In the summer of 2008, Alex and I left Denver for a long planned adventure to California and the Northwest. Our planned route was to take us West on I-70 across Utah and then cut our way northwest to Yosemite national Park. This first part of our adventure was to camp and backpack in the wilderness areas of this great land. From there we were scheduled to drive to Sacramento for a lecture I was giving before heading up the coast of Northern California and Oregon. After arriving at the destination point of Lewis and Clark’s famous expedition, we planned on heading back east along the Columbia River and their famous passageway. It was an opportunity to explore new mountain areas, see the spectacular northwest coast and complete our three year tracing of the Lewis and Clark expedition.
Starting out on our first day, we had made our way across the continental divide and were starting our journey across the solitude and vast beauty of the Southern Utah desert. We were just west of Green River, Utah, and nearly out of cell phone range, when I received a tragic phone call. Pulling over at the Ghost Rock senic view area, which overlooks spectacular canyons and gorges, a friend shared that two young children from my son’s school and my place of employment as the school counselor were killed early that morning in a bizarre accident on the Oregon coast.
Quietly, Alex listened as I talked and then shared the news with him. I immediately felt the need to go back home and help with the needed trauma counseling. At the same time, I was torn with my desire to be with my son and to move ahead on this great adventure. Every father faces times in his work life where he is torn between the needs of his family and the needs of his career. Having known and loved Sam and Grace, this decision which I had to make to go on a greater significance and emotional weight.
Fortunately for me, the weight of this decision and the burden which I felt making it was lifted by my young teenage son. He simply said: “If we are going to go back, we better turn back now”. In that moment, I saw a maturity and decisiveness in him which filled me with great pride. He knew that the right thing had to be done.
Sadly, I will always remember this day and my two young friends. Yet I will also remember the growth and my son’s budding manhood. While we have yet to make it to Yosemite, we were able to rocket out to California and make that trip up the Oregon coast line. Most meaningful, we had a chance to thank the firefighters and paramedics who tried to save our friends and were able to lay down some flowers and prayers for their journey to Heaven. It was an interrupted adventure which threw us into the depths of loss and the most humble appreciation for life.
We miss you, Sam and Grace.