This was my “last” photograph.
After hiking 8 miles and shooting for 7 hours in the Mount Wilson region, I was fearful that I wouldn’t make it back by nightfall. At the 7 o’clock fall of sun, without any water left, and with extreme muscle fatigue, I knew I was going to use my will to survive and climb back up Mt. Wilson. In slight, just to use my eyes to see the narrow trail. I had 3 miles left to go up the mountain and to my car.
Shadows fell into the night. It was pitch black. With one wrong possible move, I could slide off the edge of the trail, like the stones that I had playfully kicked earlier that day or as I had actually did a couple weeks before when hiking the Devil’s Punchbowl (a whole other tale of survival). My cell phone didn’t have reception and then died, much like how I had felt I might do. There was an interlude of silence with a desire to listen to the beautiful but eerie evening, yet I couldn’t. I had to get back without hesitation.
At the halfway mark, I lifted a leg over a rock. Then all of a sudden, my legs had given way to an unbelievably surreal cramping. From my thighs to calves and feet, they had shutdown with an immense pain that I screamed out in pure agony and collapsed. My muscles contracted stiff as a corpse. They were rendered useless. I couldn’t move them at all, yet there was a searing pain through out both legs. And then at that minute, I realized that no one was around for miles. I writhed in torment. No one knew where I was either. I became as worthless as my legs. It was an unimaginable hell. I became an echo through the mountain that didn’t have a destiny.
After a moment of infinity, I had gathered my strength. Breathing in and out, heavy and aware of my struggle, I slowly continued to walk the trail. Limping and stopping, limping and stopping. It was an instinctual battle between one’s self. The desire to reach my car and the need to pace myself so I that don’t fall off the cliff or drain any more energy had then collided with desperation. The cramping continued as did the knowledge of possibilities, both negative and positive, but with all of those possibilities, came a passion and an ability to push further. All I could say to myself out loud, in so to scare any bears away, “OK. Alright. OK. Alright. You got this, Coy. OK. Alright. You can do this” in some sort of chaotic chant.
In breaking my meditation for survival, I yelled out for help as a whimsical joke and hope. Then a squirrel, or a possible something that scared the crap out of me, made a scuffling in the brush. I jumped a foot ahead, turned to the anonymous sound, and screamed “Hey!” because with such extreme exhaustion, I could only but blurt out such a useless expression. With fists clenched and wild in my eyes, I was ready to kill something or be killed by something. Ecstatic from the jolting fear of a sound, I surrendered to the spark and walked with the fire.
The adrenaline floated me another few yards, until I came to an area that seemingly looked like the hiking trail. But with only the ability to see a foot in front of me, I recognized that I wasn’t on the trail anymore. Luckily, I backed track, yet I still couldn’t find the trail at its juncture. I guessed. With baby steps, I found it. Again, the possibilities arose with an attainable will to keep pushing further up the tiresome mountain.
Then rocks that I had taken photos of earlier had appeared. I celebrated with a sigh and another collapse from my cramps, yelling “OK, Coy. You got this! Damn it, you got this”, but I knew that even if I reached the top, anything could still happen. So as I was still saying to myself incoherently in echo “OK. Alright. OK. Alright”, I came upon this view of the city. I stopped for a moment. Inhaled the open night air, and thought that I have to take this photo… if it’s the last photo that I ever take.
After another half an hour, I finally reached the top. Nobody was there. It was as desolate as the trail. I had never been so relieved to feel concrete, to feel its stability. I cried hysterically with an overwhelming joy and fatigue. Upon arrival to my car, there was a water pump. I couldn’t have drank the crisp cold water fast enough. Still in shock of sorts as I got into my car, I mumbled “OK. Alright.” Another hour, and I was home.
So, thank you for letting me share my experience. For me, it’s a way of learning and relieving. I’m still recovering, now emotionally, from the trauma. But, I’m doing OK now… I’m doing alright!