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Backpacker Magazine – December 2007

The Source of All Things

Recently released as a full-length memoir, The Source of All Things was first published as a feature article in BACKPACKER in December 2007. This is the full-text of that article.

by: Tracy Ross

Photo by Paolo Marchesi
Photo by Paolo Marchesi
Photo by Paolo Marchesi
Photo by Paolo Marchesi
Photo by Paolo Marchesi
Photo by Paolo Marchesi
Photo by Paolo Marchesi
Photo by Paolo Marchesi

The Source of All Things Cover Image

Now a full-length memoir, The Source of All Things by Tracy Ross is available from Amazon.com and other booksellers.

I'm afraid. My dad and I sit at the picnic table on the far side of Redfish Lake. The boat has left, and so have the worried Texans, who didn't offer to help with our packs but waved as they motored away.

Today, we will hike through the yarrow and sage, stopping every 10 minutes for my dad to catch his breath. When we get to the slippery rocks in the river, I'll take off my boots and slide 50 feet into the emerald pool. And when we pass the giant face under the Elephant's Perch, I'll realize that this is going to take more out of us than I had expected.

After the Lexapro, and the vision, and the truncated solo that ended with a sleepless night, I called my dad and asked, "Will you come to the Sawtooths with me?" I was in the loft, at home, and felt overheated, confused, and slightly brave. He said, "Yes. Of course. I think so. Let me think about it."

Now we are heading into a mountain range that looks imposing and mean. When I called my dad months ago, this trip seemed noble, necessary, and in a twisted way, fun. This will be the first and last time we go on a multiday backpacking trip, just the two of us, in the place we love most on earth.

I'm scared because when I am with my dad I am 8 years old. We will walk for days up forested valleys. We will camp in places so lovely we'll want to weep. Fish will rise to the surface of a dozen glassy lakes. And he might try to lie on top of me when I fall asleep.

"I've made some rules for myself," he announces, then rattles them off. "I won't ask questions. I won't speak out of turn. I won't be vulgar or too descriptive. I won't get pissed off at you." I stare at him. You won't get pissed at me? What the hell is wrong with you? Then I check off the questions I will ask him when we get to The Temple, three days from here.

When did it start?

When did it end?

How many times did you do it?

And why?

Two hours later, we are inching our way up the dusty switchbacks through spruce trees and lodgepole pine. My dad drags his legs. A week ago, at a party in Utah, he tried dangling from a rope swing that hung out of a tree. When he caught the edge of his shoe on a root, he held on and scraped himself over some rocks, rubbing the flesh off of his knees. Now the scabs are deep, dark red, and crack open when he walks.

We continue like this until we reach the sign for Alpine Lake, where we'll spend our first night. We've hiked five miles and gained just 1,000 feet, but our campsite is still a mile away and another 800 feet higher. My dad looks weary, like he could lie down right here with his pack on and sleep until morning. I make him eat a Clif Bar and we load up, the trail becoming steeper with every step.

At the fifth switchback, my dad has fallen 10 minutes behind. I consider waiting, then clip along at my own pace. I know my dad is getting older and is out of shape, and that in his condition he could be back there somewhere having a heart attack. I keep walking until I reach Alpine Lake.

That night, after dinner, I change my clothes and worm into my sleeping bag. My dad heads to the lake and casts for rainbows. I scoot my sleeping pad as far from his as possible, until I'm lying in the corner of the tent.

I know it's weird that we didn't bring two tents, but this is my dad, my father, who took up the job of caring for us voluntarily when he married my mom. Like most little girls, I worshipped my dad. We snuggled in my parents' double-wide Cabela's sleeping bag. He let me brush and blow-dry his hair. And I don't know how many hours I watched him load shotgun shells in the basement of our house.



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Maelduin
Oct 15, 2012

"It never happened with boys", yet your brother set a cat on fire and threw it in the river? I think you need to talk to your brother about what may have happened to him in secret.
I salute your courage and grace in writing this.

Maria
Oct 14, 2012

Tracy: I am so sorry for what you have been through. However, I really don't think you should have any dealings with this man. He raped you; a child. There are no excuses. It should negate anything positive he ever did. He belongs in jail, as does your mother and anyone else who knew anything about it. tDo not let him babysit your kids. Do not have anything to do with him.

Victoria
Dec 03, 2011

When I first read this article on the train in 2008, it really hit home. It still hits home. Thank you Tracy for being brave enough to face him and tell the story. I don't feel as alone with the "secret" that I keep.

Kimberly collaso
Aug 31, 2011

How could you let him babysit your kids?!!?!?

Chris
Apr 29, 2011

Great stuff. Saw yr interview and googled this article. Have lived and hiked in AK, CO, ME, where I camped with my prime abuser. Have been working things through with that person past 3 yrs, and writing about it. Helps, and things are better. Keep it up. God bless.

Deb
Apr 28, 2011

For you who don't think her story shouldn't have been in this magazine, I think things happen for a reason. Maybe her story reached out to someone in need,

Dave Morris
Feb 23, 2011

Beautiful writing Tracy. I hope you are well.

Joy Martinez-Stranksy
Jan 21, 2011

Congratulations Trace, you finally did it.

Tira Scott
May 30, 2009

The beauty and honesty of Tracy's journey is as breathtaking and awe inspiring as the Sawtooth Mountains themselves. Bravo to this brave author, couragous yet as lovely and delicate as a robin's egg. Her story belongs here because humans and nature go together. Both are as delicate as a spring trillium and as dangerous as an avalanche. Bravo Tracy... Keep writing, it is your gift to others.

sk
May 14, 2009

Brilliant imagery & searing pain - one of the most well written and touching stories, I've read in a long time.


gen
May 14, 2009

wretched story, but beautifully written. Really captures the essence of growing up in southern idaho, as well as hiking and camping around red fish lake. I've been gone a long time, and didn't know they had succeeded in getting some salmon back in redfish. Fantastic!

Joseph Kennedy
May 11, 2009

The last reader is right. It deals with an ugly topic. This is story that does not belong here. In fact, it does not belong anywhere. No one should have to tell it. But she did and with grace and courage. Showing how the living a independent and active life outdoors helped her overcome anger and hate. And gave her the strength to confront her former abuser with calm restraint. Thank you, Tracy. I now have a new favorite writer.

Shauna Marsh
May 03, 2009

I think this is a phenomenal story. Thank you for sharing it. For those who do not think think this magazine is an appropriate place for it- you have a choice. Do not read it.

Susan
May 02, 2009

Congratulations on your win and telling your story. I, too, was a victim of rape and abuse. You are a strong woman, and I wish you respite from the demons.

alex
May 02, 2009

congratulation. a have spent the last hour reading your essay, written in a foreign language for me.

michaeldraznin
May 01, 2009

congrat's on the win this evening. must be something of a mixed experience, but wonderful nonetheless. wish i could read the article in its entirety on Backpacker.com. unfortunately, it seems to be only partially available...at least for my browser. that aside, well done!

Jody Reale
May 01, 2009

Yes.

Nick City Reprise
Apr 24, 2009

This article was really well done, great use of the word maw. With twitter stealing news clips before you can even get a good lead-in sentence, this is how writing is going to need to be in the future. I know what the trails look like but this article is about much more than hiking, great gonzo style.

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