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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

PAGE 1 2 3 4 5 6 7 8 9 10 11 12 13 14 15 16 17
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.

"What's a pretty girl like you doing hiking alone?"

The guide at the cash register asks this when I step up to pay for my maps. It's early October, 2006, and the thermometer reads 41°F. I'm standing at the counter at River One Outfitters in Stanley, Idaho, a tiny town at the base of the Sawtooths. Two months earlier, a congressman's kid had gone missing on a solo hike. A search was mounted: helicopters, volunteer ground crews, and rangers all picking and flossing the granite teeth. There'd been no sign of him until a couple of days ago, when a corpse dog got onto—and then lost—a scent. This afternoon, I will hike eight miles into the Sawtooths.

"I'm prepared and conservative," I tell the man as he rings up the maps. But it's only a brave front. Two days ago, I flew to Boise, rented a car, and started driving east. On the freeway, the early October sun seemed too bright. But as I wound through Lowman, big stands of trees diffused the light, until the air took on a golden hue that I associate only with southern Idaho.

I didn't plan to be driving down this road, concealing an open beer, listening to Zeppelin on the radio. I have a husband and two kids at home. It's coming on three decades since my dad put his hands down my pants in the family trailer at Redfish Lake. I've been to therapy—years of it—and energy workers, astrologists, and priests. I've even been back to the Sawtooths, including once with my parents and kids. I thought it would be romantic to show the boys my favorite childhood place. They were babies, and they dug in the sand near the dock. We took off their diapers and let them wade among tiny flickering minnows that flashed like silver paperclips between their chubby legs.

Yesterday, I drove out of Sun Valley and pulled off the road at Russian John hot spring. I walked to the small, steaming pool where my family used to soak, and stood there imagining us naked under the stars. I didn't get in. After an hour, I walked back to the car and drove toward Redfish Lake. I stopped at our favorite campsite near Fishhook Creek. And I found the spot where my dad and I once balanced on a log in the early autumn light.

Some people say you can heal yourself just by returning to the scene of a crime. They do that at the World Trade Center: put roses on the approximate spot a husband or sister landed after jumping out a window 100 stories up. I sat on the bank of Fishhook Creek for maybe half a day, thinking about the sandpaper, the cigarette in the water, and the chance my dad had to fess up.

He could have done it, told the truth right then and there, and avoided this whole damned mess. But he chose to pretend I was out of my head, a little girl confused by a scary dream. I can't remember if he tried to hug me after we talked, but I know I instantly stopped trusting him.

Sometimes, I take out a picture of myself from the early days at Redfish Lake. I am pigtailed and pink-cheeked, holding a Dixie Cup with a tadpole inside. I am beaming into the camera, proud of the new life I cradle in my hands.

I became a sad kid after that picture was taken. I've been a sad kid ever since.

I pack up my things and head toward the Sawtooths, where I hope to hike some happiness back into myself.


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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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