Friday, June 22, 2012

Pushing My Limits

by Anita Mae Draper

I thought I was going to die at roughly 3pm on Wednesday afternoon as I reached the bench at the top of a 180 foot climb. That I probably shouldn't have attempted it was only one of several things that crossed my mind at that point, but none of it mattered. The important thing - as I braced my hands on my knees and heaved in huge gulping breaths - was that I was alive - and would soon have to make the trip back down. But I'm getting ahead of myself...

I was touring the reconstructed Hudson's Bay Company Fur Trading post of Fort Carlton which sits alongside the North Saskatchewan River. When I mentioned I'd like a photo from a higher vantage point, a kind park employee told me it was a short 10-15 min walk up to a viewing platform and that half way up, I'd find a bridge that crossed the old red river ox cart trails. Intrigued, I finished my tour and then approached another employee to confirm the directions. She said I could drive through the picnic and camping areas, park, and take the trail up.  Good enough. Here's the view from the Factor's house, which is now the Gift and Interpretive Centre.

And here's the view from where I parked my car and began my trek. 10 or 15 mins was fine - as long as I didn't have to climb to the ridge waaaaaaaaaay in the background of the photo. The trail starts where that little orangey-brown sign stands after the 2nd picnic table.

I haven't gone very far and can see the ridge in the background. When I hit the bridge, I'll be half way up and the 1st employee said I should be able to see the fort and river from there. I won't need to go any farther.

Oh, look, a Yellow-Bellied Sapsucker...

...a beautiful butterfly...

...and some pretty white alpine-like flowers.

I reach a spot where a dozen or so half inch light-blue butterflies are fluttering in the path. I've never seen them before.

Perhaps they have something to do with the plants since I haven't seen these little knobby things before. They are reminiscent of raspberries, but with sort-of-similar leaves of the strawberry plant.

Although I've been stopping for photos, I'm beginning to get tired and turn to look at the path behind.

Wow! I'm higher than I figured.

This beautiful blue creature flies like a butterfly, but is lying there like a moth. I wonder what it is?

Now this plant reminds me of the fritillaria plants I grew in Ontario.

I look up to see if I'm at the bridge, but only see the trail lead higher. You mean I'm not half way up yet? Ugh.

I see wood, but instead of a bridge, steps reach toward the sky. You've got to be kidding. My arthritic knees don't like stairs. Of any height.

My breathing is gettting tight. Taking the steps one at a time because only my right one can take the pressure. Up. Up. Higher and higher. I can't breathe. And I'm due for a high blood pressure pill. Haven't got one with me. Almost to the top. Ugh. Ridiculous. A bench! A bit further... I plunk down on the bench, hands braced on my knees, heaving and praising God for His hand over stupid me. I glance at my iPhone - 3pm. It's taken one hour to make a climb that should have taken 10-15 mins. No, wait... I haven't found the bridge yet. Does that mean I'm not even half way? I stop thinking about it and rise to see the view.

Well, that's real nice, but where's the fort? The trail leads off to the right - neither going uphill nor down. I follow it around the bend and a little wren-like bird warbles from a nearby tree.

The trees are thinning out and the landscape looks more like open prairie as I follow the river along the top of the ridge.

A heart-warming sight is Saskatchewan's provincial plant, the Prairie Lily, an elusive plant we must protect by law for future generations.

Not sure what I'd do if I didn't have the trail to follow. Hmm... if a riding lawn mower could make it up here, you'd think they'd send a vehicle for their lost patrons... not that I'm lost or anything... sigh.

Oh, another pretty butterfly - or is it a moth? I can't tell anymore...

Rose hips! Nice that's reassuring... if my knees buckle and I can't make it back down, at least I'll be able to survive on rain water and rose hips.

Looks like aquilegia, but the 2 inch pods seem very long for the common columbine.

I hear a shout and look up to find a park employee looking at me - from a long way off.

"You made it this far," he shouts.

"Where did you come from?" I yell back without thinking.

He sweeps his arm in a long curve, "You came up the back way."

Really. "I haven't found the bridge yet."

"No, it's down this way."

"They said I could see the fort from up here."

"Sure, a nice place to sit and watch the view."

Uh huh. I was halfway to him.

He waves. "Well, it's all downhill from here." And he's gone.

With mixed feelings, I look down and see some weird brown plants that remind me of burrs. No wonder horses don't like them under the saddle. I'm surrounded by them. Not a good place to try a short cut.

More trees come into view, along with a couple of cedar waxwings.

Up ahead finally - FINALLY - the trail leads downward. A tremendous view and yet I'm disappointed because I haven't caught sight of the fort yet.

I think I'm making progress - at least my knees are screaming from the constant pressure of going downhill, but the view is breathtaking and overrides the actual pain. It looks like there's a fence at the bottom of the trail before it winds off to the right.

Made it to the fence! Oh, look - more trail, no fort. sheesh.

I see it - not the fort, but the viewing platform. One thing at a time. Not sure if the photo is crooked or my eyes are skewered, but if I can make it up the steps, I'm spending a minute or two in prayer.

Such a beautiful place to spend with the Lord. And look - I found Fort Carlton. Phew.

And there's the bridge! Kind of anti-climatic, wouldn't you say?

I'm standing on the bridge looking at the path down - I'm a long way from the fort. But beneath the bridge are paths of the red river carts - you can see them on the right of the trail. They remind me of when I stood in the wagon ruts on the Oregon Trail in Wyoming four years ago, except those were made in limestone. I stay a couple minutes to make a video of this spot. I read from the storyboard while allowing my camera to pan the cart trails.

I continue down, with my knees crying out for mercy. I stop for a breather and look back, just barely seeing the viewing platform up through the trees, and yet I'm about half way down from the bridge. I clench my teeth and step down. One step at a time.

I take the last step and limp into the clearing, knowing it's not where I left my van, but hopefully it's not too far away. Where's my van? Ugh... it's the small muddy-red dot on the right of the photo near the tree line. Man, that's far...

But as I walk across the open expanse, I can't help but feel jubilation. I made it. I actually hiked to the ridge and back. I check my watch - 3:45. And I did it in under 2 hours. That is quite an accomplishment for me.

Back at the Factor's house, I find out I walked 1.6 km (1 mile), and the ridge is 180 feet high.

Yes, indeed, that's quite an accomplishment for me. As I sit in my van and take my mid-day blood pressure pill, I realize I've pushed my limits farther than I've done in years. But I wasn't alone up there. The Lord was with me every step of the way, pointing out the wonders of His universe, making sure I didn't miss anything from the experience.

What about you? When was the last time you physically pushed yourself past a point you hadn't thought you could reach?


Anita Mae Draper is retired from the Canadian Armed Forces and lives on the prairie of southeast Saskatchewan, Canada with her hubby of 30 plus years and 2 of their 4 kids. She writes stories set on the prairies of Saskatchewan, North Dakota, Montana and Wyoming. Anita Mae has semi-finaled in the Historical Romance category of the ACFW's 2011 Genesis contest and finaled in the Inspirational category of the 2011 Daphne du Maurier, the 2011 Fool for Love, the 2011 Duel on the Delta and 2009 Linda Howard Award of Excellence contests. Anita Mae is represented by Mary Keeley of Books and Such Literary Agency. You can find Anita at


  1. Oh, Anita, this is lovely. And believe me when I say I know that feeling of "going to die". I've had that feeling at the bluff where I like to walk (the one that's represented on my book cover!). I also had that feeling when I jumped out of my sister's convertible on the top of a mountain, because there were baby bears up near the lookout point eating berries. Yeah, right. Not my smartest move, and I realized it after I ran up the hill to the lookout point and nearly died from an asthma attack. Good thing God protected me from the mama bear - where ever she was. Yeesh.

    But sometimes, like those, and like this one for you, it's worth the glory God is showing to us. :-)

    Glad you didn't die, and glad you shared those lovely pictures with us.

  2. A kindred spirit! Yes, Suzie, that's the feeling and the result. :D

    Thank you for your kind words. I thought it nice that when I got to the bottom, the park employee who had come looking for me said I probably walked farther than the 1.6 km because I kept going back to take photos. LOL

    The photo you see of him is when I was half-way to him and his back is actually facing the camera. That's how far he was when I spotted him although I don't know how long he stood there watching me. It was nice of him to wait until I got within yelling distance. Haha

  3. Over spring break we took the kids on an eight mile hike in the Shenandoahs. Sounded easy enough to me. I can walk a mile in about 15 or 20 minutes. But this was straight up with a lot of climbing rocks. Then across--that part was easy. Then straight down, again on a lot of craggy rocks. I was fine until about halfway down, then my knees were screaming. Finally, about a mile from the end I stopped for some ibuprofen, but it didn't kick in until after we were done. Oh well. If we do it again, I'll know to take it at the halfway point.

    Anyway, the kids loved it. They were fine and did a lot of extra off trail rock climbing in addition to what hubby and I did. Overall it was a lovely family day, but it took about 6 hours rather than the 3 or 4 I was figuring. And I ate a huge dinner after at a bbq place and enjoyed every bite with no guilt whatsoever.

  4. What an adventure, Anita, and very creatively shared with us. I felt as if I were traveling along with might want to bring a friend on your next excursion...
    I can see why you were so excited about this. Talk about a research trip!

    I climbed partway up a small mountain a few years ago to get to an outdoor mine on the side of a mountain in Maine. Beautiful and loaded with all kinds of garnets, quartz, amethyst, and I was hoping for tourmaline. I was told that it was just a short way up the mountain and convinced myself I could manage, even if I had to pay for it later. I didn't think I'd make it up or down with my arthritis and asthma, but somehow managed. And now that I'm fully recovered (lol), it was worth the trip!

  5. Great post, Anita. I loved it--gorgeous photos. Well, I need to backtrack. I am sorry you didn't feel well. But what an adventure!

    My knees, like the old gray mare, just aren't what they used to be. Asthma doesn't help.

    I've got to say, "yellow-bellies sapsucker" is one of the best bird names. Ever.

  6. Wow, Anita! What glorious pictures you take! Very nice.

    AND you survived. :D

  7. I loved your pictures and the step by step commentary! I felt like I was on the hike with you :)

    We regularly hike in the hills, but I have to work up to it. The first few times out, we don't push too hard, but then I try to push myself harder each time.

    As I build up muscle, the arthritic knees don't complain so much!

    Last week we did about 6 miles, down into a canyon...and then back up. We went slow - about 5 hours for the hike! - but we all survived.

    Of course my Army-bound 20 year old son sprinted the last 1/4 mile.

    Show off.

  8. Hey Dina, it sounds like a lovely day overall. I love it when the family comes with me, but my girls were the adventurous ones and they're gone. JJ is kind of adventurous, but is torn between doing things with me, and playing video games with his dad. sheesh

    You probably expended enough energy to need that big ol' BBQ so I'm glad you didn't feel guilty about eating it.

    Thanks for sharing. :)

  9. Carla, I would have loved company, but at this stage of my life, my friends live too far and my family waves goodbye. Hubby has always been a homebody and he used to come with me just because. Now he'd rather not. I can either sit home and watch him play video games or continue living. I choose the latter.

    Your outdoor mine in Maine sounds like a treasure to me. Next time you plan on making that little excursion let me know, okay? I've been to the amethyst mine in Ontario, and I love to dig for fossils, petrified wood and agates in Manitoba, but never anything like the one you're describing. Whoowhee!!! :D

  10. It's okay, Susie. God put enough beauty in my path that I didn't feel the pain as much.

    I'll have to remember that about your knees and asthma when we get to Disneyland.

    Thank you for complimenting my pics. Yes, I really like saying yellow-bellied sapsucker. So much better than flicker or woodpecker, although the latter stirs the creativity, too.

  11. Thanks! Yes,DeAnna, I survived. Very important for a writer-adventurer to be able to complete the journal of the journey, wouldn't you say? LOL

  12. Thank you, Jan! I'm so glad you came along with me. :)

    Yes, you have some good training basics. I envy your fitness level and excursions.

    My problem is that it's often too windy - and boring - to hike out on our prairie roads. And I distinctively don't like the treadmill. Keep thinking I'm going to fall and break my tailbone or something.

    LOL - I was gung-ho and a cross-country runner when I was 17 and about to join the Forces, too. It kind of wore off over the years, though.

    Thanks for sharing. :)

  13. LOL, I can run around Disneyland better than my kids, Anita!

    But hiking is a little different. Not bad. But my knees definitely ache a little.

  14. Oh, I see, it's the pressure on the inclines, yes? Well, we'll have to stay on solid ground or take elevators. LOL Except for 'Soaring', of course. I'm sure I can climb anything for that. :)


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