Updated: Jul 27, 2022
You don't know what you can do till you do it.
I wonder if she can do it. I have to decide in a moment which version of the hike she can handle including a shorter, easier version. She would be no worse for the wear but, to me, easier means missing out and copping out. We don't live to take it easy. We're here to challenge ourselves and each other and just as this hike may challenge her, her limitations will challenge me.
Do either of us want that challenge? That's the question, as there is a chance that we may not overcome.
Having learned that guests are far more capable than I suspect or they realize I tend to err on the side of chance and destiny. It's definitely a gamble because, while they don't know what's ahead, I do. I know each of the rocks and roots, the narrow stretches along the ridge. I know how people react to the up and down, the riverbed of boulders. I've watched twelve hundred take this trail - and some with trepidation and grief - so I know what could be including swings of mood. That's why I bring the wine and spring it on 'em when all seems lost.
If the hike were described in detail nobody would ever book. No different from life: if we knew the pitfalls and pain to come we may not want to live. I'd rather advertise a leisurely stroll but then drag them up a mountain of hard-earned fulfillment that lodges into their lobes and remains a part of who they are.
After all, what are we but an accumulation of all we've done?
Today I'm about to test the tenacity of a fifty-year-old Philadelphian not in ideal shape.
Not much of a hiker is Mother T. but being here isn't her fault; she didn't choose the day. Her daughter did, also without knowing what was in store. So neither are to blame for choosing an experience that Mother T. may not complete much less enjoy.
I'm concerned of course. Not only do I want guests to complete the hike I want them to love it. And while the river and scenery are easy to love the uneven ground and two-hundred foot incline is easy not to. Judging by her smile however I can't imagine Mother T. hating anything much less a beautiful hike no matter how strenuous.
Her entire being and history in that smile, plus warmth, love, heart, strength, determination, struggle, compassion, tolerance and Jesus.
Yes, "Jesus!" she cries along the trail. I remind that wine is head, that the final hour leads to tastings at Cornerstone Estate, that this wrangle turns to wine.
"There's no wine," she says with discouragement, "worth this hike."
I laugh, but not inside. I laugh to cheer her on but fear I made the wrong decision. I worry she may not be capable and that our pace and section choices will limit the experience of her daughter and friend. I'm forever conscious that one's inabilities may cheat the others of the full experience so I try to please all without giving up too much for any.
As I watch her tread cautiously down the path I regret my decision entirely. I see her struggle. I see her sweat. I hear her calls for Jesus and help. I snap back and clutch her hand, that warm hand, long painted nails locked with my fingers for one step at a time under trees to greater glory - at least I hope. I hope she doesn't trip or slip or fall or strain or tumble. I have visions of these as we amble hand in hand along the trail.
Her daughter's friend pulls out her phone and plays a parody of Cher, "Do you believe this hike ever ends? Ever ends? Ever ends?"
We all laugh and I keep repeating it now that it's in my head. Mother T. however is having a hard time keeping that smile. I think about that. Must take a lot to destroy that smile and I feel terrible that I'm accomplishing that unlikely crime in tiny strides. I see her grimace by step, I see her fear of falling, I see her wondering if this hike ever ends.
"'YOLO,'" she grumbles. "Everybody tells me 'you only live once' but this was never on my bucket list."
I try to lighten her.
"Last time you ever let your daughter book a tour," I say. Mother T. doesn't laugh, too busy keeping her feet. I tell her the end is near and she says, "Sure, that's what I say to my students" she trains to be Insurance Agents. "They know I'm just saying that so they don't give up. You're a con man," she laughs.
"A Con-adian," I say, and she smirks. "My name's not Ken. It's Con." The smile grows near the end of this most difficult section. There I urge her daughter and friend to descend into the dried up river bed. I serve up wine in glasses and they dance and sing lines from musicals.
Mother T. rests and takes sip after well-deserved sip of Vidal.
That smile could save a life, and it just might.
I pray that grin sticks around for the stairs one hundred fifty feet up the Escarpment where soon she's clinging to the rail, air and life, everything to the moment, all cells and muscles and thoughts clinging to each other to keep her on task and raise her to the top.
"You never know what you can do till you do it," I say. She already knows what she can do. Besides training insurance agents she works for two insurance companies plus contracts herself to manage administrative duties for others. "Eight months a year," she says, "it's sixteen hours a day." And here I am torturing her on vacation as if she needs to learn or achieve anything more. I suppose we do no matter how much we've done and earned and learned and grown.
All that aside, my job is to keep that smile upon her face. "I hope today reminded you to never trust a man," I say, "especially one who drags you into the woods."
She makes it to the top of the canyon that usually bears a waterfall. Dried up now it'll return in full force much like the full force she's given today. Sometimes we run out of steam but it can always come back in full force - because we never know what we can do till we do it.
"So," I say to her carrying two cases of wine out of Cornerstone Estate including Ice Wine she'd just savored for the first time. "Was the wine worth the hike?"
She smiles that smile
that pulled us through.
And will continue -
In memory, in time, in love - to do.