The Crawling Man
By William Engel • December 16, 2015
My girlfriend (who is now my wife) and I were taking a hike one afternoon on a wet weekend; it had been raining a lot. We haven't hiked a lot before this, so we were tired from the beginning. I decided we should go up a simple mountain near where we lived, a place where families can be frequently spotted along the way. As we were ascending two girls on their way down looked at us and said "Watch out for the creepy guy up there."
OK, we thought, that was weird. We continued onward and upward through the mist of impending rain, under a canopy of leaves and needles, until we came across an older man, maybe in his late sixties, who was kind of rolling over the rocks as his way of moving down the mountain. He was lying on his stomach and slipping over each boulder and crawling in a bizarre fashion over the stones that were on the path. He was covered in dirt and sweat. We gave a slight nod toward him as we passed in a hurry. The night was approaching and we did not want to get stuck halfway down in complete darkness. I was wondering what kind of ridiculous new workout technique we just witnessed. Where did that guy get that idea as a way to stay in shape? People can be weird sometimes.
Shortly after that we got to the top of our little mountain and stared at the wonderful view. My girlfriend and I stayed there for a long time, talking about random things, reminiscing, or just sitting in complete quiet. We left after we realized that night was uncomfortable close. On our way down we started arguing about something. We were getting upset with each other. We stopped talking and just sped down the easy mountain slope, hoping not to slip, when we came upon this crawling man again. There he was, soaking wet from the mud. He was only about 500 feet from where we saw him before, still rolling and crawling down the mountain. With another slight nod we passed him again. What a strange person, I thought.
As we descended and night was falling on us, a feeling of responsibility started to overwhelm me. I couldn't shake it, I felt more and more like I needed to at least go talk to this guy, the crawling man. Being in an argument with the girlfriend I said to her "go ahead without me, the car is just down this path, here are the keys. I'll find another way home."
I'm a dramatic person. I know this. She wouldn't let me go. "No, you are not going back up in the complete darkness." I said "I feel like I need to, can you please understand this." She didn't fully, and argued about how risky this was and how she did not want me in the dark by myself. She finally caved in and went to the car.
I went back up the mountain. I found the guy about 1/3 the way up the slope. I knelt down near him and ask "do you need any help." He said "no, I'm okay." I said "well I'm not leaving you here alone." He stopped crawling, looked up at me, and told me this: "Listen I'm 72 years old. My ankles are permanently deformed." Pointing down to his high top shoes, which were loosely tied, I saw that his ankles were oddly large. He said something about someone in his life continuously hurting him there, leaving him crippled. He said "I have wanted to climb this mountain since I was a little boy, but couldn't because I have this problem, I have this condition. Today I decided I would fulfill my life long goal, and started at 9am."
This mountain takes most people 1 hour at most to climb, and here he was 12 hours later. I felt like the smallest person in the world. I never thought I would find the simple act of climbing the simplest mountain a feat of heroic proportions. I forgot immediately what my girlfriend and I were arguing about. I forgot want time it was. I forgot about any responsibilities I might have had for the next morning. I wanted to help this man fulfill his goal.
I said "I won't leave you alone, but I won't carry you, I want you to complete this mission on your own. But if you feel you cannot do the rest on your own, or get too tired, I will lift you up and we'll do this together."
I went down the slope about 50 feet way from him, so he didn't feel the need for small talk while he descended, but was in ear shot if he needed help. However the sound of coyotes somewhere in the darkness, kept me a little closer. As we were making our way down, I walking a few feet, him struggling those same few, I saw in the distance the distinct motion and light of a flashlight. Who in their right mind would be climbing up this mountain right now? As we closed the gap, I realized who was carrying the flashlight; my girlfriend! I embraced her, never imaging that she would go all the way to the car, then go buy a flashlight, then climb back up this mountain to rescue me from the darkness. I knew that I was going to marry here at this point, but kept that a well-guarded secret.
I told her the guy's story, where he was behind me, and why I was so far away from him. We descended together. We reconciled our argument, I still don't remember what it was about.
Then the rain began. It started down pouring. The darkness, the rain, the time, all of these things leading me to go up the guy and ask if I could help him move faster. He finally said yes, and I put his arm over my shoulders, and he let me take his weight. We finished the rest of the decent in this way. My girlfriend lighting the way, the sound of rain, and the peace of darkness in a forest.
We got the guy to his truck and said our goodbyes. His appreciation not needing words with such a powerful expression on his face. Bye crawling man. Bye bye crawling man who let me see what beauty there is in struggle when you face it with strength and determination. I got married to that amazing girlfriend of mine, who has her own story of that night. Who in their right mind would ever let go of a woman who would come searching for you in the dark, just so she can light your way home.
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