Tales From Camelback Mountain in the Arcadia District of Phoenix, Arizona.
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.
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