"Have fun today buddy. Be careful." I said those words to my youngest son as he darted out the door this morning.A heaviness settled over my chest as he took off for a field trip with his class.He was dressed warm, packed a lunch, wore an extra jacket and carried plenty of water, but I dread these trips no matter what.
I don't dread field trips, its just this one...They're going to Zion National Park today.
In my heart I know that a trip to Zion will be filled with beautiful scenery, fun hikes and the chance to meet people from all over the world. Its a great trip and I should be excited. I'm not.
When I was around 14 years old, my brothers, cousins, uncle, Dad and I took a hike down the infamous Zion narrows. My Dad had done the hike before, a number of times and we'd heard the stories of repelling into pools of water, hiking through the river and the flash floods that plagued hikers in this canyon. We couldn't wait. With endless amounts of teenage energy we left to start the hike at about 5 am. One day was all we needed, my Dad assured as we began to traipse down the river. We didn't avoid getting wet, we couldn't avoid it. Why not get started?
I quickly learned the answer to that question.
After spending the better part of the day climbing in and out of the river as we hiked, I was cold, soaked, and ready to go home for a nice bath. We weren't even half way through. When we met up with another tributary named Deep Creek, it got worse. The water was bitter cold and the rocks became covered in a slick coating. You couldn't take a single step without rolling your feet and ankles as you walked. Our progress became slower and my Dad, a diabetic and heart patient, got hypothermia and started throwing up. Soon we were making no progress at all. Darkness was falling, the river was rising and a low rumble echoed down the canyon. The danger level, moderate when we left, rose to 'high' as we struggled through the water. We weren't going to make it with my Dad and we needed help.
Finally, the only hope for any of us was on my uncle's shoulders. He took the two younger boys and continued down the river while my brother, my cousin and I climbed to a jutting cliff about six feet up the canyon wall. We built a fire to warm my dad up and my cousin Michael got an emergency plastic tent out of his pack. We wrapped my dad in the covering to hold in as much body heat as we could and to protect him from the beginning of a rainstorm. We got some hot broth into him, huddled in the plastic and waited.
The rain fall grew heavier and the river continued to rise. We watched as the water level rose more than 6 feet in a few hours. The water turned dark and filthy, churning with rocks, debris and the branches of trees torn from their roots.
All night long we prayed. Prayed that our family had gotten out of the river before the water came down. Prayed our little campsite would stay above water. Prayed Dad wouldn't have a heart attack during the storm.
After a long night, we started down the river again. Cold, wet, and miserable but still alive and moving forward. After a couple of hours, Search and Rescue from the park met up with us and carried my Dad out on a stretcher. The boys and I still had to walk out though.
The crazy part is...We did it again one year later. There was less water, but just as many problems and it all ended with Search and Rescue.
Its been almost 30 years since I took those trips with my Dad. Although I have no desire to ever make them again, those memories are precious to me. It was better to have been there with him. I couldn't have just worried about him all night long, it would have driven me out of my mind. Those long hours with my Dad and my family are moments I'll never forget and wouldn't trade for anything.
Perhaps the reasons I won't go again have more to do with my general health, my missing knee cap, or my blindness, but I don't think so.
When my son left for Zion today, I didn't imagine him being washed away in a flood. A part of my heart still braves that canyon though, even all these years later. Memories I wouldn't trade or forget, but fears that will forever haunt me as well.
So, stay safe, my son, and understand, there's a whole lot more to 'Have fun and be careful." than you ever thought.