Whitehole.net logo
Menu
Home
Stories
Book Ratings
Submissions
Best SciFi Stories
Cin's Movie Reviews
The Library
Bookmarks
Newsletter Archive
About Us
Join the Mailing List
Donate

Stories from Members
Rusty Keele

Marathon Hike


I have many vivid memories from the summer of 1993 - bright sunny days, shooting clay pigeons with my friends, playing horse shoes in the park, catching up on movies I had missed over the past couple of years... and the hike. Now when I say “the hike” I'm not talking about one of the many incredible scenic walks I took through beautiful Southern Utah that summer, I am referring to the grueling, marathon length trek I made between two cities just to spite a friend.

I know, how dumb does that sound? It sounds pretty dumb to me, but I was only 21 and a bit of a stubborn hot-head. Some of my family members would probably still agree with that assessment. No matter. At that time I had been invited to go fishing with two of my buddies: Chris and Jason. Even though I didn't have a fishing license or even any gear that didn't stop me from joining them.

Early that morning we had headed up to East Carbon, and then several miles past it to Grassy Trail Reservoir. It is a small lake nestled in the canyon just as the landscape turns steep and is covered with pines. We parked the truck by the small dam and made our way around the shore. For several hours I hiked the area immediately surrounding the lake while Jason and Chris fished from their floating inner tubes. Jason kept calling to me wanting me to come down by the shore and talk with him. I had no desire to hold a conversation with someone fifty yards away in the middle of the lake, and I was starting to regret my decision to join them. There was some nice scenery around, so I checked out a couple of roads, a few trails, a grove of trees and the river. I stayed close by but started thinking that if I chose to walk back to my house between Price and Wellington I could probably do it by nightfall. Not the smartest thing to think, but it was rolling around in my head when the sun finally got too hot for fishing and they decided to have lunch.

We got back in the truck and drove a short way down to a little picnic area on the side of the road, next to the river. I am not sure if Jason was in a rotten mood or I was (probably me) but either way he was annoying the crap out of me, constantly asking me what I had been doing, why I came, if I wanted to use his stuff to try catching some fish and several other stupid questions. I ignored him while making up my mind that I would try that walk back home.

While Jason was cooking up some food I pulled Chris aside, “Hey, I am going to hike these hills after lunch. I'll be going towards Price, so if you guys don't see me just head home and I'll find my own way back.”

He gave a quick shrug of his shoulders, “Suit yourself,” he said.

We had a quiet lunch, but afterwards Jason was anxious to get fishing again – feeling that we were “wasting” time lounging by the river when there were fish to be caught. Both Chris and I told him to stuff it as we stretched out in the shade for a little siesta. He refused to be defeated, and pulled out his fishing gear as he headed over to the river to try his luck there.


***


Rusty.... Rusty.... wake up.” I opened my eyes to see Jason's silhouette blocking out the sun.

What?”

It's been an hour – let's go.”

I closed my eyes again, re-arranged my back-pack pillow and said, “I don't want to go back – you guys go on ahead. I'll catch up later.”

What? C'mon, let's just go.” Jason would only be content doing things his way.

I sat up and looked at him, “Listen, you guys go back up. I want to hike around on these hills here for a while. I'll meet you guys back at the road around sunset. What do ya say?”

He looked at me for a long time, “Whatever” he said. He and Chris got back in the truck and drove away.

I waited for several minutes until I could no longer hear the sound of their truck. Then I looked around to make sure they were truly gone. Yep - even the dust had settled. I gathered up my jacket and stuffed it into my backpack along with my magnesium fire strip and canteen.

I wasted no time doing any actual hiking on the hills surrounding the picnic area – nope, I headed straight back down the road towards East Carbon. I figured if I walked fast enough I could make it back to my house before nightfall came – some seven hours away.

I trudged a mile or two down the dirt road until it turned back into pavement, then I moved over to the side and kept going. Very few vehicles passed me, and no one ever stopped to question my intentions.

About an hour after leaving the picnic area I made my way into the tiny town. My first destination was the small grocery store I had seen as we had been driving up to the reservoir. I stopped in there and started browsing the shelves like the two other customers were doing. I wasn't sure what I was looking for, but I knew I would have to eat something before getting home, and I wanted something that would give me the energy I needed to complete the hike. When I came to the canned goods, I had a flashback.

All through high school I had one friend who had tried to be somewhat healthy. I remember Roger sitting at a table in the lunch room stabbing the green beans with his fork. He would hold them up and look at all of us, “Do you know what this is?” he would ask in his mock army sergeant tone. He had done this so many times that we just ignored him. “Pure energy, ” he would say after a moment of glaring at each of us. Then he would start making drum sounds, “pure energy” he would say again – obviously mocking the popular song. Well, if one forkful of green beans was pure energy, then a whole can of them must be loads of energy. I grabbed one can and made for the cashier.

Now that I had dinner in the bag (literally) I could proceed with my grandiose plan. I headed west down golf course road. I had played on the tiny golf course twice before and knew that it was on the edge of town. When I reached it I stopped and watched a handful of golfers play the five greens in both directions. I took a deep breath knowing that these were the last people I would see for a while. Waving to no one in particular I started off into the trees.


***


I made my way due west into the thicket of trees in this area. I was walking perpendicular to the foothills, and soon found myself going up... then down... then up... then down as I traversed along the many small hills at the base of the mountains. With about 100 yards between each hill, I would walk up the hill, then down the other side to the area directly in between. Here I would always find a wash of some sort – a natural drainage to the foothills. Sometimes the wash wasn't anything to worry about – just a few feet across – so I would leap across it. But a few times the washes were bigger than I cared to leap. At these I would stop, back track towards the mountains until the wash became small enough for me to cross safely and then keep going. Finally, at the third big wash I realized that this was slow going, so I just climbed down into it and began a descent away from the mountains. The wash turned out being deeper and steeper than I had anticipated and I was soon in a 15 foot ravine with sheer vertical walls on both sides. I began to worry that I might encounter some wild beast native to East Carbon, die in the ensuing valiant struggle and nobody would ever know where I was. However, as I kept plodding, the wash finally leveled out into an alluvial fan and I was free of the rolling foothills – and any wild beasts that went along with them.

As I came out of the wash I decided to make my way more directly south so that I would avoid the rolling foothills and could travel on flat terrain. It didn't take too long before the scenery began to change for the better. I was soon walking among a thicket of Utah junipers – or cedar trees, as I had always called them. The dry soil was quickly replaced with waves of yellow grass. The sun was shining, the sky was clear, birds were chirping... well, you get the idea. It was absolutely beautiful! I even spotted a herd of Antelope grazing in this all-too-Midwest of areas. It was really nice, however, it was soon spoiled as I walked into a heap of trash. I was amazed, and realized that the garbage must be old as I could see no visible road or even tire tracks into this valley meadow. Yet there they were – tires, rusted cars, cans and various other non-perishable crap – desolating this remote beautiful country. Like the Cherokee Indian from some long lost tv commercial, a single tear rolled down my cheek and I thought, “People start pollution, people can stop it.” Okay, I didn't really cry, but I understood how the Indian felt.

I was startled out of my politically correct reverie when I noticed that the sun was getting ever closer to setting. It was evening now and I suddenly realized that my time line for returning home would be off – but probably only by a few hours. I must be about halfway I naively thought. I picked up my pace and began what I thought was a straight shot towards Wellington. I figured it would take less time to get to somewhere in Wellington where I could call for a ride than it would take to get to my house, which was several miles past Wellington.

Now that I was taking a more direct western tack, I began to encounter washes again. These washes, while fewer and farther between than on the foothills, were every bit as deep and steep as the one I had walked down. I was finding it very difficult and time consuming to cross each one. In the end I finally decided that I would have to go almost straight south to avoid crossing so many washes. My plan for making it home by sun down had been shattered, and was looking worse all the time.

After about an hour the sun began to dip behind the mountains to the west. I stopped to watch a very lovely and serene sunset. Then I started to hoof it – trying to keep a southwest approach to Wellington. It didn't take very long for darkness to fall – and it came in full force when it did. I had no idea what phase the moon was in, I only knew that it was nowhere to be seen as the last vestiges of daylight completely disappeared and I was in near total darkness.

Here was a conundrum – do I keep going in the darkness and risk the chance of falling into a 15 foot crevice? Or do I stop for a while (maybe the whole night) until the moon comes up? I couldn't believe how dark it was! As my hiking slowed to an unbearable pace, I finally decided to stop. I was on a nice little hilltop in the midst of several cedar trees and decided that this would be my campground for the night.

I was starving, and since I was stuck here for the time being I figured it was a perfect time to have dinner. I gathered several sticks and twigs and had a nice fire going within minutes. After I had enough hot coals to do some good boiling I took out my dinner – the can of beans. It was at this point that I realized I didn't have a can opener. I was too hungry to let that stop me, so I opened my pocketknife and plunged the blade straight down into the top of the can. Using nearly all my strength I sawed the blade around the inner edge of the can's top. I once thought that fingernails scratching a chalkboard was the worst sound one could hear – not anymore! The sound of a knife blade cutting metal is even worse! Five minutes later my dinner was open.

I warmed up my can of green beans on the coals and laid on the ground watching the stars overhead. They were amazing! Here in the middle of nowhere I could see millions of them. It was mesmerizing, and quite relaxing. I decided that this rest was so nice that I would just sleep here for the night and continue in the morning when I could see better.

I ate the beans one at a time by using my knife blade as a single pronged fork. It was painstakingly slow and exacerbated by the fact that I was so hungry. When I finished I used my back pack as a pillow and watched the stars until as the fire slowly faded away.

Suddenly I sat straight up! I realized that I had forgotten to do something very important that day. You see ever since ninth grade I had read my scriptures every day – well I had missed one day, but I currently had a streak of several years going. Of course to keep this streak I had bent the rules a few times, mostly by counting a “day” as anytime between getting out of bed and going to bed – regardless of the actual time. Now, sitting on a small hill in the middle of nowhere, I realized that I hadn't read that day. As I sat there contemplating the fact that my run of several years was about to come to its end I noticed that the Eastern sky was getting brighter – the moon was rising! I quickly rationalized that hiking the rest of the way during the night would be smarter because it would be cooler. It was decided in an instant – I would finish my marathon trek that night. As soon as the moon peaked over the horizon I was packed and making my way west.


***


This area still had some soft rolling hills and though the hiking wasn't hard I found that a whole new crew of animals were active in the dark. So there I was, just walking along briskly, enjoying the cool outdoor night air when I rounded the top of one of the little rolling hills. On the down side was a herd of antelope, and they obviously hadn't been any more aware of me than I had been of them. We were all startled. I didn't have much trouble seeing them in the now-bright moonlight and I noticed that several of them jumped and made noises that sounded like some kid blowing full force on a kazoo! The herd followed as these few leaders led them on a quick chase away from me. I stood perfectly still with my heart pounding a hundred miles an hour, thankful that they were running away from me. I guess that's all it took, because at that moment the herd circled around and started right for me.

Once again I envisioned myself dying and nobody knowing what really happened to me, or where my mutilated body lay. I was too scared to run, so I just stood as the herd blazed past me in all their snorting and kazoo-ing glory and soon disappeared toward the mountains. I found that even in this cool night air it was still possible for one to sweat profusely.


***


Not long after the near stampede I came across a road that was running almost perfectly east to west. What great luck! At this point I was all about taking a road because then I wouldn't have to worry about the deep washes. I immediately began following it west towards Wellington.

I had plenty of thinking time and began to wonder why this road was even here – going from nowhere to nowhere. It didn't really matter for I was all too glad to follow it. I did notice however that it stayed almost directly next to the huge power lines. I remembered that there was a power plant near East Carbon, so I figured this was the road that was used to build and maintain the power lines. These weren't the small neighborhood variety power lines either, these were the big monsters that came directly from the power plant. Each huge pole (if you can call it that - it was more like a giant wooden robot with its arms outstretched) held several thick power lines, and they were so far apart from each other that the lines sagged quite a ways down. I decided that it would be fun to count the poles as I passed them... there wasn't much else to do.

So I started in on the next pole, one. Several minutes later I reached number two. I kept going, three, four, five. When I reached pole number twenty six the road did something that I didn't like very much – it turned due south. I stopped for a moment to fetch a sip of water and contemplate my choices. I could follow the road due south were it no doubt connected to highway 6, or I could blaze my own trail again and take the more direct south western route straight to Wellington. While I stood there trying to decide, my aching leg muscles slowly began to stiffen. That wasn't a good sign, so I started moving again in an attempt to keep them loose. The shorter more direct route would be better for my legs, so I left the road and headed straight for Wellington.


***


At this point I could see the glow of the city lights of Wellington, though I couldn't actually see the city thanks to the hills that were just to the east of it. I had no other desire than to get home as quickly as I could, and with the relatively good moonlight I was walking in an absolutely straight line that mowed over sagebrush, cactus and nearly anything else that got in my way. Yep, I had discovered that my hiking boots could step right on the little prickly pears without any problems. I was tired, I was hungry, my legs were aching and I figured that it had to be past midnight.

I started to worry what my friends and family must be thinking. I figured that Chris told Jason what I had said and they had just driven home without too much concern. My parents didn't seem to worry too much and knew that I had been out hiking on my own several times – so they should know that I could take care of myself... right? I sure hoped they did, because they would probably never trust my ability to plan a timely hike again.

As I neared the hills outside Wellington I noticed a vehicle about a mile away – going right through the desert. It was moving north and must have turned off from the highway! I saw a hand-held spotlight shining around as the vehicle sped on. I figured that it must be some guys that were doing some illegal hunting in the middle of the night. I didn't care, I was too desperate to care. I quickly calculated their position, direction and speed (how does that math word problem go again?) – figured in where I thought the road would go, and decided that if I ran I could probably get to them in time.

I wasted no time as I began sprinting towards the focal point. I guess you could call it a sprint, it was more like a wobbly hobble of an aging man thanks to my tired and aching legs. Had I calculated in how tired I was? Or how little energy I had? Or how much my legs hurt? Nope. It only took a couple of minutes before the vehicle passed my imaginary focal point and headed on its way.

I figured there was still one thing I could do. “HEY! HELP!” I jumped up and down and waved my arms frantically. Absolutely no effect. I wanted to cry, and now my legs were hurting really, really badly.

As I despondently made my way to the dirt road I watched the spot light rove across the desert and eventually the foothills far to the north of me. I stopped right in the middle of the road, thinking what goes up must come down. They would be back right? Even if they hunted for an hour or two they would eventually come back down this road. I took off my back pack and sat down in the middle of the gravel road to massage my aching legs. I took another small sip of water and realized that there was only enough water for one more sip. Hopefully the vehicle came back before I died of dehydration. I once again envisioned my dry, parched and mummified body being delivered to my parents while they muttered in their grief, “But we thought he knew how to take care of himself.”

I could still see the spotlight, although just barely. The people in the vehicle were roaming all over the foothills desperately looking for game. Then the light went out. I waited for what felt like an eternity but was probably only ten minutes or so, before giving up. I now assumed that they would camp up there and eat their illegal antelope meat in some drunken orgy. I packed up and made my way limpingly towards Wellington once again.

Imagine my surprise when twenty minutes later, out of the corner of my eye, I spotted the spot-light wielding vehicle going south as it returned to the highway. I could only stop, watch and laugh a horrible ironic laugh. Have you ever been let down twice? On the same thing? It was terrible, absolutely terrible.

To make myself feel a little better I sat on the side of a small wash and finished off the last swallow of water in my canteen. It was a short break however, because I could literally feel my leg muscles cramp up and spasm in pain. I stood up and forced myself to hobble along. It wouldn't be long now, just a mile or so in front of me were the hills blocking my view of Wellington. It couldn't be long - I wouldn't let it be long - because I wasn't going to stop again.


***


As I approached the hills I curved south towards the highway. Just before reaching the main road I stumbled upon the old highway. I had forgotten about that, even though it is clearly visible from the main road. I followed it west for a about a mile until it ended, then I moved over to the main highway.

It was late and I hadn't noticed a lot of traffic as my journey neared Wellington. There was only a couple of miles to go now, but I made up my mind to hitchhike with the first available vehicle that came along in my direction.

Wouldn't you know it – no vehicles came. Well, one big truck did come after about twenty minutes, just as I was walking down the hill into the outskirts of town. I whipped around and jerked out my thumb in true 70's fashion – but nothing happened. The truck blew right by me and I yelled out a couple of choice names.

I had no choice but to keep on walking. So I walked as only the lame and really old men know how to walk. It was painful, but I could see the Chevron station – and its telephone booth - up ahead. Twenty minutes later I was just 200 yards from it when another vehicle came down the road. I was sorely tempted to try hitchhiking again, but I refrained.

Finally, at long last, I reached my destination. I limped into the parking lot - sore, hungry and tired. I desperately wanted something to eat, but I focused solely on getting to the pay phone just outside the main doors. I knew that if I stopped I wouldn't get going again. I shuffled up to the phone, pulled out a quarter and called my parent's house.

I hoped that they wouldn't be too angry with me for waking them up. Ha!

Hello?” came the quiet voice of my mom.

Mom?”

Rusty? Rusty is that you!” her voice was quavering – ready to break, “Are you alright? Where are you?”

I'm in Wellington... at the Chevron... can you come and pick me up?”

Yes – yes, I'll be right there.”

I hung up the phone and didn't take another step, I just slumped down against the wall at the base of the phone booth. I felt my leg muscles tighten and refuse to work any more - too tender even to massage.


***


Fifteen minutes later my mom pulled into the parking spot right in front of me. I didn't think I could make it to the car, but somehow I performed a delicate and tricky maneuver where I rolled onto my knees then hoisted myself up using the hood of the car. Holding on for balance I slowly made my way to the passenger door and plopped into the seat next to my worried yet relieved mother.

My mom didn't say much to me that night as we drove along, but I could tell that I had worried her and I felt bad about that. When we got home I did some sort of stiff-legged zombie walk into the motor home (my summer abode) where I army-crawled onto the bed. I wanted desperately to drift off to sleep, but there was one more thing to do. I grabbed my book of scripture, flipped it open and read one verse of... something, snapped it shut and tossed it onto the table. I could hear the fat lady singing.


***


The next day I was awakened by a car pulling into our driveway. I could hear my friend Eric asking my mom where I was at, then banging on the motor home door. I tried to stand but my muscles were screaming in pain, so I did a knee walk across the carpet to the door – which I flung open. There, on all fours I looked up at Eric and my friend Jason. They were not happy.

We went looking for you last night you know?” said Eric, glaring at me.

Really?”

Yeah, we took my truck and a spotlight and we searched all those dirt roads between here and East Carbon.”

I couldn't believe it! I started to chuckle, then laugh. I rolled onto my back and just laughed and laughed.


***


Epilogue


Three days later I walked again. I figured that I had walked about 27 miles that fateful summer day. Chris said he wasn't too worried about me, and had told Jason what I said because he was freaking out and telling everybody that I had fled to Phoenix. Eric was angry for a long time – I'm not sure why. My parents said they had called the police that night, but they refused to do anything until I had been gone for at least 24 hours. The police also mentioned that maybe I had “run away” and if I came back that they should give me some “space.” At first I thought that was stupid advice, but as time went on and my parents never really bothered me or tried to pry details out of me I respected that line of reasoning more and more. I, of course, felt stupid and embarrassed for causing such a scene, so I didn't volunteer details to too many people. Slowly, over time, I found out that there had been lots of people out looking for me - that made me feel stupid and kind of good at the same time. Even now, as I think about the “Trek” fourteen years after it happened, my stomach gets a little bit queasy, and I feel stupid all over again. Oh well, life is for learning right? Maybe some day I'll try it again.



<< Back to Stories