My middle son, Travis (swm, 34, college grad, successful career, owns home, loves
long walks, adores animals) has , since birth, always been the explorer, the adventurer, the lets-go-here-try-this-first type of guy. His older brother took center
stage, his younger brother lived, ate and breathed sports, but ole Travis actively
sought the unknown, the foreign, the forbidden and sometimes the impossible. Now
don’t get me wrong, no better student ever existed. All of his teachers loved him, and
his grades were superb; but being born with gifted intelligence also meant he got
bored easily. So he satisfied his thrill-seeking needs as best a child can do by
racing bicycles on construction sites, getting on the fastest rides at the fair and
volunteering as a teen in the Civil Air Patrol.
Unfortunately, no one corralled him, so his daredevilry flourished and grew unchecked well into his adult life. His father left drunk one day and never returned,
so I had no choice but to go to work. We had to survive somehow. In our neighborhood I was known as the ‘Phantom Mother’ because I worked all the time, night, day, weekends. Regretfully, I feel certain this type of free-roaming, wild animal childhood set the stage for Travis’s love of bungee jumping, parasailing,
scuba diving, hiking through bear-infested woods, mopedding across Greece,
riding an elephant through the Thai jungle, hanging upside down while sliding
on a rickety old line stretched across a bottomless Costa Rican gorge, to name
just a few of his reckless stunts.
About a year ago he announced plans to go hiking in Ecuador and the Galapagos
Islands. The year before that he went to Viet Nam, Cambodia, Koh Samui and
Bangkok Thailand, Hong Kong. Costa Rica and Belize in 2005. Greece, 2004.
Cancun and the Yucatan Peninsula sometime in 2004 or 2003. One or two of
his buddies from college would be going with him. If he can afford it, I don’t
discourage his travels. I just want him to stay safe.
On Sunday, November 5, 2006, Travis telephoned from Quito to give a detailed
report of the pilot’s near miss of the Andes Mountains and the bumpy landing
at the airport. He continued his deadpan, matter-of-fact, but scarey description
of his new and strange surroundings. According to him, none of his traveling companions had arrived yet, and he, alone, was the only non-Spanish speaking person in town. He was hungry and having some difficulty ordering breakfast.
I told him to start walking back towards the airport where he could buy a bag of
chips , a Spanish dictionary and a flight home. Ignoring my suggestion as his meal was being served, he said he would call me back later.
In the afternoon, he emailed me, “The people here have been extremely nice so
far. Paul’s flight gets in Monday night, and Dax couldn’t get away from work. I’m
just chillin’ ’til he gets here.”
Exaggerating I replied, “Just read where landmines have been planted all
along the border with Peru. A tribe of headhunters still thrives on the Amazon
somewhere in the rain forest. Snipers and kidnappers patrol the border with
Colombia, and there’s an active volcano in or near every mountain village of
Ecuador. Many residents were buried in lava last August.”
Restraint of pen and tongue have never been my strongest suits, and much
to my dismay, I didn’t hear from Travis for over a week. His birthday was on
November 8, and instead of having cake and ice cream, he and Paul joined
a group of ten or twelve scientists sailing to the Galapagos Islands. Said they
had been out at sea for eight days with no means of communication back to
the mainland. He promised hundreds of photographs of sea lions up close,
penguins and flamingoes in the same wild habitat, lizards that resembled
something out of the dinosaur age, blue-footed booby birds, red-throated
blackbirds, and many other species unseen or unheard of anywhere else on
Before he hung up he ran down his itinerary and told me he and Paul were back
in Quito waiting for their guide or ride to Mt. Cotopaxi. Said they would be
ascending all day Thursday, descending most of Friday, back in Quito that
night and flying back to the US on Sunday morning. He promised more photos
of the indigenous people of that region of the Andes, and I wished the two of
them a fun and safe journey.
His call came while I was opening my daily email messages, and for
reasons still unknown, after the conversation ended, I decided to Google this Mt. Cotopaxi just to see for myself what kind of a hike they were undertaking. Why I had it in my head that they would be walking a winding scenic trail all the way to the top is a mystery to this day. Guess I thought it would be like the hiking trails of the Appalachians of Virginia and North Carolina which they had taken many times in the past.
To my shock and horror this damned mountain was 19,500 frigging feet high and
an active volcano forecast to erupt at any moment. The Internet pictures looked
like something from Jon Krakouer’s book, ‘Into Thin Air’. Suddenly, I relived the
impact that book had on me. I couldn’t fathom then why any sane person would
tackle Everest, and now my own son was doing something equally as incomprehensible.
While staring at the Ecuador travel site, I tried to think of someone to call. At that
moment my friend, Ruth, checked in to verify our lunch date that afternoon.
Couldn’t have been a more sympathetic caller, as she told me of her 30-something
son sailing solo in a small boat around the world. His most recent message came
from somewhere in the Pacific Ocean near Fiji on his way to New Zealand.
“Do these guys have a death wish or something? God! Where did I go wrong!
I really thought he would have outgrown his love affair with danger by age 33.”
The next couple of days I stayed as busy as a human being can with my job,
decluttering my apartment, visiting friends, arranging the boys’ baby pictures
on the shelf.
Friday night Travis called with details of his climb. Thursday, they trekked
halfway up the mountain to a lodge where they spent half the night. At midnight
all the climbers in the party were awakened and served a big meal. Then they
donned their high altitude clothes complete with lights on their heads so they
could see to climb in the dark. All but Paul set out for the summit. He stayed
behind in the lodge with a stomach virus. I know his mother was happy.
At 0800 Travis was the last in the party of four (plus one guide) to reach the
summit. He was congratulated by the other three ahead of him, two French
climbers, one Italian, and, of course, the Spanish guide. After some quick
photos of each standing by the smoking crater, they were hustled back down
the mountain a mile or so back to the lodge. The rising sun often caused
a breakup of the snow and ice creating possible avalanches, so not a minute
was wasted stopping to study the awesome panorama.
I have no earthly idea how to get the shot of him on top of Mt Cotopaxi from my
email or harddrive over here, so I apologize for that. When he came to visit
at Christmas he brought videos of this trip as well as some from years past
that I had never received. Much to my chagrin and shattered nerves I learned
the Ecuador trip included several other feats of daring, in my motherly mind,
much worse than Cotopaxi, but that’s another story.