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The day is August 13th and my summer has nearly come to a close. In a few weeks it’ll be back to college for me. My Junior year. Yikes! Because of the short period I have remaining in my break, I decided to accomplish a meaningful backpacking trip with my dog Sadie. From an older, day-hiking couple I heard of this trail and its heavenly magnificence. Intrigued, I quickly prepared and here I am now.
So far the weather has been brisk yet the warm sun shines down to relieve me of the goose bumps across my arms and legs. My feet travel across the trail, eyes scanning for possible disruptions set in my way. My hips and shoulders carry, but do not seem to bear the weight of, a large, heavily filled Osprey backpack, containing provisions of food, cookware, filtration systems, sleeping items and clothing.
Beside me proudly walks my loyal companion, Sadie. She’s three, with a face of brown and white, splattered with varying shapes of black and grey. Her body is similar, excluding the brown. She bears the weight of her own sack, filled with her food and foldable bowls, specialized for backpacking. We walk side by side along a trail named Alpine Crest. The forests and mountains surrounding the path are known by the few hikers for their irregular, yet extraordinary beauty.
As we continue our trudge through the trees, I am able to see in the distance a sudden downward angle in the trail that descends into a second forest. As the trees’ density around us thins, and we emerge from the undergrowth of the forest, the scene before us becomes magnificent in an almost fairy-tale way. The mountains in the distance form an arc across the horizon, encompassing the entirety of the area. The summits of the peaks are powdered with snow, a white, almost blinding- if up close- shade, that shimmers with the midday sun. The rock of the mountains themselves contains perfect shades of black and grey, with tints of blue that seem to transform the whole mountain range into something unbelievably brilliant. The forest at the base of the peaks crawls up the lower parts of the rocky surface, with vibrant green colors to contrast the darker mountains. Every tree remains very similar, symmetrical. And in the middle of it all is a grand lake, so colorful and clear; it seems the water is a truer blue than the sky.
From where I stand, I am able to see birds, birds of prey particularly, waiting patiently for signs of fish within the water, and when their prey jumps from the depths, they dive, as if for an expecting audience, to snatch their meal. From my perch atop a low, harmless cliff, I continue to watch mesmerized at the scene. Even Sadie seems to comprehend the unique beauty of the expanse. My breaths are coming slowly in disbelief and I soon realize I had been holding them in, as if waiting for this fantasy scene to disappear or transform into something else. But it never changes, and I steadily exhale. The perfectly set scenery seems as if it could be a picture, one that could appear in a dream of mine; so unreal that it makes me wonder if I actually am in a dream.
A brief, sad thought enters my mind of my grandmother. We spent every trip like this one together, and after she passed away every place I go reminds my of her and of how much she would have loved it. The thought vanishes from my mind and, eager to enter the forest to see what animals and birds live within it, I begin the precarious trudge down the unchallenging cliff. Sadie bounds into action, happy that we are moving once again.
I reach the base of the cliff in a short period of time, Sadie already waiting impatiently for me at the bottom, as she had raced down the hill, expecting me to do the same. I laugh at her annoyed face and rub her head forgivingly as she grudgingly gets up from her position to join me in walking the remaining distance to our unspecified campsite.
Excitedly, I scan the lengths of the trees that surround us, on the lookout for any signs of wildlife. At first it appears I am unable to locate any, though within seconds, as if on cue- or as if something was able to read my mind- a herd of four deer walk into view. The mother slowly walks beside her few month old fawn. A male with a full rack- and another female walk alongside each other, ahead of the mother and her young. They appear to be a content family, one without worry or arguement. And oddly, they don’t seem to even care or become cautious as I stare directly at them.
Not wanting to frighten the sensitive mammals, I glance forward, to ensure we are headed in the supposedly correct direction. I now alter the purpose of my search to locating an appropriate destination to sleep for the night. As I search, the wondrous flowers and plants catch and hold my attention. Types of flowers I had neither seen nor heard of cover the ground, some small, delicate species, some large, magnificent ones; all with colors of soft yellow, baby blue as well as rich blue, hot pink, blood red, and sunset orange. I gaze up at the sky for a flew fleeting seconds, the azure atmosphere holding my eyes for longer than I intended.
The perfection of everything within this setting is so mythical, it is almost unbelievable. I have seen and experienced multiple varied locations, yet this one differs so highly from each and every one of them. Not only is the grandeur of this sight unmatchable, but it seems as if everything here is set up particularly for me, to ensure a wonderful trip, one without the stress of survival or the potential thought of danger.
I resume my search for a level, soft ground space to pitch a tent. Minutes later, I discovered a small, closed sector of the forest, ringed by trees, and nestled against an immense stone wall, slightly shorter than the cliff we scaled earlier. Figuring this would be a satisfactory spot, I unloaded the tent, poles and stakes to begin the process. Quickly, the tent was put up, and, for safe measures I put the rain fly on, even though the sky showed no signs of future showers.
Soon enough the hour neared six, and Sadie whined with hunger, so I brought her food supplies out of her sack and poured the pellets into her rubber feeding bowl. Once the food was in front of her, it didn’t last a minute before disappearing into her mouth. Watching her eat the dry food made me quickly realize that we had no remaining water left from our water bottles we had prepared for the trek to our destination. I fetch the filtration mechanism from my pack and grab my jacket in the instance the temperature drops. I select a route I assume will lead us to the lake and possibly to some smaller freshwater streams running off of the mountains’ peaks; Sadie follows close behind.
I soon see the blue hue of the lake’s surface bleeding through the thick needles of the pine trees. At the lake’s edge, there appears to be a relatively deep, algae- and - fungi- free drop off. I bend down to feel the liquid against my hand. The cool temperature of the water against my dry, filthy hands was refreshing. I pumped a liter of the H2O through the filtration system, my arm, oddly enough, never tiring from the job. I pump a few more millimeters to ensure a large supply of water, and warmly call to Sadie to follow me back to our campsite.
Once there I pour the majority of the liquid into Sadie’s bowl and she happily laps it into her mouth, quenching her thirst. Then I refill my bottle with some of the remaining water. As I slowly sip the cool substance, the taste that enters my mouth is in no way what I had expected.
A sweetness, one like honey, but in no way overpowering, has affected the drink. Having tasted nothing like it before, and not expecting to ever again, I reserve the amount in my bottle, sipping it slowly to relieve my own dehydrated system.
Becoming hungry, I use the last amounts of water from the bag to hydrate my freeze-dried meal. Pouring one cup of water into a foldable rubber pot, setting it atop my compact backpacking stove, and cranking the temperature of the device up, will bring the water to a boil where it will remain at the stage for two minutes before it is warm enough to heat the freeze-dried food.
At this point the water has warmed to the appropriate temperature, and I dump the pot’s contents into the bag of dehydrated food.
After twenty minutes passes, I figure the freeze-dried substance would have properly absorbed the water and heated. Opening the bag, I dig my spoon in and begin to eat. The hot food rushes down my throat and immediately heats my core. Against the cooling temperatures, the meal is extremely satisfactory. But not only is the heat of the food outstanding, but the taste seems to have been amplified, upgraded to a premium camping meal, which is funny because this exact same meal, just months ago, tasted much different.
But the satisfaction is short lived. In the near distance, there appears a large dog-like figure. As he gets closer, I realize that the dog is a wolf. And he approaches us curiously, maybe considering whether to eat us or leave us alone, though the expression on his face is less menacing and more playful. Fear fills my mind and blocks out any reasonable actions of escape, until I am frozen, standing and facing the wolf. But then he does something that surprises me.
He rolls over onto his back, invitingly, and wags his tail, as if in a few moments transforming his personality into that of a dog. Sadie, leaving all sense of reason behind, bounds over to where the wolf lays and I almost shout, fearing for her life, but then Sadie and the wolf interact with one another, are chasing each other and barking joyfully.
As they begin to recede into the distance, I run after them, hoping I don’t lose them, intrigued by the sudden display of playful affection from the wolf and the manner in which Sadie completely let down her guard, to follow him. I catch up to the two of them while they are busy pouncing on one another. The stress on my heart lifts a little- as if a small light begins to shine through- when I see the look of joy on Sadie’s face. Never had I seen her more joyful, and I never believed she would ever act this happy, for her personality was a more serious, and obedient one. It made me euphoric to finally see her act like a normal, light-hearted dog. The two frolic in the meadow for a short period of time before they are on the move again. Following them, and keeping pace relatively easily, I find the wolf has led us to a steep cliff. Sadie and the wolf seem to register that there is a dangerous area up ahead and stop many yards from the edge to continue their play. I walk closer to the drop-off of the cliff. I pause feet from it, and peer downward, All of a sudden a vivid, impossible memory comes flooding back . . .
. . . I’m running, laughing, after Sadie as she bounds along in front of me. Joy in my face and a sparkle in my eyes. We come upon a cliff, one that drops dangerously at the edge. We stop, aware of the fact that this could mean death if acting foolishly around this area. As I turn to head in the opposite direction of the cliff, I find myself facing a large, brown animal, that stands on its hind legs, and roars, showing its power. The bear, massive compared to me, drops down to all fours and approaches me, trapping Sadie and I against the cliff. And then it suddenly walks faster, its slow pace turing into a run and scared as heck, not knowledgeable about what to do in this situation, I stumble backwards . . . a mistake. As soon as I do so, I feel my feet leave the ground, my body drop with the force of gravity, and I’m falling, uncontrollably, towards the rapidly closing surface of the forest.
At first I doubt the memory, believing it to be a strange vision brought on by my silly worries and stress. But being here by the cliff . . . doesn’t feel unfamiliar. In fact it seems as if I’m experiencing deja vu. Questions fill my head, and I want to cry, as if I could cry out the vision and replace it with something else. Tears form steady streams down my face as I battle with the confusion of what’s happening. Sadie and the wolf, noticing my distress, walk by my side, as I absentmindedly wander back to the campsite. Upon reaching the campsite I notice a woman, sitting by the fire roasting a marshmallow. Her method of rotating the stick above the fire is the way my grandmother used to teach me. I then see her face, though she doesn’t yet see mine. And the face is also familiar. She looks like my grandmother. But that couldn’t be possible, for she has been gone over four years. She looks up at me from her position on the log, meeting my gaze, and gives me a reassuring, genuine and loving smile.