When Michael turned 61, he asked himself, “Do I still have it in me?” He, like Trayvax, wanted to know if what others say can’t be achieved, can be.
After his birthday, Michael had a glass of wine to instill navigational courage, and mapped out an aggressive four-day trek into the back-country of the Olympics. His thick brown hair, yet to be peppered with gray, five diverse children, successful career in the Navy, a self-taught carpenter, best friend with his wife, and ability to teach anyone at a block party how to plant the perfect tomato, is his charismatic simplicity. Retirement at 61 challenged this simplicity for him to ask: what if?
He snuggled goodbye to his overweight Siberian Husky, reminded his wife to pick the paint color she wanted for their study, zipped on his rain jacket and drove off.
His hiking partner was a backpacking neighbor in need of an adventure. The first day out, it was rainy and mostly downhill. Shortly into the trip, Michael could feel the age of his right hip taking its toll with the weight of the backpack.
Upon the second day, the pain in Michael’s hip was gone, the neighbor led in front, but as they trekked further and further into back country, he realized they were approaching the point of no return. It was a grueling uphill climb over the first mountain—above tree line, there was snow and unforgivable wind in August. As they descended into base camp, there were just two spots for tents.
Michael remembers, “Next to my tent, there were fresh bear claws in a tree. I spent that night in broken sleep but wondered, ‘What if something happened?’”
The third day was ruthless. There were no switchbacks, but instead a straight ascent to the second mountain and then he knew, “I started to reach the limits of my age, but going back would be as far as to keep going.” Instead, Michael focused on a patch of frosted greenery, or pile of broken branches, ahead, and kept on to that point to catch his breath. The neighbor began to physically and mentally wear down. As they reached the summit of the third mountain, elevation was lost in order to continue. Into the valley they had to summit another mountain with little water and intense fatigue. The sun was setting as an oncoming hiker came into vision, “There is a campsite just two miles away, with the river, correct?” Michael asked in exhaustion.
“That campsite is seven miles away,” the hiker replied.
As Michael and the neighbor pushed on, the three tablespoons of water between them made the journey ahead to camp seem like Britney Spears turning oil into salt. The eerie echo of wildlife howling for food filled the air. Within himself, Michael found the same courage he used to survive the Navy, raise his children, honor his wife, honor himself without contingency of age, and pushed ahead to lead.
“I forced the pace to double march. We both clicked our polls to scare off bears. It was a very dangerous situation, with the limits of our abilities, compounded with no water, no sleep, age, and unknown territory.”
The sound of gushing river let him know they had finally arrived. Michael and the neighbor embraced in a hug of thankfulness.
On the last day, again, it was a very steep climb uphill—where you think you’re there, but you never get there. Plus, the freezing rain made the last stretch seem unbearable, but Michael completed the loop, and achieved something most 25-year-old hikers would have also been pushed to their limits to achieve, and he earned his story.
“I’ve never been in a situation before where I felt fear in the wilderness. I just kept thinking, ‘It’s going to hurt, but I have to, and went on.’”