Long Canyon Trail, in my hometown of Simi Valley, is one of my favorite places. This beautiful dirt road has been pounded by my feet on many a run. It is also the place where Phil and I most often rode our mountain bikes, went for evening runs, took the kids for night hikes looking for frogs, and did many a "double workout" on the steep hills that lie within the canyon. And on the night of Phil's death...this trail is where he was headed.
On August 31, 2005 while riding up the street towards this trail head on his mountain bike, Phil was hit and killed by a large vehicle. I was called to the scene by a witness, and sat on the green grass of the sidewalk that I passed countless times on the way to my favorite place...watching as my unconscious husband was loaded onto an ambulance. He died less than an hour later.
About a month after Phil's death I was struck by the desire to get outside. After spending much of the first month after his death in semi-seclusion, I was desperate for some fresh air~and a break from the terrible sadness. My trail home was calling, and I longed to answer~but I would have to go down the road Phil died on to get to my destination.
It was possible to get to Long Canyon by taking the "long way," but I didn't want to give in to death. I couldn't control the fact that my husband was gone, but I didn't want to allow death to rob me of every joy. So, I determined to drive that path in order to find out if my trail still felt like home without Phil. As I drove down that road the first time my leg shook as I pressed the gas pedal. My brain flashed all the images of the last moments of Phil's life. Approaching the place in the road where Phil was hit, my heart started pounding and my breathing became shallow. I could almost feel my heart breaking. And then in a moment I was past the spot, and headed to the place that held so many wonderful memories.
Yes, going to Long Canyon hurt. Every tree, bush, hill, and rock screamed Phil's absence. But I didn't want to let death win, so I went back, over and over again. Eventually, the trail we loved helped me heal. Slowly those hills represented climbs I conquered alone. Some days I cried through the whole run; some days I was wrapped up in my daily life and thought of Phil in fleeting moments; some days I marveled at how far I have come since that fateful night. One thing hasn't changed, I never go to these hills without a smile for Phil~and I never feel alone there.