Tuesday, January 27, 2015

Then Its Not The End

"The good news," he said, patting my shoulder. "It's not a sheer drop-off."
"What's the Bad," I asked, not sure I wanted to know.
"Its pretty steep and about a thousand feet down."
Believe it or not, this bit of reassuring information came after I, and 14 of my friends had spent all night trapped on top of Pine Valley Mountain. This was the next morning. With the sun shining bright, we'd finally found what looked like the way down.If you've ever heard-"Its always darkest before the dawn." Then you've never spent any significant time in the dark. It's always the darkest when you think you're just a step away from the light. It's always darkest when your mind tells you its over only to open your eyes and find yourself right smack in the middle.
As I stood that morning, atop a 70 degree slope of boulders and drop-offs, I thought I was almost home-free.
But, I digress. Let me start over...
One gorgeous Friday in May, a whole group of my friends decided to hike over Pine Valley Mountain. There is a trail which begins on the North face and comes out at Oak Grove on the south side. May is a little early in the year for an excursion like this so we had our fearless leader, my brother Matt, check to make sure the weather and the mountain were without snow so we could go. The South face was clear so we set off. This hike normally takes about 8 hours. 4-6 hours up and 2-4 down the opposite side. We took off about 8 am, because my friend Wendy needed to be back for a wedding at 6 p.m. The group consisted of : guys, girls, one blind mascot (me), and a Japanese foreign exchange student named Yoshi. We all had knapsacks, water bottles and various other amenities. Yoshi brought a Japanese/English dictionary. My friend Ambra brought a bandanna, someone brought a roll of toilet paper, etc. etc. My brother Matt, brought everything he could think of. We all had little packs, he carried a full on backpackers pack. Thank heavens he did, or our 'trip' would have ended in a funeral.
Most of the hike on the way up was pleasant. We hiked, talked, flirted. You know; what most people in their early twenties do.
About 11 o'clock in the morning, we hadn't reached the top  yet and the trail disappeared. It didn't so much vanish, as it was covered in about a foot and a half of snow. It turns out, the south face of the mountain was clear, but the North face had snow covering the top. Once again, we counted on my brother to lead us in the right direction based on marks the forest service left on the trunks of trees. We didn't think too much of it, until the snow got deeper. Soon we were trekking through drifts up to hour knees and thighs. One girl even wore shorts and was freezing.
I, of course was at the back of the group trying to navigate through the forest and the snow with minimal sight. I'd been blind about 15 months at this point. A hike with friends was totally doable. This was not "a hike with friends". This was survival 101. We finally emerged from our cold tundra at the rim of a U shaped cliff which  dropped a few thousand feet. It was 4 o'clock in the afternoon, the sun was sinking in the west and my friend Wendy finally accepted she wasn't going to make it to the wedding. 'We' weren't going to make it off the mountain that night. After long discussions, a lot of prayers and some scouting, it became unanimous we had no choice but to spend the night.
My brother had been getting a hard time for carrying so much stuff over the mountain. Now, he saved our lives. He had waterproof matches, extra clothes, extra food, water and a first aid kit.
We gathered around a point on the mountain where we could be seen if our parents sent people looking. We could be seen because this part of the forest had burned in a fire a few years previous. Wood was scarce and the wind was a brutal knife cutting across our camping spot. Using the extra clothes Matt brought, we layered people up as much as possible. Mostly, we shivered and froze all night long. One guy actually melted the soles of his shoes trying to get them close enough to the fire to warm his toes. Another guy was allergic to the smoke and lost his voice. Everyone piled together at one point hoping the combined body heat would get us through the night.
Well...It did.
The next morning, a trail down the mountain was found and we set off as soon as the sun came up.
Back at the top of the steep slope of boulders, now, it would finally be over. It had just begun.
The entire trip, I was escorted, supported, and guided by my friends. They led me through snow, over branches and roots, and now they literally held me up as we descended this boulder strewn slope. Our 15 person group scattered into smaller groups. My brother ran all the way down the mountain to get help. A group of girls got off the 'trail' and got stuck up on a cliff. 'The trail' wasn't one. We were making our way toward the forest service's official trail. In the process, I had to be helped because I had no depth perception and a fall would have been the end. Another girl had her ankle crushed by a falling boulder. She couldn't even walk.
At the bottom, my brother found parents, search and rescue, forest service and a man who brought horses up to get us down. Matt reported our various issues: sprained or broken ankle. trapped on cliff, blind, diabetic with no food.
A helicopter with paramedics was sent up to get me and fly me down along with the broken ankle. My brother came back up the trail to rescue the trapped girls and the horses started toward the rest of the party.
Food was left at various places along the trail as our rescuers found us; welcome relief for the people who were able to walk off the mountain.
However...It was about to get worse.
The slope we descended was too steep for the helicopter to land. Instead, a paramedic was sent down on a repelling line with a blood sugar meter and food for me. His line became entangled during his descent. When the line snapped, our super-hero fell and broke his leg.
The helicopter brought their man back up, flew him to the hospital and dropped us a stretcher for our own injured girl, but we were on our own. At times we walked, sometimes we carried the stretcher, once Yoshi stopped and asked us "This what 'hiking' mean?"
"No, Yoshi," my friend told him. "This what means HELL."
When we'd finally staggered through all but a mile or two of the trail, we came to a shale slope about a hundred yards across. This took careful maneuvering. If anyone were to slip, everyone would slide down the mountain together. Our busted ankle, covered her face while four of the guys balanced her on the stretcher and got her across.
Upon reaching an actual Forest Service trail, the horses met us. Me and the injured girl were loaded on horses for the final leg of the trip. The rest of our group raced down the trail, scooping up twinkies and ant covered sandwiches as they went. about a half mile before the end of the trail, my friend, who'd been by my side the entire time, took off to go let his mom know he was okay. Not more than three minutes after he'd left me, the horse I was riding, slipped on a slanted stone and fell, crushing my foot between his body and the rock.
When I finally emerged from the base of the trail, my foot was wrapped in gauze, my blood sugar was low, I was dehydrated and I'd been awake for 30 hours.
If I'd known when I started what would happen, I still would have gone. If I'd known that the steep slope at the top was only the halfway point, I still would've finished it. It was the craziest 30 hours of my life up to that point, but I'll never forget those people. My friends, my brother's leadership and courage, Even Yoshi, who never complained or gave up.
One of my favorite quotes is- "It will all work out in the end. If it hasn't worked out yet...then its not the end."
Faith is just a practice of that concept. The end could've been anywhere along the trail, if I'd decided it was the end. Even now, 18 years later, its not the end. I still shiver when I think about that long night on the mountain. I still smile when I hear the words "You were my voice when I couldn't speak. You were my eyes when I couldn't see."
I still remember my friend in her shorts and bandana coming off the mountain. It makes me  love her all the more.
Faith takes courage, strength, and patience. Mostly though it takes perspective. Its a good thing we didn't see the end of that trip before we took it...we probably wouldn't have gone. And look at all the life and love we would have missed. To my 14 YSA fellow  hikers. Thanks for the trip. I wouldn't have missed it for anything.

Tuesday, January 20, 2015

One Blind Lady and A Pair of Giant Scissors

About six years ago, I left the bustling metropolis of St. George, Utah and moved to Ivins. It is only nine miles from downtown St. George, four miles from my kids' schools and where I needed to be for grocery shopping, doctors, dentists and other amenities. Four Miles doesn't sound like a big deal I know, but at the time I was also on kidney dialysis three times a week and that four miles was a marathon with my four year old in tow and a broken body. The bus ran from my dialysis center to Sand Hollow aquatic center...but that was it. I needed public transportation.
A few years later, after begging rides, walking in rain storms, and getting lost between Ivins and Santa Clara, I presented The City of Ivins with a proposal to bring a bus to town. I had to have a reason more than "'cause I need it", though. So, I did what I always do when I have to figure out my problems...I researched it.
I found out-
16 percent of all handicap people in Washington County live in Ivins. People with blindness, like me. People who have heart/lung conditions. veterans with amputated limbs and paralyzation. Children with both physical and mental handicaps. The list goes on and on.
As I talked to people and handed out flyers for the city council meeting about the buses, I met so many wonderful people. Those who live here for the dry air, the constant warmth and the good neighbors. Individuals who only need transportation.
Another fact I learned was-Southern Utah has the cleanest air quality in the state. Ivins particularly. Even with tourist attractions like Tuacahn, The Biggest Loser Resort, and The Jacob Hamblin Home, the health benefits of this area are without comparison in the state. A public transportation system adds to our air quality every time as few as 5 people ride instead of drive.
The most significant fact I learned was personal. As I rode public transportation with my kids, it opened up a whole different world for them. They weren't afraid of other people, they became aware and vigilant about those they could help and we spent hours together, talking, laughing, walking and just being together.
We don't ride the bus much anymore as we don't have one...until NOW!
Wednesday, January 21, 2015 is the ribbon cutting ceremony for the first Ivins City Bus. Thanks to the city and Sun Tran our little city along with Bloomington Hills will have access to the bus. Other places around are also looking into a bus system because Ivins has taken the steps to get one of their own, opening up the way for public transportation in our area.
At 3:30, tomorrow afternoon, I will be cutting the ribbon for the official kick-off. I know the time is not convenient for many of you and I don't ask much but...I could sure use the support if you could come. It will show support for our little fledgling bus, for the city and for our citizenry. Find out whatever you can about when, where, and how to ride the bus and come support us. Do it for the handicap, the single parents, the one-car families. Do it in gratitude for the beautiful country and area we've been blessed with. Do it for the chance to slow down, and to spend real time with those you love.
If none of that matters to you...just come because you don't want to miss what happens when they give a blind lady a pair of giant scissors! 

Tuesday, January 13, 2015

What Do You Make Of This?

My husband and I met almost a year prior to when I married him. My room mate was his  girlfriend and I was moving out of town.
Four months later, my room mate was marrying the guy she met a few weeks before I moved and her now ex-boyfriend was dating my new room mate. 7 months later, Erik and I finally got it right. The story of how we found each other is still up for debate between us. I, of course, remember the friendship we built, the pull we always had for one another and the broken hearts and sacrifices we made to make our fairy tale come true. I'm a romance writer. How else would I remember it?
He remembers what I wore the first time I met him, the trips to Java Juice, and the 100 mile round trips he made, in the middle of the night, to hang out with me.
The one thing we can both agree on is the night everything changed for us.
One weekend in July, my room mate-his girlfriend-and I went boating at Lake Powell with some other people our age. We were only gone for two days but my room mate really missed her man and so we returned and went to his apartment and spent the entire night hanging out with him and his room mates. The problem...her man was not her boyfriend. He was another guy she was interested in and had been for a few weeks. Erik and I were good friends by then. We went to the lake, bar-b-que's and  concerts in a group. I loved him. I wasn't in-love with him. I just thought he was a great guy. My room mate would come home from her dates with him and talk about how she was trying to get him to date someone else and he just wouldn't do it.
None of that made sense to me. Erik is confident, kind and he has a powerful patience. He wouldn't be hanging on to some girl who was chasing someone else. It bothered me. He didn't seem like the guy she described.
After the eternal night at this other guy's apartment where I was more a chaperone than anything else. WE collapsed at home around dawn. I spent all day sick. With my kidneys in poor shape the lack of sleep was killing me. By that evening I planned on going to bed and nothing more. My room mate wanted to go meet 'the guys' at the dance club and she didn't want to go alone.  I agreed to go with her, as long as we could go home when the club closed at midnight.
Midnight rolled around and...we went to Denny's instead. Around 2 a.m., I was worn out. Unfortunately, my room mate's boy toy wanted to play night games in the desert. I put my foot down. No way was I traipsing through the desert with these guys in the middle of the night. She was my ride home. I either went with her or I stayed at Denny's until she came back. I stayed.
Erik was along for this whole scenario. When I perched myself under a street lamp watching my room mate drive away, he materialized from the darkness.
"Come on," he said, holding out his hand to me. "I've got a friend who lives about four blocks from here. She'll give us a ride home."
"What about your girlfriend?" I asked.
He gave me one of his humorless smiles. "I don't date girls who leave their friends in parking lots."
Over the next three hours he and I walked all over St. George. His friend wasn't home so we went to his brother-in-law's house. It was the middle of the night...or morning by then and they couldn't help us. We then walked another 7 blocks to a pay phone and called his brother to come pick us up.It took another two hours for him to drive me home and then drive himself back to his place.
During our long night together, we talked. He told me about life since his mission, how his first "girlfriend" wasn't the girl he wanted to date but she told people he was desperate and alone without her. I told him she told me and my room mate's that as well. When I asked him what was going on with his current girlfriend, he reiterated that he was done. Done with women, with dating, with the entire dishonest, disloyal gender in general. I knew it was the end for us as well. I was dating a guy who lived in Provo and if he didn't hang out with my room mate I knew we'd never see each other again.
That night we made...a deal. Once a week we'd hang out together. One week I'd buy and he'd tip. The next week, he'd buy and I'd leave the tip. We wouldn't be dating, just keeping in touch. "Keeping in touch" once a week turned to our dinners, dancing, phone calls, church occasionally and eventually he even drove me to Provo to see my boyfriend.
Two and a half months later, my boyfriend and I broke up. Erik held me together while I dealt with it. Within a week of my break-up, Erik told me he was in-love with me. After everything I should have been too hurt and scared to want to change things between us. At first, because I expected to feel that way, I didn't know what to tell him.
Patient and confident, as always, he just took my hand and told me not to freak out, everything would work out. In our short trip back to his car before he took me home, I knew it would. I knew I'd loved him all along. I could just kiss him now, too.
A week later we were engaged. Five weeks after that, we were married.
It's been 18 years since the first time I met him. My romantic recollections color the truth a little more than reality affords. That night in the Denny's parking lot, I thought he'd chosen me. I thought he wanted to be with me instead of all those other girls, including his girlfriend. He told me, years later, he'd done the same thing for any girl who'd been left alone, in the middle of the night, in a parking lot. "It was the right thing to do," he said.
For awhile, I felt bad about that. "Any girl?" I wasn't the right girl, it was the right thing to do?
The thing is...he's right. It was the right thing to do. He would've done it for any girl. He is that kind of man. It's one of the reasons I fell in-love with him in the first place.
I believe God gave us that night together and told us to make something of it. He put us together and we acted on feelings neither of us understood at the time. The influence of the Holy Spirit is like that. When God speaks to  you, you may not understand what he's doing. You may not even recognize that its Him. Crazy, fearless, stupid or embarrassing don't matter. Have some faith and do it anyway. You never know what God  wants you to make out of it.

Tuesday, January 6, 2015

Reach For The Stars

A few years after I first lost my eye sight I hung out with a group of Young Single Adults from my church. I didn't have any help or training as far as getting around at this point. I'd had multiple surgeries on my eyes and I was trying to figure out what to do with the shift in plans being blind presented. Often during activities and meetings with YSA friends awkward or tense situations would come up. I hiked with about 14 of my friends over Pine Valley Mountain only to be lost overnight with them and then trying to descend a 70 degree slope to get rescued. There was a lot of hand holding, supportive arms and patience from my friends when I'd reach out to catch myself from falling and I'd come up with someone's breast instead of their arm, or butt instead of a shoulder. Luckily I had the excuse of being blind to hide behind and cover both of our embarrassment.
On one such occasion, my friends and I spent all day skiing and swimming at the lake. Tired and hungry we piled into my friend Nate's car and headed for Denny's. There were about two dozen of us, all crowding into the restaurant in a mad, desperate dash for needed sustenance. When we piled out of Nate's car, I from the back seat and he, from the driver's side,he spoke over my shoulder.
"Give me your hand, Traci. I'll get you inside."
It never crossed my mind to check behind me before I reached for his hand. Thrusting my palm behind me I grabbed the first thing I found. Nate's slight moan as he backed away gasping for breath startled me. I realized immediately what I'd inadvertently done. I hadn't grabbed his hand I reached out and thrust my grasp between his legs. Clad in only his swimsuit what I'd held onto was more intimacy than Nate was prepared for.
Blind or not, I was horrified. "I'm fine," he gasped. "I'll meet you inside in just a sec."
My room mate turned back to see what was going on. I stood, hands shaking and covering my scarlet cheeks. Nate was hunched over and I'm sure his complexion wasn't crimson from sunburn. Melissa cracked up, took my hand and led me inside. She proceeded to tell everyone the story and Nate got a standing ovation when he finally made it to our table.
Unfortunately, this did not end my escapades. You'd think I would have learned to check or hesitate before I reach out to people...but I don't. I leave crazy messages on random people's news feed because my screen reader doesn't work well on facebook. I keep trying anyway. I've poked someone's boob, butt, or eye in my attempts to hug, hold hands or brush back a tear. I don't quit trying.
Some of the best friends and most hilarious experiences happen in my life because I reach out, caution to the wind, and come up a winner.
The first time I reached for Erik, it was to keep from falling off a side walk on our way into a dance recital. Holding my hand became so natural to us from then on, he almost always held my hand. He dated my room mate and still held my hand. I dated a guy in Provo, he still held my hand. WE danced, talked, laughed, played pool and shared fruit smoothies together. He always took my hand. I've poked him a few times, embarrassed him when someone asked if I was his girlfriend and nearly tore his arm off when he helped me climb the Dixie Rock with the YSA group  while he ignored a dozen other girls to hold my hand.
He says he never worried too much about it, even the times it went wrong. I, however, worried constantly about cramping his style. I still reached for him when I needed help. Not with just hiking, or maneuvering in the night, but in life in general. When I needed to talk, I reached for him. When I had something exciting to report, I reached for him. When things went wrong, I reached for him. Luckily for me, he always held on. Now 18 years later, I still reach for him and he's always here. The best result I've ever gotten by reaching out.
Fear keeps us from taking chances. It makes us fall alone because we were too scared to reach out. Embarrassment at being weak or needy provides safety and distance, but it steals life, laughter and the best prized you could ever reach for. If I've ever reached out and clobbered you or embarrassed you, you know what I speak of. I often warn people now not to let me grope them inappropriately. I'm going to keep reaching though. The blindness only seperates me from other people when I choose to fear crazy consequences. Instead, I choose to reach for the stars.