Monday, August 11, 2014

Heavy Breathing

Teddy and I walked seven and a half miles today. I'll tell you that I had a reason that I picked the absolute hottest day of the year. The Weather Channel says it's ninety-nine degrees out. I have been checking The Weather Channel every day, hoping for a break in this weather. Tomorrow, it says, we will get a break on our weather, fifty percent chance of rain. I just might dance in the rain tomorrow.

Last night, Mike said he has an appointment with his cardiac specialist to ask if he's ready for a fifty mile backpacking trip next week. Oh, I'll admit to you that this trip will be worrying me. I was trying not to say anything. The Boy Scout troop is hiking for six days in the Olympics, far from help, exerting themselves, carrying heavy packs in spite of a serious attempt to pack light. It turns out that it's worrying Mike a bit too which is why he scheduled an appointment with his doctor. Last night, Mike began to go over some of his worrying symptoms.

"Symptoms? What symptoms?" I asked.

"Small pains now and then," he said, "and an onset of sweating last Tuesday afternoon?

My breath went shallow. I tried to stay calm.

"You didn't say anything about symptoms," I said. Was my voice higher than normal? I took a deep breath, tried to count to eight as I breathed out. In. Count. Out. Count.

"I just want to make sure he thinks I'm ready. The last time I asked about the small pains, he said not to worry."

I tried to stay positive.

"How many adults are going on the trip?"

"Just two of us."

"So, if the doctor says you shouldn't go, the trip is off?"

"Pretty much."

"Could I be your backup?" I asked. Mike didn't answer. He just looked at me with his eyebrows knitted together.

It took a moment, but I realized he was trying not to hurt my feelings.  I usually only walk two or three miles when I take the dog out. I have trouble with elevation gain. And my day pack is only a fraction of the weight that a backpack would be. Besides, I tend to melt on trips when no water is involved. I could hike fifteen miles a day if I were at a lakeside or by the ocean. Mountains? Not so much.

"I could walk 8.3 miles. I could."

He nodded.

"I could carry a pack. I'd really work to pack light, but I could do it." I got going, responding to his silence as if he'd laughed at me. He hadn't.

"I mean, I know I'd be the slowest member of the group if I went, but it would be better than cancelling the entire trip, right?"

"Well?" I took that as a bit of encouragement.

"Yeah, I could load my pack tomorrow and see how far I could go. If I can walk six or seven miles a day for three or four days, then I could probably manage six days of eight."

He nodded again, but at this point, I didn't need input.

"Yeah, I could be your backup. I could."

I wasn't seeing the whole picture. I didn't want to see the whole picture.

This morning, before it got too hot, I headed out after telling Nick of my plan. I'd be gone for a few hours. I'd be back before it got too hot. I was going to hike at least seven miles. I was going for elevation gain. I was going to carry some extra stuff in my backpack.

I was about half way up the trail, walking more and more slowly and sweating profusely, when my brain finally engaged.

If the doctor didn't think that Mike should go on the trip, then something was seriously wrong and you wouldn't be able to drag me away from Mike next week. If the doctor thought something was wrong, there would be tests and I'd be right there next to him.

I was lost in my thoughts when Teddy suddenly bounded off the trail. There was a shuffling in the brush. I couldn't see what he was excited about. We were near the summit, near where you can look out over the Snoqualmie Valley in a 270 degree panoramic view. I wasn't paying much attention to Teddy.

"Get him," I said, assuming there was a deer off the path. I had heard something big moving. I saw something, too, but only in my peripheral vision. I never got a look at it, but it crashed through the brush like a deer would when chased.

Teddy headed back down the trail. I decided that I'd had enough and headed after him. At one switchback, he was on my right on the downhill side. At the next, he was on my left, up the hill from me.

Teddy came back momentarily, looking to see if I'd send him out again.

"Get him," I whispered, trying to see the animal in the brush. Nothing. I didn't see anything but moving brush and by the time I'd turn my head, it would be quiet again.

I headed back down the trail, still thinking about Mike's new symptoms. Teddy crashed through the brush and came back down to where I was on the trail again. Then, during a moment when Teddy and I both stopped panting for a moment, I heard something.

I heard a deep and raspy breathing.

I waited for Teddy to stop panting.

There it was again, not a growl, thankfully, but definitely breathing. It was the sound of other.

I went through the possibilities in my head as I looked for a stick. Not human. Definitely not human. Not elk. They would snort and stomp one foot as a warning to the herd. They would move very quietly through the brush.

Deer don't sound this way.

Cougar? I found a suitably heavy stick, hooked Teddy to his leash, and faced the source of the sound. It was up the hill from me but slightly down the trail.

Did I have time to go back up the trail and try to find another way down to my car? It would take a while. I'd have to go up through Snoqualmie Ridge and come back down through another park. I decided to plow through the way I was headed.

I sang. I raised my arms and my club. I held Teddy at my side. I backed down the trail, staring at the spot where I could still hear the breathing. Then, the breathing was behind me, further down the trail, raspy and deep.

I pretended that it could be a mistake. I might be imagining it. I might.

I wasn't. I could hear this rumble of a breath that made the hair stand up at the back of my neck and the backs of my knees tingle.

I sang Christmas songs, Jingle Bells, We Wish You a Merry Christmas, and Angels We Have Heard on High, as I walked always facing the last spot where I heard the breathing, holding my arms above my head. I looked big. I sounded big. I was big.

Teddy looked up at me as if I were kooky. Maybe I was. Maybe I wasn't. But there definitely was breathing.

After about a quarter of a mile, the hair on my neck settled down. I stopped hearing any noises, and Teddy was cool as a cucumber. I finished my hike without ever seeing anything.

It would be like that with Todd's heart too, wouldn't it?

Thank you for listening, jb

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