashes covering my arms and legs, I just couldn’t go through another round of clearing a path anymore.  Looking up at the stars I prayed to God,

 

“God give us something, man!  Please, please, PLEASE just show a bridge… we’re broken and stuck and we can’t give anymore, God.  If it’s your will, do the best thing for us, get us out of here safe, help us push on safely and dude… no more debris and growth and all that bullshit would be SO nice, man.”

 

 Not a very a conventional prayer, but I remember the words still.  The other two with the dog, caught up to me while I sat there waiting for them.  Nothing needed to be said, they saw what I saw too.  I cannot speak for them, but I imagine they felt similar to me; I felt so mentally and physically broken.  Staying positive was becoming a huge task and just physically moving further on was such a challenge.  I could see Allyssa exhausted as well, devastated by yet another wall to power through.  Andrew barely able to lift his own arms, let alone carry the dog any further.  The dog’s legs were shaking so harshly that it could not even stand anymore.  We decided that continuing on was no longer an option, and on our little, tiny island, we made camp to rest. 

 We were able to get a fire going, as Andrew had a lighter on him.  We took an inventory of what we had left to get us through the night and the following day.  We only had three water bottles for us and the dog, not too good, but a bunch of mixed nuts luckily full of carbohydrates and protein for some good energy.  Unfortunately no dog food, but he didn’t seem to mind eating almonds, better than nothing I suppose.  Packing light, I easily contributed the least to the inventory; hiking around Santa Barbara, I never expected to find myself in such a predicament, I sat there shivering in my gym shorts and beater shirt as the cold temperatures of night seeped down through the canyon.  Thankfully, Andrew and Allyssa were a little more prepared; Andrew with a long sleeve thermal and sweater vest, that I could barrow, and Allyssa, the only one to think of actually bringing any type of light source that got us as far as we did once the sun went down.  The moon was merely a sliver and not giving much of any light. 

 Sitting there I recalled my prayer to God, and I had mixed feelings about what preceded after it.  I have been diving more into His word lately and feeling closer to Him.  Going to church I have been learning about Daniel, and that inspired me to read the book of Daniel, learning about him and who we heard about as Shadrach, Meshach and Abednego; I figured if they could survive lion dens and furnaces, I could spend the night in a canyon.  After reading Daniel, I have read many other books throughout the Bible and have been feeling God more and more in my life exponentially.  Another part of me, however, did not think highly of God’s decision to not give me what I asked for.  I was not bitter towards Him, not mad, not anything like that, but in my mind, the best way that He could help us is by agreeing that what I asked for was the best, which was getting us out of that canyon.  I accepted that we were staying there and said a silent prayer to myself that He is in control and please keep us safe.

 After we had a fire going and were laying down, our spirits did rise.  We joked, laughed and told stories to pass time.  I did remember feeling guilty because the last texts I was able to get out to a couple friends were ones of trouble and being stuck.  At our campsite, there was no reception for me and I was unable to reassure them that we were alright.  Luckily, Allyssa, who has AT&T, would have a sporadic bar of service.  She was able to tell her friend, Brennan, that we were safe and resting.  We also did call search and rescue, because we were very worried about the dog’s state.  They were unable to help us, as it was dark and they could not risk themselves for an animal.  I figured that would be the case, but it was nice to hear voices on the other side of the phone.  Being stuck out there with no possibility of help coming, it was at least something to be reminded other people were other there.  That canyon felt like its own world totally separate from the rest.

 I tried to sleep, but I personally did not get any.  Even with the fire, I was still cold from the breeze and the wet ground.  Andrew may have got about a half an hour and Allyssa did not sleep until morning came and it was warmer again.  Even then she did not get much as we had to move on and get out of there.  The dog, however, slept amazingly. 

 When daylight came we packed up and smothered our fire.  We were still exhausted, thirsty, the dog still shaky, but ready to move.  The sun brought back a more positive attitude.  We hopped those three fallen trees and pushed through a handful of more thick growth and debris, but as we got closer to the end it did open more.  There was more water, deeper and flowing, rocks more slippery, but far easier to navigate during the day.  I remember Allyssa catching salamanders, trying to find the biggest one, the dog playing and swimming around in pools of water.  We even took some time to jump in a large pool of water and swam around for a little fun.  The water was cold and brisk but feeling the previous day wash off was so amazing and we came out fresh and new. 

 We found the much anticipated bridges that we were looking for and the trials that followed that took us to the huge wide roads, away from the thick unrelenting struggles behind us.  A man named Alex who was a worker on a ranch gave us a ride all the way to Glenn Annie road where Allyssa’s friend, Brennan, met us with McDonald’s sausage McMufffins, water, Gatorade and coffee; much needed calories! 

 Our trip was finally done and we made it out safe and looking back towards the mountains, we could see the very top where Lizards Mouth was, and Widow’s Tear beneath that and all the canyon that we descended.  It was great to see our accomplishment and what we just conquered together.  What broke us down so much, but what we were able to overcome. 

Driving back home, I thought about my prayer that I pleaded to God.  I looked back and I felt this emotion well up in me of just how much He was with us; he was right there with us the whole time.  When I prayed to Him, I prayed for what I thought we needed, selfishly.  After the fact, I recognized if we pushed on, going through that canyon in the pitch black was way too slippery, steep and dangerous.  We would have been completely soaked in the coldest temperatures of the early morning, just a perfect setup for one of us to easily slip and fall, get hurt, hypothermia, or any number of things. 

I recall talking to Andrew that during our morning trek to the end, there was absolutely no other place to camp out.  Not that there was nothing better than our small little island that barely fit us, but completely nowhere we could have slept.  If we continued on, we would have had to push to the end all night long at the worst time.  I saw then just how amazing God is and affirmed He was right there knowing exactly what we needed the whole time.  We all were completely broken at the same time, mentally and physically, absolutely unable to go any further when we got to where we camped; out of the entire canyon, that was the very last spot we could have stopped to lay down and make a fire; rest up and dry off.  Also, Allyssa happened to bring flashlights and headlamps when we never thought we would even be there after dark, I thank God that she thought to prepare for the worst.  He gave Allyssa a single solitary bar on her cell phone that would drop and come back, so we could briefly reach out to others from down deep there in that canyon.  By a complete miracle, her friend, Brennan from Solvang, just happen to run into Andrew’s and my friends here from Santa Barbara who knew we were in trouble.  He was able to relay the message to them that we were alright, safe and camping for the night. 

Hearing later how when our friends knew we were stuck, they drove up and down the mountain looking for signs of us; going to the top, waiting at the bottom for anything to know that we were safe.  It all made me feel so blessed to know that we have the best friends in the whole world.  Allyssa’s friend Brennan, Andrew’s and my friends, Jake, Stephen, Rachel, Carrie, and Cristina.  I am so blessed by God to have these amazing people in my life.

He was in control the whole time and feeling His presence was almost overwhelming when it was all over.  As much of a sinner I am and undeserving of His love and mercy, out of all the people in the world he was right there next to us, watching over us and loving us.  I will never forget that Widow’s Tear canyon and the memories we made.  Most of all, I will not forget that feeling of God’s presence with us.

 


Submitted: November 24, 2020

© Copyright 2021 Minion of Coeus. All rights reserved.

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