Hiking to the top of Iron Mountain was much harder than I thought it would be, but once at the top I found something that inspired me and made me glad I put in the effort.
Wanting to push ourselves a little, my Prince Charming husband and I decided that a longer, more difficult hike was in order. We had plenty of time and chose Iron Mountain, near Poway, California. At the trailhead we were greeted by a beautiful iron sign spelling out our destination and decoratively adorned with mountains and trees. It gave me a feeling that this wouldn’t be too difficult. I looked beyond the sign feeling like I could tackle this six and a half mile trek. ‘I’m strong enough’, I thought.
The beginning of the trail is quite attractive with trees on both sides that come together overhead to make an arch of leaves. Walking through the canopy of nature made me feel one with the path. The wide path was easy and inviting; flat, smooth and stable. At first, our ascent seemed slow and almost unnoticeable, but I knew we were climbing by the way I was breathing. Passing boulders, large and small, and rock formations that created a kind of desert art, we passed the one mile mark and I was still going strong.
As we continued up, through switchbacks and increasingly rougher terrain, my breathing became steadily more and more labored. At the two and half mile mark I was really feeling it. Once I passed three miles, it became the longest hike I’d ever done. I told myself to breath, take it slow: one step at a time.
Reaching the top I had already hiked further than the entire trail on Cowles Mountain and I still had to go back down. Three more miles to go. I tried not to think about it and concentrated on the sweeping views. It wasn’t hard to focus my attention because there was something spectacular to see in every direction. Point Loma was being illuminated by the golden rays of the sun beginning it’s slow descent over the sea. Mountains and rocks were everywhere with their shadows deepening on the hillsides. As it turns out, being surrounded by natural beauty is quite peaceful. Although I was aching, it was worth it. Clearly many other people thought so too, because there were quite a few up there enjoying the panorama with us.
At this point I found I needed to sit down and get some sustenance; a little bread dipped in olive oil with balsamic vinegar and an apple. We searched for a place to sit by ourselves and discovered several large boulders upon which to rest and enjoy our picnic. Making our way over there, I saw a small wooden box nestled at the base of the rocks. My eyes lit up with excitement thinking it was one of those scavenger hunt games that anyone can play. It wasn’t. It was so much more than that. I picked up the box from it’s hidden location and started to peek inside, but hesitated, afraid I might be greeted by the remains of a loved one or an adored pet. I didn’t find ashes or anything decomposing, instead it was filled with pieces of paper, on each of them was a picture, all of them men. Along with the photograph was the person’s name, when he was born, a description of his military service and also how he died serving his country. It was a memorial of sorts. Had friends or family written up the small epitaphs and hiked them up to leave them at the top? A small way for them to once again be together? Perhaps this was a hike they loved, laughed and conversed on. I read these small tokens of love and felt sadness and joy all at the same time. Sadness for the loss, and joy because someone loved them enough to bring them up to this beautiful, quiet place to forever enjoy the beauty and peacefulness.
Reverently putting the box away, carefully making sure the lid was secure so the elements could not damage the contents, I tucked it back between the rocks and got ready to make my descent down the mountain. The air temperature was dropping so I needed to get moving. Being asthmatic, my lungs have difficulty when the air is too cold. As I began walking I thought about those men and I felt honored to have found that box. Perhaps I was destined to see it and find inspiration in it.
Finding it difficult to breath, I continued down the path. By the time I had gone about three fourths of the way down my muscles were screaming obscenities at me. Everything in me was either burning or aching. Despite the resistance my body was giving me, I pushed on. Reaching the car and taking a few minutes to stretch out, I felt a sense of real satisfaction. I had done a 6 ½ mile hike and I did it in less than three hours. Not bad. My training was indeed coming along nicely. Although I was sure I was going to be sore tomorrow, that idea was just fine by me, because that would mean that I was alive and have been given the gift of another day. There would be breath in my body and the opportunity to live and love. An opportunity the men in that box no longer have.
We drove away from the mountain, toward the ocean watching the sun fall into the sea and I thought, ‘I am grateful’.