I went hiking again last night. There is a hiking and moutaineering group here at Starbucks. Last night was the first hike of the season. We’ll go out every other Wednesday to a different trail around the area.
When I got the email, I was so excited. I’d been wanting to join a hiking group but all the ones I found went out on the weekends. Since I work weekends, that wasn’t possible. So now here comes this group that goes after work on Wednesdays. Woohoooo!
Last night was a conditioner hike. We went out to Tiger Mountain which is where I went on my own last time. I thought we would be hiking the same trail I had done before. I couldn’t have been more wrong. Actually I was terribly wrong on two counts: A conditioner hike is not a “let’s start off the season on an easier note” hike. It’s a “lets weed out the weak” hike. It was not the trail I had done before. In fact, it wasn’t even a trail at all. It was where they had cut through the forest to put down cable to the top of the mountain. It’s called a technical hike because it requires more than just your average hike. I figured it was called a technical hike because it was technically bushwacking, not hiking.
I arrived before everyone else and just hung out waiting. Finally everyone started to arrive and I met the guy who organized it, the one I had been talking to via email. He pointed out the trailhead to me. I looked around trying to see what he was talking about. Surely he didn’t mean that little animal track that went straight up. Well, yes, that’s precisely what he meant. He took one look at me, though, and pointed around the bend. He tells me that around the corner over there is a less steep trail that winds around and meets up with this little animal track. And then he says, you might want to get started now. Okay, so apparently I have “beginner” written all over me. Or it could be my couch potato physique that clued him in. Well, not one to shirk good advice, I headed over to the “easier” trailhead.
The very first thing I did was step ankle deep in a mud puddle. My hiking boots are pretty good but there is a seam that’s busted out so I could feel a bit of water soak into my sock. Ah well, not that big a deal. I start climbing up the “easier” trail and that’s when I got my first clue I might be in trouble. The “easier” trail went up only slightly less vertical than the animal track the others were coming up.
My “easier” trail hit the main trail about the same time the others were coming up. I pulled off to the side and let them pass. One look at all of them and I realized I was majorly outclassed. They had all the gear, all the right clothes, and all the right bodies. Michael, the group organizer was the last one in line. He tells me that the first 1/2 mile is the worst. My brain paused for a moment to take that in. The first 1/2 mile was the worst. Okay, too much to think about right now. Let’s shelve that bit of knowledge. Now back to Michael. Then he tells me that I might want to get some trek poles for the next hike and he holds up the ski poles he’s carrying. I had noticed that every other person on this hike had these poles but I figured it was just a flashy accessory. Something to match the velcroed “keep things from crawling up your pants legs” strips of cloth wrapped around their ankles, their color coded packs and shoes, and the nifty shirts and knit caps they were all wearing.
Let me pause here to give you a clue into my outdoor activity clothing history. When I was 17, my church youth group went skiing in Crested Butte, Colorado. I had never been skiing before so I had none of the equipment. Living in Texas, having cold weather gear was not that important. So, I was able to borrow most of what I needed except actual ski pants. My mom and I looked at the ski pants and were flabbergasted at how expensive they were. As we wandered around Academy, we came across the fishing wear. There hung a pair of blue plastic waders, kinda like overalls but waterproof. Well wouldn’t that be perfect and they were actually in our price range. Now I had my outfit. I had a red ski cap, green jacket, purple gloves, and blue waders. Do I like to attract attention, you may ask? Well not really but hey, I wanted to go skiing.
So, clothed in my psychedelic ensemble, I hit the slopes. Snow being kind of rough and plastic being not so tough, all the falling I did on that first day led to a big rip in the ass end of my waders. Well that just wouldn’t do. That night, with the help of a couple of the girls, I ironed on gray duct tape to the ass of my blue waders. Now I was not only psychedelic, I was hillbilly psychedelic. The duct tape held really well and I spent the rest of the trip with a relatively dry ass. Although it would be years before I lived down what came to be known as “Amy’s white trash skiwear line.” Having inappropriate clothing and accessories was nothing new for me.
Now back to my current foray into not having the proper equipment. Michael told me that people usually went at their own pace on these hikes. Oh good, so my turtle pace wouldn’t hold anyone else back. He told me that when the others started passing me on the way back, it would probably be a good idea to turn around and head back down myself. Well, he certainly had a lot of faith in my ability didn’t he? With those tidbits of advice, he headed out.
I began climbing up behind him but he quickly disappeared from view. The trail didn’t even start off giving the illusion of being not so difficult. It went up at a slightly less than 90 degree angle and it was a 2100 feet ascent. Plus it had rained so the whole thing was mud. Within two minutes, I was winded and my thighs were crying. That little lazy part of my brain was telling me I should give up, go hang out in the parking lot, or better yet go home and return to my previous state of couch potatoness. The insanely stubborn part of my brain pulled out a bat and beat that other part senseless. I wasn’t going to quit, that was for sure.
My world quickly became very small just like the last hike. Climb a step, breathe, climb a step, breathe, watch out for the mud slick, step over the tree branches, breathe, don’t look up, don’t look up, don’t look up. I looked up, and up and up and up. Discouraged but determined, I looked back down at the mud in front of me and just kept putting one foot in front of the other. Occasionally I came to places where I had to use my hands to scramble up part of the trail. Everytime I stopped to catch my breath, I was again reminded why I moved here. This was such beautiful country. I was surrounded by tall moss covered trees and more vegetation than I’d ever seen in one place before. The air had a damp, slightly decayed smell that was actually quite pleasant. Off in the distance was a woodpecker and some bird that sounded like a monkey. I was soaking wet with sweat and the cold air felt good on my hot skin.
I continued to climb, up and up. At one point, I got the idea that I should walk like you ride a bike up a hill, take small quick steps instead of big, slower steps. Well, the image that came to mind was of the bicyclist not being able to keep up and rolling down to the bottom of the hill. Still, it did seem to make a small difference. I paused a moment to gasp and looked up. Ahead was a set of tree branch steps. Steps, as I’m sure you know, are much harder than a slope. As I trudged upward, I remembered why I used to exercise on the stairmaster when I was still going to the gym.
The rest of the upward climb is a blur. At some point, I hit the 1/2 mile mark because the trail opened up into a normal trail, wide and much better maintained. Off to my right was the regular trail which, as it turned out, was the trail I had used the last time. I noticed a sign at the end of the trail I had just used (or the beginning, however you look at it). The sign said this trail was not maintained and was not really a trail. Most hikers chose to use the main trail. I stared at the sign and laughed hysterically. If I had had a pen, I’d have drawn a picture of a dead hiker on there.
Off to the side was a big rock so I plopped down on it to contemplate my next move. I sat there for a long time thinking about various things happening in my life right now. I kept hoping the other members of the group would start heading down so I could have an excuse to head down myself. After a while, I began getting cold and knew I had to make a move one way or the other. I looked up the vertical slope in front of me and decided it was time to head back down. As much as I wanted to finish, I needed to be realistic. These last two hikes had set a baseline for me and I knew that I would be able to judge my progress on them.
I headed back down the trail and quickly realized another dilemma I was now in. Going down such a steep slope may not be quite as hard but it’s certainly more dangerous. All the mud didn’t help. I slipped and slid a few times almost landing on my ass. On a comforting note, being here with a group at least they would head down at some point and find me if I fell and broke my leg.
I reached a point where I began to freak out a bit about going down. It had seemed so much easier going up and I felt stuck. Just then, a woman appeared headed down the trail. I stepped aside to let her pass but instead she stopped and talked to me. I told her this was only my second hike and she laughed and said “You know, there are less strenuous trails to start on.” I laughed too and before I knew it, I was following her down the trail not really noticing that I was scared. I continued to slip and slide but now it seemed more like fun. Suddenly, we rounded a corner and were in the parking lot. And I was intact!! Yay!
I didn’t get my angel’s name, she headed off to her car and drove away, but I was very grateful for her. I didn’t have to wait long before the other group members started coming back. Once everyone was down, we stood there in a circle discussing the next hike. Michael assured me the next one wouldn’t be so hard. Of course looking at his well used equipment and fit, trim physique, I had to wonder what “not so hard” meant to him. I have a feeling to me it’ll mean “won’t feel quite like a freight train running over me."
I headed back to my car and drove off, feeling like I had accomplished something. I may not have made it to the top but I made it further than I thought I would. I went on long after that annoying voice in my head told me to stop. I kept going even though my muscles were screaming and my lungs burned. I persevered long past the point I would have in the past. I didn’t make it to the top this time but just the fact that I got out on that mountain and did my best makes me a winner.