I have recently taken up hiking. Yes, you can stop rolling on the floor laughing now :D. It’s so beautiful up here that I want to get out and see it. And the bonus: It’s not hot!!
Up until yesterday, I had only gone on what could be considered leisurely strolls through a local park not too far from my house. A few days ago, I decided to spend one of my days off on something more challenging. I have this great book called 60 Hikes within 60 Miles or something like that. I looked through it and found one that sounded interesting. It was at Tiger Mountain State Park. According to my book, there are three peaks and the one I picked was the smallest. Great, I thought, I can do that one.
Tuesday morning came and went and it was Tuesday afternoon before I got myself out of the house. I entered the coordinates into my handy dandy Garmin GPS and off I drove. It took me probably twice as long to get there as it should have because the coords I entered were to the trail head and the little GPS was trying to get me there. Unfortunately, the trail head wasn’t on the road so it was having a really hard time. Anyway, I finally found it by following the directions in the book. Huh, go figure.
I parked the car and pulled out my pack that Shannon gave me and off I went. I had wanted to do some geocaching while I was out here but the cloud and tree cover was such that my littler GPS couldn't get a signal. No problem, I thought. I’ll just do the hike.
I headed off in the direction the sign was pointing and at first the trail was fairly flat and nice. That quickly changed. I was busy looking all around at the beautiful, tall, moss covered trees and listening to the sound of water rushing nearby when I rounded the bend and saw that the trail went straight up. Okay, I though, no problem. It’ll probably level out around the next bend. I trudged up, my out of shape legs doing their best to get me up the slope.
I saw another bend coming up and thought cool, it’ll get flatter now. Well, no, it didn't. It continued to go pretty much straight up. Ugh, I thought but I was convinced I could do this. I may be out of shape but my stubbornness serves me well on occasion. I trudged up that slope to the next bend. And, you guessed it, the next slope went straight up as well.
By this time, I was breathing quite hard and sweat was pouring down my face. The clouds had dropped a bit of a drizzle on me so what wasn't covered by my waterproof coat was a fair bit damp. My hair felt as if I had just gotten out of the shower but all that exertion was making me very hot so I took off my jacket and stuffed it in the pack.
As I plodded up the slopes, one just as inclined as the last, I noticed that there was not a sound around me. No birds singing, no animals snuffling, nothing. It was eerie. It dawned on me they were probably waiting for me to die so they could eat me. I envisioned dozens of other hikers who had just keeled over on this mountain and become animal chow. Sure enough, on the next bend I saw a mound of dirt and gravel. The last unfortunate hiker, I was sure.
When I first set off at the beginning of the trail, the sign said the summit was 1.6 miles. After dragging my ass up for about an hour, I came to another sign that said 1.9 miles to the summit. Okay, I felt supremely lied to but I’d already come this far, I was determined to make it up. So, I sat for a minute, drank some water, looked around nervously for the animals waiting to eat me and then headed out again.
I had started off only having to stop and gasp for 10 minutes every other slope. Well that soon became every 10 feet of so. Walk a few steps, lean against a tree and suck air for a minute. The cool thing I noticed about this was that I could breathe. I was getting winded but I was not becoming wheezy. My asthma was taking a day off and I was extremely grateful. When I was still smoking, I couldn’t have made it up the flat part of the slope much less any of the rest of it.
My world gradually became very small: Walk, gasp, walk, gasp. I stared at the trail directly in front of my feet because if I looked up, it was more than I could handle. When I stopped to breathe, I looked around at the beauty surrounding me. The book had said the view from the summit was gorgeous and I could see hints of it through the trees. The animals had become active again. Birds flew over head, a beautiful woodpecker was busily tap tap tapping at a tree, a tiny little squirrel ran up a tree with something about half as big as it was in its mouth. I could hear water rushing somewhere nearby. The trees were covered in moss, some of them looking as if they had been there since the dawn of time. Their huge trunks led up to slender tips reaching for the sky. The air smelled of pine reminding me of Christmas and Mr. Clean. The air was chilly, my breath smoky as it came out of my mouth. My skin was so hot, it was steaming so that I was surrounded by a self-created fog.
I continued making my slow way up the mountain. The thought of stopping crossed my mind but by that point I had gone too far to turn back. I was determined to make it to the top. Several people passed me on their way down and I was relieved. Someone to bury me when they found me dead or at least call someone who would. At one point, this wizened old lady came up behind me and blew right past me. She was trucking along at a good clip as if this were just a Sunday stroll instead of a fricking mountain ascent. A man, who had passed me on the way up about an hour before, came trotting past me. “Good job,” he said to me as he went by. “Yeah I’ll shove my good job up your….” I thought as I shot daggers into his retreating back. Uh oh, I thought, this was probably the beginning of the altitude dementia I’d heard so much about. Of course, on reflection, I realized I’d only heard of that happening on Mt. Everest and Mt. Fuji but surely my lack of upward treks in the past left me susceptible where others were not. Yeah, that was it.
After two hours of pushing myself ever upward, I saw a sign ahead of me. Woohooo!! I thought. It was surely pointing the way to the summit. As I approached, I read “Summit: 0.9 miles.” My pack suddenly weighed 500 pounds and my legs refused to take another step. I plopped down on a rock and nearly cried. In the last hour, I’d only gone a mile. I thought for sure I’d gone 10. But no, here stood this little white sign mocking me. I pulled out my book to see what the actual length of the trail was. As I was perusing the entry, I noticed some text I had missed the last time. It said that while this was the smallest peak, it was the steepest. Well, there ya go. The steepest. I would have thrown a fit but I didn’t have the energy. That urge passed and I realized the absurdity of the situation. If only I’d read the small print. Teach me to skim.
As I sat there, I noticed how late it had become. The park closed the gates at dusk and I wasn’t sure when dusk was coming. The last thing I wanted was to get stuck on this side of the gate unable to get out. I had stupidly forgotten to charge my phone and the one little red battery line flashed impotently at me.
I contemplated my choices. I could continue to slog up the mountain. I really wanted to see that view and my sheer stubbornness was enough to carry me up there. On the other hand, what good would the view do me if I became one of those completely unprepared Survivors I giggled at every Thursday night. With a big sigh, I decided to do the prudent thing and head back down. I put on my coat since I was now soaking wet and quite chilled, shouldered my pack, and headed down.
Here’s what I had not counted on even though from past experience I should have. The decent was in its own way harder than the ascent had been. My knees crunched, my toes smashed into the fronts of my boots, if I leaned just the slightest bit too far forward I knew I’d go tumbling head over feet into the ravines looming beside me. Yeah, I know, sounds dramatic but hey, that’s what I was feeling. I can be a supreme drama queen at times.
After what seemed another hour and with my legs aching, I finally made it back down to that deceptively flat spot where I began this grand adventure. My hair was drenched, my shirt was soaked through, the inside of my jacket was wet as well. My legs ached, my lungs hurt, and my feet had blisters. I hadn’t felt that good from physical activity in a long time. I hadn’t made it to the summit, true, but I had made it about 4.5 miles and that’s nothing to sneeze at. Especially considering this was my first hike of any consequence. I was quite proud of myself.
At the trail head, I got my GPS to work and decided to do at least one cache. The little arrow pointed me .6 miles down a flat path so I headed that way. One of the things I really love about caching is the unexpected places it takes me. Oftentimes It’s places I would never have gone otherwise. This cache led me to this quiet little spot next to a bridge with a small stream running busily underneath. The bridge must have been new because it still had that tarry smell. I found the cache after a couple of minutes looking, signed the log, and tucked it back into its hiding place. I had not eaten before I left my house and now I realized how ravenous I was. I pulled an apple out of my pack and sat there by the stream eating my apple, listening to the stream, and enjoying the spot.
It’s not often that I don’t have some kind of noise in my head whether it be the TV, the radio, people at work, or my computer. This was one of those rare times when the only noise in my head was internal. I sat there a while contemplating the changes that have taken place in my life of late. I thought about faith and relationships, endings and beginnings, how the smallest ripple can cause a huge wave further down the line. I’m on an interesting journey right now. I’m learning about myself, about those I love, and about what I want in the future. Several paths have opened before me that I once considered closed.
There’s a lot going on.
It’s exhilarating, exciting, scary, and interesting. It’s quite a ride right now and I can’t wait to see where it’s going.