A Trip Well Deserved
Today my horoscope read “relax and enjoy the scenery”. For a change, it couldn’t be more right. A year ago I took a very stressful promotion at my job. The density of the workload was overwhelming at first, but I pushed through. With long hours and a lot of coffee, I finally got a handle on things. I had made a deal with myself. If I could survive one year without a nervous breakdown, I would take that trip I had always wanted.
Today commemorates that day. That week-long camping trip in the mountains was planned and bags were packed. As I drove to the airport, I thought perhaps I should have planned a beach vacation. Relaxing in a hammock, sipping tropical drinks, feeling the ocean breeze sounded far more soothing for my frazzled nerves. This trip was bigger than that.
Living The Dream
My Dad and I planned this trip years ago when I was little. He always wanted to go mountain climbing. We would sit on a mountain peak and watch the eagles as they soared by. Our beds would be the ground and the stars our blanket. It was his dream, but I had adopted it as my own. Money was always too tight as he spent every penny raising me alone. When he passed away, I vowed to fulfill that dream. The raise with the new job finally gave me the security to enjoy some of the finer things in life. If only the job had come sooner, he could have come with me.
Feeling confident in my decision, I turned up the volume on the radio as I drove myself to the airport. After spending eternity getting through the airport, I was finally able to sit and wait on my plane. It was estimated to arrive in thirty minutes. That’s when my phone rang. With a glance, I saw it was work. No one there knew my exact schedule. If I don’t answer, they will think I’m already on the plane. Turning down the volume, I watched as the call disappeared from my screen.
Finally reaching the park, I picked up the gear I had rented online. With map in hand, I began my hike to the campsite. The beauty around me ignited an excitement. I began trotting along with the agility of a child. Walking logs found beside the path, jumping in small streams soaking my pants legs, and looking around in awe at the scenery around me.
Reaching the site, I set up my tent and began gathering firewood. Keeping my compass in one pocket and map in the other, I checked both regularly. The last thing I wanted to do was get lost. Arm load after arm load I decided that was enough gathering for the night. The sun had began to paint the sky shades of orange and red as it moved down behind the mountains. I lit my fire and watched as it vanished into the night.
I fell asleep counting the stars. More stars than I ever thought imaginable. One can only see a fraction of them from the city I was born in raised in. Between the endless numbers and my sheer exhaustion, I fell asleep. Waking the next morning to the chill of the morning mountain air, I put on my jacket and went to make a fire. I studied my map as I ate my first campfire breakfast. A cave nearby piqued my interest.
It was pictured on the map, but it had no name. The map was put out by the park, and names and information were given on each area of interest. By my own nature, the lack of information stood out more than anything. I readied my backpack for the trip and set out before the sun had fully climbed back out from behind the mountain.
Small animals and plants scattered along the way slowed down my hike. One found plant made me curious and I pulled out my phone to find more information. I only found no service. In this modern age, that makes you feel a bit uneasy to know you are completely out of touch with civilization. That was the point, however, so I shrugged and turned the phone off. Why waste battery.
Reaching the cave just as it was marked on the map, I saw why there was a lack of information. Outside was a sign reading “West Gold Mine, Do Not Enter, Danger!”. I looked once more at the map, and there was nothing else close enough to hike to instead. I had invested my first day in coming here, and I wasn’t just going to turn back. Slipping past the barriers in front of the mine, I made my way inside.
Explore At Your Own Risk
Walking slowly and softly, I explored the walls of the mine with my flashlight. Beneath my feet were the remnants of the old rails used to transport out of the mine. The air was heavy, damp, and musty smelling. The dead silence was only broken by the sounds of my footsteps on the rocks below me. I reached a point where the path went left and right. Pulling out supplies from my backpack, I drew a map on the back of the park map and made marks on the walls. I chose the left path and proceeded forward.
Occasionally, my flashlight would catch a flicker of something in the wall. Should I stumble on a gold nugget, wouldn’t that make an amazing souvenir. Suddenly, I heard voices. At first, I was relieved to know I wasn’t alone in here but then terrified to know as well. After all, I shouldn’t be here and neither should they. Listening closer, I believed the voices were coming from up ahead.
I kept going down the corridor following the tracks and hearing the voices grow louder. Finally, I could see the light that matched the voices. Turning off my own, I tiptoed in closer to investigate. Several men were working by the light of kerosene lanterns. Blackened with dirt, they looked the same. Using heavy pickaxes they toiled away at the walls of the mine. From deep within the bowels of the mine, I heard a rumble.
One of the men quickly yelled for everyone to get out. I followed his directions and turned to run back from where I came. I could feel dust and rock began to shower down from the ceiling. Fumbling to turn my flashlight back on, I kept running back down the path. The voices of the men grew louder and louder, but they never seemed to catch up with me. Large rocks fell and blocked my path. Twice I had to stop and dig past the debris to move forward.
Then suddenly, several large rocks fell knocking me to the ground. Through the cracks, I could see daylight only feet away. I began pulling and pushing against the rocks, but none of them would budge. I went back to try and find the men, but our paths were cut off. I was trapped. I couldn’t move forward or backward. I could only watch as the rays of daylight disappeared through the cracks. Crying, praying, bleeding and defeated I laid down and fell asleep.
The next morning, the rays of light returned to torment me. This was not the trip my father had planned. I was going to die here. No one knew where I was, and I was somewhere I shouldn’t have been in the first place. I tried once more at the stones, but still, none would move. Once more exhausted and devastated I laid down to sleep as the suns rays disappeared.
By the third day, I was angry. I was not going to let this just defeat me. Even the smallest of pebbles could move and put me closer to freedom. Something my father had always taught me echoed in my head. If you can’t run then crawl. It will still put you closer to your goal. So I began looking. One small stone was loose enough to move. Then I found another that was long and pointed like a knife. Using it I worked another and another from the wall. The suns rays were disappearing once again. My single bottle of water in my backpack was gone. I had to make progress and soon.
I’m not sure when, but at some point, I fell asleep leaned up against the immovable wall. The rays of the sun crept in once more on the fourth day. My hands bloody and sore I continued to work at the small rocks. More and more came loose when I heard a noise. I was the sound of the rocks shifting. I ran back hoping and praying the wall would come down. With a rumble, a large rock rolled from the wall and sunlight flooded the cavern. climbing my way through, I reached the opening of the mine. Looking back, the entrance looked the same as it had before.
As quickly as my weakened body would take me, I went to seek someone from the park. I had to tell them about the men trapped in the mine. Finally reaching a ranger, I explained my story. He explained that no one could be trapped down there it was impossible. To prove it, it took me back to the mine, but it was different. Just a pile of rocks. No barrier, no sign, no entrance, nothing I had seen before.
The mine was blown up over a hundred years ago after eight miners died in a collapse. There’s nothing here but a pile of rocks now. “Why is it on the map?” I asked as I pulled the map from my pocket. As I unfolded it to show him, there was no cave listed. Turning it over, I looked for my drawing of the mine's path, but only the words “If you can’t run then crawl” were scribbled on the back.
Questions & Answers
© 2019 Faron Asher