Mountain trail no match for blind hiker’s resolve

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‘You are going to do what?”

My wife Dorothy and I, along with my guide dog Randy, were at our yearly church campout. As in past years we looked forward to having a great time visiting, sharing and, of course, eating delicious food. But I had another plan: To once again hike up the rugged mountain trail that climbed the hill directly behind the camp.

I thought back several years to my first hike up that mountainside. I had my first guide dog, Melita. As we entered camp to set up that Friday we found the camp host had a large dog that looked like a cross between a Lab and pit bull.

It had been only a few months since Melita and I had been attacked by a loose dog, and immediately I grew concerned. But the camp dog came up and sniffed noses with Melita. It was as if they were long-lost friends. He never showed aggression toward Melita, but treated her as a friend. The camp dog hiked the trail that day with my sister, Melita and me, acting like our guide.

Coming down from that hike I had slipped and landed on my knees. Immediately I had Melita and the camp dog, one on each side of me, washing my face while their tails whipped the air.

During the noon meal I heard discussion of plans and coming activities, but no one offered to walk with me. After a short stop at our cabin I told Dorothy, “I am hiking up that trail alone.” From earlier conversation I had gathered that the good folk felt it was not safe for a blind man to hike that trail. But I was not going to just sit around and visit all afternoon when there was a hill to climb.

This day I knew Dorothy could not make the climb, but I knew there was no way I could get lost, as the trail was easy to follow. It was really a rocky ditch, very easy to feel if I stepped out of it.

Dorothy walked with Randy and me to the head of the trail, where I left her. As on my first walk, I found the first part of the trail easy and smooth walking. But after a short distance the trail appeared more like a ditch formed from winter runoff than a hiking trail.

Rounding the first corner, Randy and I met several campers removing cow pies, left that summer by grazing cattle, off the trail. “We don’t want you to step in these,” they told me.

I thanked them, and Randy and I continued on our way alone. But hardly had their voices faded behind me when we met another friend. “I am walking with you,” he told me.

I assured him I would be fine, that he didn’t have to walk with me, but he insisted. It is more enjoyable walking with a friend, so I was pleased.

The path leveled out some as we reached the top of the hill, where we found a closed gate. The trail made a loop to come out at the starting place. I had been told it was about the same distance if one continued around or if they turned back at the gate. I decided to return the same way we had come.

Partway back we met several people coming up the hill. One lady exclaimed, “How did you get up here?”

Before I could answer, another lady in that group spoke up: “Ernie can do anything he wants — he can climb this hill as well as we can.”

The ditchlike trail was covered with small loose rocks that rolled under our feet, making remaining on one’s feet a concern on the downward trek. While walking along the edge of the trail to avoid the worst of the ditch, my feet slipped and I found myself sliding and bumping down the other side of the hill. I was no longer on my feet.

My descent stopped maybe 20 feet below the trail. Randy was still at my side. It was obvious he was concerned for me, but only my pride was injured, and I worked my way back up to the trail. My friend assured me that this could happen to anyone hiking that trail, that my blindness had not caused it. Really, I felt fine. I had even enjoyed the added excitement.

I found such news travels very fast, for as I entered the camp I was met by one person after another asking me if I was OK, and saying they were sorry for my fall.

“What was the big deal?” I wondered. I had done what I set out to do. The fact that I am blind is no reason to just sit on a camp chair when there is a mountain to climb. We each have our mountain to climb. Life is for living.

Ernie Jones, a registered nurse who retired due to vision loss, can be reached at 529-9252 or at theolcrow@charter.net.

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