I was rounding up Echo the other day, on the part of the trail where you’ve completed the first three obstacles- the path (the new stairs), the rails and the rocks. I consider this the halfway point- I’m not sure if it really is or not.
My legs were on fire per usual, but I know the greeting of the Phoenix skyline too well to slow down near the top of the rocks, so I kept going. Startled as always at my body’s ability to fight through complaint, I kept my pace once I got to the next section that bridges the end of the first half- that rocky, somewhat flat area- to the beginning of the second half. The real rocks, I call them. The ones that last for seemingly ever.
The flat-ish area started to wind up to the view of Paradise Valley from the north side of the mountain. I told myself to keep up the speed. To keep going. I could probably make it to the top in under forty. For me, this is a great time.
So there I was, encouraging my steps toward the real rocks, sneaking a brief glance at PV when a sister turned back to her brother to encourage him along their descent. She couldn’t have been more than nine. “You can’t focus on the hike,” she told him. “You have to look up. It’s the view that keeps you going.”
I’m certain there are place mats and bumper stickers with those words, it was nothing I hadn’t heard before. But to hear it from such a young mind, stating so obviously the facts of life, I stopped in my tracks.
I’ve hiked Camelback for many years, the views from most vantage points are imprinted in my imagination indelibly.
When is the last time I actually stopped and looked at one those views? I wondered.
Fast times are a testament to my health, an encouraging route in my life motivation, no doubt. I take pride in challenging my body and pushing past my mind’s request to give up or slow down. But how long had it been since I looked up while hiking, at the end of the obstacles, not just once I got to the top?
Too often in life, we race. We put our heads down to get through the tough times because we know what’s waiting as our prize is worth it. And it is. And we know by now that the journey fuels our souls. Our footprints on the soil the annotations of our efforts. The hard stuff gives us character. But what about the views from the trail, while we climb either up or down?
I have forgotten in this life to look out while I’m in the rough. I’ve focused on looking down, seeing myself from bird’s eye view, making the climb. Knowing it was worth it to get to the top. The view would be enormous.
That nine-year-old was onto something. It isn’t about the hike. The challenges. The effort we use to fuel our footsteps. There is beauty around us every step of the way; a new perspective of grandiosity around every hump on the trail.
How fortunate are we to experience life without filter? Don’t forget to stop every once in a while. To take it slow. “You have to look up,” she said. “It’s the view that keeps you going.”
By: a loyal hiker
When I was fourteen, I began requesting rides to the base of Echo Canyon Trail. I carried with me a backpack up to the top, found a seat on one of the many edges and pulled out a book to read. I read until after the sun went down, watching it sink beyond the memories of childhood that at fourteen, were the majority of my life. I’d flick on my headlamp once darkness grew more prominent, and then call my mom to pick me up.
It became my routine. My place. My home away from home. When life at the base got troubling, I climbed up and away from the people and predicaments that burdened my life. I reached closer to the universe, scanned wider expanses of horizon.
Life changed. I moved homes several times. Switched schools. Followed and fell into different family and friend circles. There never was a scene from which the peak of Camelback didn’t provide me a point of vantage. I climbed, faster and slower some months than others. Praying some years, listening to music during others. Hiking sometimes with my dad, sometimes not. Hiking with friends from home when I visited from college; with friends from school when I visited from college. With boyfriends.
One year I fell sick to a vicious auto immune disease. I stayed in bed most hours of the day and wore a heart monitor when I walked. Two years into my recovery, I faced Cholla (let’s be honest, she’s easier). I made to the bend where you could see the Phoenician golf course- that very first glimpse that looks east out over the course toward Talking Stick. Although I’m not sure I remember what it looked out toward then. At any rate, my heart was plummeting toward my feet. Nausea was setting in, again. I told my dad I needed to turn around. We did.
Every few weeks, I tried again. I fought waves of vomit begging for release, vertigo tantalizing my head. Many breaks. It took a semester, but I could make it to the saddle, consistently.
I returned to school and didn’t visit home for a year. I broke up with a boyfriend, we were moving again, my foundation was crumbling once more and my heart failed to recognize itself. So I put in my earbuds with Coldplay or One Republic or something emotional and I headed up toward sunset. It had been one year since I barely regained my strength. A year since I got out of my own head to look down at life. A year since I’d been home. Much more than a year since I’d had the luxury of reflecting on life, no longer fighting every day to wake up, to get better. To get healthy.
I took it slow, winding around the backside of the first hump, caving into the protected hollowness that is a shaded evening ascent on the north side of Cholla. My head was down, my mind following lyrics, not footsteps. I had no idea for what I was looking. And then it happened. Fifteen steps to the saddle then ten then oh crap actually probably thirty to go, then twenty then ten then five and four and three, two and sunset. Falling over our tiny, scattered skyline.
Blazing. Shining like a god in every direction. I don’t remember how long I watched the night bid goodbye. But it was that set of the sun; that engagement of the universe; that everlasting will of nature to outdo a bad day. A bad year. A bad three years. It held me together. It got me back down the hill. Back up the next day; the next trip home. Every trip home, over the subsequent years I spent living abroad or elsewhere across the country.
It never changed. I did, certainly. My thoughts on trails, my paces, my company I kept. My outlook on life once I sat up on a ledge. My health; my mobility. I regained vigor and slipped. Regained; slipped. Heading always to the mountain in between to test the limits of my physical self. My mental self. My will power. My heart. Both its RPM and emotional elasticity.
I climb Echo everyday now, sometimes twice. The new sunset rule is a buzzkill, but I'm rolling with it. Allowing that change to lead me up and down the mountain at different times in the day. I keep changing, and life keeps changing. But everyday, I go back.
No matter where my home takes root or where my fears get swallowed into society, Camelback stays. More people in the spring; signs with rules; people that race; big homes sprawling about. Some aspects change. But not nature. She stays with me, every year. Allowing me to come for reprieve; for challenge; for venting; for exploring; for filling up my lungs past capacity with the confidence of beating death. The reminder of me. The consistency of change. A provision of security. Of sameness. Of oneness.
She’s been everything even as just one thing. That little mountain in my backyard. The ground beneath my feet. My stepping stones.
Just another Manic Monday
By: Jim Scannell (Scottsdale, AZ)
Although I am an avid hiker of both Echo Canyon and Cholla Trail and have been for over 20 years, I do recall one hike that ended with quite a surprise. After taking my high school age daughters to a Madonna concert several years ago on a Saturday night (we had front row seats) I woke up relatively early the next morning and hiked Cholla trail. As was my custom back then, I would end my hike we a hearty breakfast on the patio at the 19th Hole Grill at the Phoencian Resort Gold Course.
As I was eating my breakfast and reading the paper on a gorgeous Sunday morning I noticed this man facing me sitting at the table across from me and there was a woman with her back to me eating breakfast with him. I keep glancing at this man and was trying to figure out where I recognized him from. It finally dawned on me that he was the bass player at the Madonna concert the night before and I had been 25 feet from him for entire concert. With a little more than awkward enthusiasm, I looked at him and said “that was a great concert last night…..I had front row seats and was sitting right in front of you with one of my daughters”. He looked at me and he said “glad you liked it….what did you think of Madonna?
I replied “she has a lot of energy but I didn’t realize how short she was” at which point the woman whose back was to me this entire time turned around and said “well thanks for the compliment”. Of course the woman was Madonna, wearing a hat and a large pair of sunglasses.
Anyhow, I thought it was a pretty cool experience overall. Getting the hike in early and seeing Madonna and one her band members having breakfast out on the patio.
Boy of '99
By: Tony Klingen (Minneapolis, MN)
It’s Christmas morning and I’m nine years old. We wake up to few presents and no snow. My parents dragged me here from Minnesota to see my cousins. Last I checked. Santa delivers presents on a sleigh. Last I checked, no sleighs in the desert. Instead of helping my dad cut down firewood and build a toasty fire inside, I’m instructed to put on my short sleeve shirt and go hiking.
But first, a round of presents for each of the cousins, each aunt and uncle. It’s 1999 and under the wrapping of my paper is a Motorola FR50 2-mile 14 Channel Walkie Talkie. This is top of the line. Last summer, they got us walkies to take on the boat across the bay to the candy store. Yes, the candy store. Can I be this young and still have such aged anecdotes? By the time we got to the store, our parents were out of range, we were free and more independent than Gordie, Chris, Teddy and Fern. So this Christmas, with more channels to choose from, we set off from our parents to reclaim our freedom.
We climb all the way up to the top and I have to tell you, I remember little. What I do remember came next. There is a conversation with a plumber and crude remarks by my brothers. There are empty threats between two men, all on which we butt in with completely irrelevant comments. And then there is a perfectly feminine voice on Channel 7, Mode 14. My Wendy Peffercorn that I never knew I’d find in Arizona.
She is perfect. She asks about my day, I press to talk before my brothers can. There is only the 2-mile radius, but at 9, that could have been anywhere. So I work up the nerve to ask where Wendy lives. My brothers nearly push me down the backside of the camel, but it is then that I am running to catch my balance that she comes over the Motorola FR50 to tell us she lives at the bottom of Camelback Mountain. Precisely the location where we mentioned we were hiking. I can’t believe my own ears and I search fervently for any girl in a red one piece near the base. Perhaps it is a cruel prank that she’s given us in exchange for our information about the hike. We see no one. My brothers call me a moron and other such names for revealing our whereabouts, but I collect more evidence as we descend further. She lives by a golf course, she says. She is out by the pool. The pool! In December!
And there in the distance just below is my future, waving up not knowing I am falling in love at just nine years old. My brothers push and we pick up the pace until we stockpile halt into a cousin ahead who is stopped and howling. She’d been listening on our channel and pointed at the girl waving and told us to look closer, now that we were closer. She was old! She had to have been in college. The eldest of us was just thirteen. So we do what any prideful person would do, we pretend we can’t see her waving and make sounds into the walkie to signal that we’re losing signal. We trudge back to Christmas in the sand with few presents, no snow and no Wendy Peffercorn.
It was a hard week of recovery until my return to Minnesota, but I'm still out here. So Girl by the Pool on Camelback with the Walkie Talkie on Christmas 1999, if you’re out there and reading this… find me on Channel 7, Mode 14.
Boy of ‘99
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