It was Spring Break of 2010, the already steamy, hot temperatures of the Southern air rising despite the full blast of the air conditioning blowing through my hair as we drive through the seemingly never-ending desert of Arizona. My family, consisting of four, is headed toward Picacho Peak to take on the strenuous 6. 2-mile hike along the Sunset Vista Trail. We pull up to the Sunset Vista Trail Head parking area, our medium-sized Camelbaks having already been packed somewhere along the 1,060 miles of flat, boring road, we start up the trail with the sun beating down our backs.
Automatically, I fall in step with my long-legged brother while my sister gratefully stays behind with our mother, adopting a preferred slow, steady pace. The sun is bright, the jagged rocks and occasional stream receiving its pale, yet blinding reflection. My brother and I make a good team; he supplies the food while I supply the water, all the while sharing laughs and memories, memories that I will later on think to be my last.
After a couple hours, the scalding sun is taking on its inevitable journey toward the western horizon, being replaced with the cool breeze of the moon. My brother and I decide to take a refueling break on two enormous rocks after four hours of walking in the moonlight. “Here, take my Camelbak,” I say, “I’m going to the bathroom. ” I take my flashlight as I walk off the trail for two minutes, keeping track of the monotonous rocks and brush I pass by. When I am finished, I start to head back towards our temporary resting place.
Passing the familiar rocks, I crouch down to inspect with my LED flashlight a peculiar zigzag shape on the ground. Tracing my finger along the sharp edges of the shape, I realize it’s a narrow fracture in the ground, leading to a larger web of intricate fractures that rest just under my feet. Just then I hear a whisper of rushing water. Before I have time to react to the sudden realization that the ground could collapse from under my feet, I fall through the Earth. The fall seems endless though it may have taken no more than two seconds.
I land with an echoing crash as my body penetrates through hot water. My body is violently thrown to the side with the sharp current and I am struggling to reach the surface. I reach out, my hands sliding on the slick floor as my body is carried by the flow of the hot spring. My wrist catches on a column jutting up on the floor of the cave. I wrap both arms around it to haul myself up. I cough to catch my breath, throat burning. The flashlight is still on. I wave the blue light around the darkness.
The blue light winks as I shine it on my surroundings, the battery will die soon. I spot a tunnel not far off to the right. It must go somewhere, I thought. I can see a clear enough path towards it, so I reluctantly click off the safety of the blue light. I am instantly swallowed by darkness as I crawl my way towards the tunnel. Black, black, black is all I see. Without my vision, I have to be careful of where I move. The blue luminosity from the flashlight leaves me with the hesitant desire to not be wasteful.
How many hours has it been? No food, no water. The sun should surely be up soon. Just as the thoughts have formed I see a faint light up ahead. The yellow glimmer of the sun’s rays gives me the hope I so crave. The light is still nowhere near enough to be able to see anything. The overwhelming pitch-blackness, the winking blue of the LED flashlight, and the steady growing yellow shine of the sun is all I see in my slow, crawling trek along the cave’s floor.
With my cautious travel, thriftiness, and hopeful thoughts, the growing light is suddenly all around me. I am squinting as I collapse to the ground. Almost immediately I am pulled up from under my shoulders, faint cries of relief and concern swarm through my ears, but with the overbearing silence and lack of energy, I cannot make out the words. All I see is brightness, as the hope I so desperately clung to is turned into overwhelming relief and happiness as survival is achieved. That’s when I black out.
More brightness, a different kind of light. Not the hopeful yellow of the sun shining through the rocks, but of a white fluorescent one. I am in a hospital. My family is suddenly all around me, throwing hugs and kisses and joy. A nurse comes in with a doctor, they give my family time to pull themselves together. I can hear the nurse speaking to the doctor, “How could she possibly have made it through those awful caves? ” The doctor responds to her, flashing me a knowing smile, “Colors go a long way in finding our inner character”.
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