Well its Saturday, for most that means the weekend. The weekend means you have time to relax, unwind, feel the fall air on your face, and whatever you do, don't do it, we are warning you, get it off your mind, do not, think about Monday. Well, yea now we are thinking about Monday as well, this started off fun and quickly became depressing... hmm. Even though Saturday is another work day for us at ElevenSkys, Monday just has a harsh sound to it. It sounds as if it should be spoken in hushed corners and around a dimly lit campfire whispered to your neighbor. If spoken too loudly it can inflict too much fear, the fear of it becoming a reality. If thought of too loudly it can be manifested into a tangible feeling. So let us quietly and carefully shift away from this world of Saturday's feeling like Monday's and into a tale of incredible courage and a tale of one of the strongest partners we ever had!
A story of love that was built and bonded through many miles and hardships. A story of loss that was felt as deeply as the Gila River itself and as swiftly. A story of sacrifice, where all the love and strength in the world could not help this event from happening. A story of courage where one does not know how they can continue on without the other, but boldly has to find their way through. Ultimately, a story of failure within the grip of despair that leads into triumph once the way through is found. Simply, a story of a pair of shorts.
A little preface to how all of this unfolded. The where is just as consequential as the how. We were in the Gila River Canyon. A canyon in the wilderness of New Mexico, that has THICC with two C's bushwhacks abundant, river crossings frequent, and trail mostly non-existent. This pair of shorts had been with us since the beginning. The beginning of the CDT, the Continental Divide Trail. They had traversed pieces of the hot desert with us, had the first shin splints with us, and gifted us our first extremely uncolored thighs and butt (CHAFE) of the hiking season. They meant so much to us! They were quite literally a part of us. Until it all fell apart (quite literally again).
The Gateway to the Gila
The arrow pointed us into the Canyon. The arrow pointed us towards our fate. It began with a steep uphill to drop down into the canyon. RE-READ that sentence, it does not make sense does it? Nope, but for some reason it made sense to us. Our hiking partner also was puzzled by this but sometimes you must put your faith and believe in the trail. The trail will provide! This turned out to be extremely true, the trail did provide. It provided us with a bushwhack before the bushwhack on the side of a mountain. It was not the correct way to drop DOWN into a canyon. We were able to puzzle this out after a few hours. The shorts had begun their accelerated descent into destruction on this ascent.
(All jokes aside, sometimes on the CDT you would have to go up first to arrive on terrain that would safely drop you down the other side).
When we finally found ourselves at the beginning of the Gila section (the next day) we were giddy with excitement. After such a dry stretch of desert, we could splash in the river, could play in the puddles, could laze around on the river bank. We absolutely loved the water after not having any drinkable water besides cow troughs for the past few hundred miles. The first crossing we joked, the second crossing we joked about that being quick, the third crossing we held onto that humor albeit a little skeptical, the fourth crossing a realization began to set in. We had only gone a half mile maybe, there was too much water! Can I go back to the desert please?
The entire time that we had been joyfully and then painfully experiencing the water crossings, the shorts had been having an experience of their own. After each ford, thick brush began to grab and twist the poor material into knots. You could hear the sobbing tears be voiced from the shorts with each new snag. A groan of protest with every step. We apologized profusely, to the shorts for having to have to go through this together, but there was just no other way. Only forward, only further into the Gila River Canyon. The Canyon where we would lose what we held most dear to our bodies, that hugged us and held us tight and secure in a world of danger. The Canyon that would eventually be known to us as the Canyon of Tears (both pronunciations).
The Gila River used to be significantly lower water levels before our TEARS
Yet, what could we do but hope and continue on? Putting our heads down, and speaking softly and sweetly to our shorts we pushed ever deeper and deeper into the canyon. Another river crossing where the shorts would fill with water, and another bushwhack where their wet, cold, and lonely threads would continue to unravel. We never questioned the strength in their heart, they were some of the strongest shorts we knew and ever had the pleasure of knowing. They would look into the face of a mountain, and billow with laughter against the wind. They would become one with the dirt and sand of the desert and exclaim through crunched teeth, is that all you got?!? We truly could not be more proud and honored to have known them. To this day even as we continue to carry on in their image with ElevenSkys, their heart stays with us.
The third day is when the Gila River Canyon became the Canyon of Tears. It had been consistent, never giving our beloved partner a break. When one branch was pushed aside and one log strained against to over-step, three more would fill its place. They wanted to give more, truly tried to give more, until there was just no more to give. We still remember the conversation that we had with them on our last night together. We were soaking together in one of those hidden hot springs along the Gila. A well earned and very much needed soak. We had known how much we were asking from them, and had seen them continue to give it their all with nary a word of complaint besides the noises that haunt us to this day. Never complaining, but the noises of shocks from pain and tears would coarse through their body each day. The thorns and river crossings were relentless and they would try to suppress the surprise and pain, but there was just no suppressing it. So, as we soothed each other underneath the moonlight sky, soaking in the warmth from the hot spring, we talked of the better days. Of the freedom of movement over the open vast desert. Of the mountains we had climbed together. Of the days that we had sweated together. Even of the small moments where we would have arguments about more or less miles each day. Even those memories flooded us with happiness. Then we began to talk of the future. Of the huge mountains of Colorado that awaited us. Of the sprawling Basin of Wyoming that beckoned us. Of the borderlands of Montana and Idaho that caressed our worries. We talked of all the adventures that we would continue to have together once we BOTH got through this. When I think of them, I still think of this night, of how truly lucky and happy we both were. Then it all comes crashing back...
A thorn, the thousandth thorn, or the millionth, there is no way to tell. It was just another nameless one in the endless onslaught of thorns. There was nothing imposing about it but nonetheless it would become our downfall. We were so close, we had almost reached the end of the Gila River Canyon. We would have been out of it in a few more miles. We had begin to already joke about the times we had within the canyon and how it made us stronger hiking partners. Then the Thorn. It unflinchingly grabbed the shorts and would not let go. A night does not go by with us not wondering what we could have done different. Could we have stepped back and tried again, could we have grabbed it bare-handed and let the pain course through us instead? But, there is no point in getting lost now, we have hit the climax. The thorn sunk into the shorts with a sickening pop and the next step, a bone-crushing and soul-removing tear. The wound was too deep, too close to the vitals to be able to resuscitate our beloved partner. If you listen close enough the primal scream that echoed out of us that day, in that Canyon, can still be heard bouncing off the walls, going further into the endless void which our heart had become. We were broken.
CONTAINS GRAPHIC IMAGES: VIEWER DISCRETION IS ADVISED! NOT FOR THE FAINT OF HEART!
WE WARNED YOU! I AM JUST SICK TO MY STOMACH AGAIN LOOKING AT THIS!
As we picked up the pieces of our companion, our partner, our friend we could not find the pieces of ourselves that were lost. We continued on but the footsteps became hollow. The courage and resilience and self-sacrifice that our friend had shown was overwhelming. We hope that if the roles were reversed we would have done the same for them, in fact we know we would have our bond was so deep. That is one of the only things that consoles us at night, the unshakeable truth knowing we would have done the same for them.
Where were our footsteps leading us now? Literally they were leading us away from the horror and the event, but what was the point. Everything that they had held together was now loose. We were bobbing in the wind, with no direction, swinging to and fro. There was a cold breeze that crept upon our skin and no matter what we did we could not shake it. We had been exposed to the world, raw and true.
Yet, we had to reign ourselves in, it is what the shorts would have wanted, what they were meant to do, what they were born to do. They held us together. So, tucking ourselves back in (metaphorically of course) our steps became stronger. Their sacrifice was not for nothing, it could not be for nothing. They had shown us how strong a bond is formed between a hiker and their pair of shorts, and we vowed with everything inside (and outside) of us they would live on. Their values and their truth would continue. Never replaced but built upon together.
We do not want anyone else to go through the pain and heartbreak that we had to endure. Let this story mean something, let that brave and courageous pair of shorts mean something. Never will we forget the times we had together, instead we will look toward the future, as they wanted, and make it better. Let that friendship flourish and always continue to grow with each step, never worrying about the unspoken and sacred partner that holds all of us together through our journies. The unspoken hero. Yet, we will speak their name now, no longer unspoken, no longer in the dark, brought to the light. We love you, shorts, and will always love you.
ElevenSkys will never forget. We will never lose sight of what events led us here, and the heart-wrenching sacrifices that were made. ElevenSkys Shorts are a partnership built around trust, friendship, and continuing to be able to share mile after mile together. We remember, and thank you for bringing us to where we are today. One last time on the keyboard, before going back to always being on our mind, we love you Shorts.
With Deep Sadness and a Touch of Happiness