Mark set off down the trail, just one person in the hundreds who hiked that day. He got a late start, but it stays light until after nine, and there are plenty of places to call it a day and turn around. He was alone, but hundreds of people hike there: on a July afternoon on this trail there is not a lot of solitude.
Witnesses place him along the trail at a couple of spots. But Mark didn't come back to the trailhead. He seemingly vanished somewhere among the flowers and sunshine.
So we look. Because our helicopter is still in the southwest, a visiting crew is here. This means I stay on the ground doing logistics and answering phone calls, as much as I would like to be up in the air or on the ground. They fly for hours every day, inserting searchers and doing grid patterns.
As days creep by more questions arise. Perhaps he didn't want to be found. Maybe he is far outside of the search area. Nobody knows, but we continue.
These searches take away a little of my heart when they end without resolution. To disappear is the strangest, loneliest thing. We don't want to stop looking, but we know at some point we will have to. Meanwhile, other hikers step onto the trail, unknowing of the story that may have already played out here in the flower fields and mountain cliffs. They walk on his footsteps and see what he saw. Everything continues on, like it is supposed to.
I never met Mark, but I hope somewhere he is hiking along a beautiful ridge, with only hope and happiness and blue skies ahead of him, walking into an unknown but infinite future.