The Low Point of My Journey

I’d hoped that this journey I am on would illuminate my strengths and perhaps even increase them. Instead, it is making me aware of my limitations.

When did I get so unsteady? When did it become so hard to walk up and down stairs? When did it become a physics problem to figure out how to climb out of a bath?

And when did the human voice become so unappealing?

Don’t get me wrong — I still enjoy talking to people and listening to them one on one or in small groups, but as a whole, voices get on my nerves. Has it always been so? I doubt it — apparently, liking the sound of other humans is borne in our DNA, but somewhere along the line, that sound has become anathema to me.

I camped at a lovely site in the Guadalupe Mountains National Park, and all was quiet until the sites around me filled up with talkers, and then things turned bad when a group of bikers set up in the campsite next to me. Not that they were a threat, but oh, man — those folks never shut up.

Since I didn’t want to hike the trail leading off the campground (an 8-mile round trip hike with a 2000-foot elevation rise), I headed north to the Carlsbad Caverns National Park. I figured it would be a unique hike into the bowels of the earth, but it so happened the elevator was out of order, which meant everyone had to walk down a very steep incline with dozens of switchbacks.

Before we were allowed to enter, the rangers gave us several warnings, such as no drinks other than water allowed, no walking sticks, no bathrooms until the lunchroom at the bottom. And finally, we were told not to talk, and if we did need to talk, not to speak above a whisper.

And, of course, no one heeded that final warning.

Generally when I hike, I stop to let the yappers pass me by, which leaves me alone to enjoy the ambient sounds, but on a trail that winds ever downward, there is no way to get away from those who prefer the sound of their own voice above all other sounds. If not above, they are below.

After about 30 minutes, I realized I wasn’t having the trans-descend-ental experience I’d hoped for. Instead, I found myself dreading the thought of being in a deep dark hole with those ever-increasing, echoing voices, so I went back to the surface. (Actually, the lowest point of my walk into the caverns wasn’t that low since the caverns are set beneath a mountain, so they are probably even with the road that leads up into the park.)

After returning “home,” I strolled along the wheelchair accessible trail, stopping every few minutes to sit on the benches provided, and enjoy the view and what was left of the day. Since all those he-men campers were struggling up the “real” trail, I was left alone on that easy trail.

Ah, blessed silence.

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(Pat Bertram is the author of the suspense novels Light Bringer, More Deaths Than One, A Spark of Heavenly Fire, and Daughter Am I. Bertram is also the author of Grief: The Great Yearning, “an exquisite book, wrenching to read, and at the same time full of profound truths.”)

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I took the photo of the desert from Carlsbad Caverns National Park. You can’t see my campsite, but it is below the butte to the left of the image.