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 http://www.anitamaedraper.com/