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The Kindness of a Stranger

In February my husband and I got lost. Lost hiking in--coincidentally--Lost Dutchman's State Park at the base of the Superstition Mountains outside of Apache Junction, AZ. We were hiking on the Siphon Draw trail up to the top of Flatiron. I recalled it being a challenging round trip hike of 6 miles and an elevation climb of 3000 feet when I did it 10 years ago with my brother, but I was dismayed as we climbed the trail. It seemed steeper, rockier, more dangerous. Maybe because I was 10 years older?! I led the way on sections that were all boulders, scrabbling to find handholds. The trail was not well marked and I somehow strayed off the trail. Not just slightly off, but really off. We were not able to even stand on the steep bank of loose rock.

Frustrated after 45 minutes of trying to get back on the trail, I finally squatted down and said to my husband, "I give up. I just don't feel safe, this is no fun, it's just scary. I'm afraid one of us might get hurt." He agreed, and said, "Let's go." We started scooting down on our behinds, rocks sliding with us, trying to get to a flat surface. Our disappointment in having to turn back hung between us.

Just then a clear voice called out, "Hey, you are off the trail. It's over here about 25 yards." Looking questioningly at each other, we began painstakingly making our way toward the voice, as she patiently guided us back to the trail. Bending and crawling through scrub we finally stood up next to what looked like a slip of a young teenage girl alone with headphones. We profusely thanked her for getting us back on the trail. She smiled and said, "No problem. That happens a lot out here. Glad to help, I'm Dominique." As she turned to continue up on the trail, I quickly began a conversation with her, chatting as we followed her sure footed steps up and over and around rocks, apparently on a trail unseen by us. I did not want to let her out of our sight. I was not confident that we could get to the top without following her. My husband, ever the retired cop, asked her "How old are you?" She said, "I'm 21." She further shared that "I'm taking a break from virtual school this semester, and I'm hiking new places every week. Today is the second time this winter I'm doing Siphon Draw." We asked her if she minded us tagging along behind her. She graciously said, "Sure, the company would be nice."

She had no obligation to to say yes. We may have even imposed on her by asking. She may have wanted to enjoy a solitary hike up the Draw, rather than sharing 5 hours on her Tuesday with strangers 40 years older than her.

The rest of the day was an unexpected gift to us. I felt like an angel had appeared, calling us back to safety. We successfully made it to the top of Flatiron, thanks to Dominique, pumping our fists as we summitted. She took our picture. We sat down and had our lunch with her and admired the view despite it being cloudy, chilly, and windy--familiar weather for us Wisconsinites, cold for her. As we quickly finished up our sandwiches, I asked her if she would mind us following her back down the the mountain for a bit. She said, "It would be great to go down together." We chatted and laughed as we hiked down, making up funny stories about the hikers that passed us. We felt safe and relaxed as could be. We followed the kind and surefooted Dominique like sheep follow their shepherd.

Tired and sore at the end of the hike, I felt tears come to my eyes as we said goodbye to her at the trail head parking lot. I asked my husband to take my picture with her. We had taken no pictures of the scenery, but I wanted to remember her. The kindness of a sweet stranger named Dominique was the reason we made it to the top of Flatiron and back.

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