He had to go – one last time, while he could still make the climb.
His companion was not the best, but everyone else “had commitments”. He’d met him in the park sleeping rough, a turbulent young fella Chase was, with hard, rebellious eyes. He hadn’t understood but he’d been willing, for the pittance Jim was able to pay, (already sleeping rough, what had he to lose?) He was sullen, but, considerate of Jim’s aging frame, he carried the rucksack, appreciative of the new sleeping bag and use of bed and shower as they prepared.
The slope steepened, the going was harder. Jim had to stop frequently to catch his breath.
“Why are you doing this?” Chase asked. “If I were your age I’d be curled up in an armchair.”
“ You’ll see when we get there.” Chase thought the old duffer mad, but he’d been kind, besides he liked crazy folks, he was half crazy himself. He didn’t care. Help the old duffer up the mountain and maybe he could doss with him for a while after, till things turned sour…
The road lay far behind, the car a matchbox toy. Things were quiet up here. They sat and ate sandwiches feasting their eyes on the growing panorama.
“Wait till we get up.” Jim whispered, “It takes your breath away.” It was beautiful, Chase thought, but not worth this whole expedition – Jim must be in his seventies, maybe more! A cold thought hit. Suppose the old man was to peg out up here, would they hold him accountable? He’d have to leg it if something happened…
Nothing did happen. They camped under the stars, Chase gathering wood, Jim starting the fire. Chase watched the flames as the bacon and sausages sizzled on their sticks and the foil wrapped potatoes steamed. Jim knew what he was doing that’s for sure.
“You must have been a bit of an adventurer when you were young?” Chase ventured. He wasn’t much for conversation, but he was curious.
“You could say that,” Jim beamed. He went on to tell tales of his youth and how he’d found this place. Chase listened entranced. Despite himself he liked the old duffer.
“So why the mountain?”
“I was pretty wild back then. I could be myself up there. It puts everything in perspective, everything is small, seen from up there, only the important things are big – like the sky! … and you can see the horizon…”
They made the summit next afternoon. While not requiring much in the way of hard climbing it had been long and arduous, Jim was exhausted.
“Just help me on that big rock up there and I’ll rest a while.” Chase was concerned. Shedding the pack he picked Jim up in his arms. He was surprisingly light.
“You’re a good lad Chase,” Jim whispered. “Don’t let folks ever tell you otherwise.”
Together they sat above the world looking down on scattered clouds, distant hills, and swathes of pine forest. Chase gasped, awestruck, head turning to appreciate the 360 deg. horizon.
“I think I understand now,” he breathed.
“I thought you would. It’s not something you can explain, but I just had to feel it one more time before I go, kinda get me ready.” Chase looked alarmed. “Now don’t worry son, I’m not gonna peg out on you, still got a bit of strength left. I just need to rest a bit”
“Just as well, ‘cos I’m sure not gonna carry you all the way back,” Chase teased. Then he realised – yes, he would if it came to that, and bugger the consequences. He liked the old duffer – he liked the mountain too.