I took one last look at my parked F-150 and saw my I HEART ND license plate frame glinting gold in the fading daylight. It felt like a good omen.
I wondered again how I’d landed this job as a trail guide. I was just a country boy with a give-’em-hell attitude and a Bachelor of Science from Notre Dame’s top-rated School of Architecture. Sure, I’d mastered all two of the hills back in South Bend, but was I really qualified to shepherd clients up a treacherous mountain? Only time would tell.
My client, Rita, was a knockout—long brown hair, mesmerizing jade eyes, and a nose like Knute Rockne’s.
“Sorry I’m late. I was finishing some paperwork for a large donation to my alma mater,” she said, adding with a wink, “Go Fighting Irish.”
My heart skipped. We had gone to the same college.
“I’m Jake. I went there too.”
“Well then, Vita, Dulcedo, Spes,” she purred, her voice as smooth as the turf at Notre Dame Stadium.
It would be hard to keep my mind on the trail with a dame like her for company.
I’d set up our tents and built a fire using some USC admission lookbooks for kindling when a branch snapped somewhere behind us.
“Jake,” Rita whispered. “Do you feel like we’re being watched?”
So it wasn’t just me. I’d felt eyes on me all day, like I was Joe Montana getting scouted by the 49ers.
The thicket of fir trees rustled and a snarling mountain lion burst out in front of us.
“Jake!” cried Rita. “What do we do?”
“Stay calm,” I whispered.
My voice shaky at first, I began to sing, “Rally sons of Notre Dame…”
Rita joined in, and by the time we sang the final line—“March onto victory!”—the beast had calmed.
He looked me in the eyes for a moment, bowed deeply in a show of mutual respect, and scampered back into the forest.
“I need a break,” said Rita, stopping at a clearing. “I haven’t been this tired since I used to run laps around the Basilica of the Sacred Heart back in college.”
I was falling for her. Hard.
“Let’s see who can draw the best reproduction of Touchdown Jesus,” she suggested, picking up a branch and sketching in the dirt.
As I ventured back into the woods to select my own branch, I heard voices and followed them. I came across an enormous field of poppies and a dozen armed men staring right at me.
Shit, I thought. I bet these are the kind of bad actors who wouldn’t follow a Drug-Free Campus policy.
Rita and I ran as fast as we could, but the drug cartel was gaining on us. We found ourselves surrounded at the edge of a cliff.
“Any of you fellows attend Notre Dame?” I asked, praying for a miracle.
“No,” said their leader. “We all went to state schools.”
I knew all hope was lost.
As Rita and I dangled from a branch embedded in the cliff, I could feel my muscles starting to give. The cartel had left us for dead, but I knew I could pull us up if I could get to that next branch.
Suddenly, I felt my body being pushed from below. I looked down and couldn’t believe my eyes. The spirits of the 1975 Fighting Irish had materialized in the canyon and were guiding us to footholds in the craggy rock.
“You did it, Rudy!” they said.
I was their Rudy now.
I vaulted upwards and pulled us to safety.
With the helicopter on the way and the drug cartel having been mauled to death by that cougar we’d met earlier, we could finally relax.
“Jake,” said Rita. “I love you.”
I couldn’t believe it.
“I thought your feelings for me were just imaginary, like Manti Te’o’s girlfriend,” I said.
In the dawn light, she looked even more like a sexy female Knute Rockne.
“No, Jake. My feelings for you are like Manti Te’o’s skill at tackling: undeniable.”
After the grueling three days we’d spent on the trail and learning that we’d both studied abroad in Europe, I knew this was the woman I wanted to marry.
But there was one question remaining.
“Rita, why’d you want to climb this mountain anyway?”
“Isn’t it obvious?”
And it was. We said it together.
“To win one for the Gipper.”