It started with the camera. We were getting dressed again, gathering up shoes and gear. Still laughing. Grap asks me if I have his camera. I checked. Nope. Still cold, I start moving on down the trail. Kat is behind me. Maybe twenty or so yards between the three of us. Grap was staring up in awe. And, really, all of us were still in awe. Smiles still on our face.
He said that this place is so beautiful. That he’s always wanted to see it. Then he says it again. Then there was a pause. And he said it again. Then he asked me if I had his camera.
I stopped and looked back at Kat. We arch eyebrows at each other and just stand there a moment. I guess we figured he was taking it all in. No rushing on our hikes. We don’t judge. Hike your own and what-not. When he repeated himself a fourth time, still staring up at the same spot, I trotted on over to Kat.
“Is he messing with us?”
“Don’t think so. . . “
We watched a bit longer then called out for him to come on, we’re heading back to make coffee or cocoa or something. He came along and, really, you’d think nothing was wrong. Until he got to the mouth of the canyon, turned around, and said, “Guys, have you seen this yet? This is beautiful!”
Turned and he was looking at the waterfall, the trickle really, but the pool of water we just spent about thirty minutes cavorting in. Arms crossed, leaning in head to head, Kat & I did some quick trail triage. The only thing that made sense at the time was that maybe he’d had a stroke. Obviously not a big one, because he was walking and talking and moving around just fine. We call him over and start asking him questions.
I have to hand it to him, Grap kept his cool like a champ. Never argued with us, didn’t even really get scared. We quizzed him. What is the year? What is our names? How long have you been married? Name your grandkids. Long-term stuff seemed okay, but the closer we got to immediate now the more faded it became.
Looked to Kat. He looked to me. “Keep moving.” And off we went.
I don’t have any pictures of this part of the trail. Later, when things settled down enough for me ‘n Kat to decompress, it seems we had the same thoughts ricocheting around at the same time. Packs were maybe two miles down-trail. Truck was maybe three miles uptrail from that. Keys were in the packs. Grap was keeping quiet, following us. Not because he was worried, but because he was completely wrapped up in how beautiful this place was. A place he’d always wanted to see. Now and again he’d ask us if something had happened, why his shirt was wet. We’d answer, he’d express surprise. We’d drive on.
Didn’t want to run, no idea if he’d burst a blood vessel. Afraid to get his heart rate going too fast. The questions starting coming on about a 30-second loop. Just long enough to answer them before he’d ask the same series again. Guys, did something happen? “Yeah, we think you had a mini-stroke.” Aw, man, I was hoping to avoid that. We’d walk a few more steps. Guys, did something happen?
That was when Kat said, “I’m going for the packs” and took off running down the trail. He’s fast. Grap and I kept on down the trail at a leisurely pace. He stopped frequently to take pictures and I would urge him to come on. Cheerfully, happily, he followed. Did something happen? “Yeah, think you had a mini-stroke.” Aw, man. I was hoping to avoid that.
I went through the same series of questions. Do you hurt anywhere? Are you numb? Do you know who I am? Are you okay? Not scared or anything? Most of his answers were in the exact same words, with the exact same inflection as the dozens of times before. Once, though, he answered, “Of course I’m okay, I’m with you guys. Why, did something happen?” Yeah.
Came to the rock wall as Kat was humping all three packs. Threw mine on, made sure we had the keys. Kat took lead, wearing Grap’s pack and holding his own. I took up the rear.
The next two hours was the same 30-second conversation in a continuous loop. Kat and I kept answering, kept joking, tried to keep laughing. Not sure what was going through his mind, but I was going in a dozen different worst case scenarios. What if he strokes out? What if he loses memory of us, can we convince him to stay calm? What if he panics?
I had my cell out, GPS on, and was dialing 911 to no signal every ten minutes. My heart was racing, staring at Grap’s back. Do I remember how to do CPR right? Are we doing the right thing? Can we get him out faster than if we waited for someone to come get him?
All this time, Grap is having the best hike of any he could recall. He is enraptured by the beauty of it all. Kat later described it as the essence of the man. He was in a beautiful moment, with friends in the woods on a beautiful day.
Two hours later, we came off the trail. Still didn’t have a signal.