In March of 2022, in celebration of my wife’s birthday, and a desire to get out of the house after COVID kept us from traveling the prior 2 years, Keri and I embarked on a journey out west to visit Sedona, Arizona.  Of course, we had to mask up throughout the airports and wipe down every surface imaginable on the airplane, which made us yearn for the fresh clean air that awaited us on our nature walks once we arrived.  Crazily enough, when we arrived, there was a fresh layer of snow that had fallen the night before, making the red rock that Sedona is known for even more picturesque.  We were excited to explore the area, go on some hikes, and to disconnect from work for a bit.

Being from Ohio, it’d be a stretch to say that we’re expert hikers.  But we know enough to wear weather appropriate clothing and bring water.  So, we parked in a random lot where there was a gathering of other cars and off we went.  The landscape was nothing short of amazing.  God’s design and beauty all around.  We hadn’t planned to hike all that far or all that long, so we brought a water bottle to share and began our journey.

The trails were marked well.  But there weren’t any loop trails.  They were mostly out and back.  There was one trail in particular that caught my eye.  It was called Deadman’s Pass Trail and was set between 2 mountains that served a bit like towering cliffs.  Supposedly, once you were at the end, it opened into an expanse that you could see miles and miles of pure Arizona landscape.  Many people would pack a lunch or take a nap on the rock face where the trail ended.  I began to build up how cool this would be in my mind.  Always one for an adventure, I convinced Keri this would be fun…she’s known me for a long time, she apprehensively agreed…and away we went.

The issue was that our parking lot didn’t perfectly align with the beginning of the Deadman’s Pass Trail.  So, we had a bit of a hike to even get to the trailhead.  But eventually, with half a bottle of water left, we reached the starting point.  It would be 2.6 miles more to the End of the Trail.  Then, obviously to my readers, but not so obvious to us, we’d have to turn around and hike it all back.

The terrain wasn’t overly hard, but definitely not a cake walk.  The elevation wasn’t horrible, but there were plenty of hills and gulleys.  The temperature was perfect, even though there was snow the day before, it was in the high 60s that day.  Between the 2 steep mountains, my GPS watch lost its signal, so we really didn’t know how much further we had to hike to get to the end.  So, we just kept going.  And going.  And going.  Each of us took 2 small sips from our depleting water bottle, shared words of encouragement, and kept our conversation going to keep our mind off the dry mouths we were experiencing, and the leg fatigue that was setting in.

Slowly, yet surely, we plodded forward.  Then, ahead, around the bend, we saw it.  The last section of the trail.  It was pretty much straight up.  Sure, there were rocks and logs strategically placed by other hikers over the years to help aid your climb, but it was still arduous.  Finally, we arrived.  Now, this is typically the point where you’d grab a bite, rehydrate, and enjoy your accomplishment and surroundings.  But for Keri and me, the fact that we had to hike this whole thing back with a half empty water bottle between us began to settle in.  I absolutely refused to let this go to my head, to ruin my day or our experience.  I fought against allowing this to get me short tempered with Keri and causing a big, unnecessary fight.  Fortunately, in her own way, she determined to do the same.

We were in this, together.

We’d get back, together.

We snapped a quick picture of the sign that was posted there, a simple wooden signed with the words “End of the Trail” etched on it.  Proof that we’d done it, but there was still so much more to go.  On the picture, the look on our faces show a sense of accomplishment, yet a sense of fatigue… with a touch of regret.  Yet, we were determined to make it back.  We’ve taught our kids over the years that Hixon’s don’t quit, and we weren’t about to fail at living that out.

So, back down the mountain we went.  Same terrain, same elevation, same landscape, only in reverse.  All told, we ‘accidentally’ hiked 13.1 miles with one plastic water bottle between us.  Over 6 hours had elapsed between when we left our car to when we returned.  And, to state the obvious, we were exhausted.  We drove back to the hotel, guzzled a couple gallons of water, and took an enormous nap.

I’ve often reflected back on that experience.  I’ve bounced between embarrassment: we knew we should’ve prepared better.  I mean, what normal adult doesn’t take adequate amounts of water on a hike?  Or food for energy?  To accomplishment: wow, we hiked over 13 miles with 1 bottle of water and shear determination…how cool!  To dangerous: that was really dumb.  We have 3 kids at home counting on us to return.  To pride (the good kind): our motto that Hixon’s don’t quit, we lived it out.  To learning: we’ll never do that again without proper gear, water, and preparation.

But what I often come back to the most when reflecting on this story…there’s no one else I’d rather have done that hike with.  Keri has been my rock and my best friend for almost 25 years of marriage and 4 years of dating before that.  She’s been through so much with me.  She became the bread winner when I quit my job to join Adam in starting our new Wealth Management firm in Findlay Ohio.  She made me a dad to our 3 wonderful kids.  She stood by me through Mom’s suicide and helped me cope with the extreme emotions of grief and loss that followed.  She’s been my biggest cheerleader when I released my book in 2021 and gave my speech on the TEDx stage in 2023.  And, she proved she’ll go 13+ miles with me on an adventure to get a stupid picture by an End of the Trail sign.  And she’ll mostly smile along the way.

Life isn’t meant to be lived alone.  I hope you have a spouse, friend, foxhole brother or sister, partner, or confidant, that has been there and will be there for you as well.  We all need one.

May you seek to find that person…or to be that person.

To Keri: I’ll go to the End of the Trail with you anytime.  Happy Birthday, babe.  I love you!