GrabOne is, for us, the best thing on the internet for getting deals. Honestly, Shannon and I would have far fewer adventures if not for GrabOne. Much like GroupOn in the US, they offer all kinds of things from food to entertainment to excursions at a deeply discounted price. A while back, one came through our email offering a tubing trip through the Waitomo Caves. We decided this would be a perfect way to spend our anniversary so we happily booked the trip.
The name "Waitomo" comes from the Māori word wai, water and tomo, hole or shaft. The local Māori people had known about the caves for quite some time before the local Māori Chief Tane Tinorau and an English surveyor, Fred Mace, did an extensive exploration in 1887. Their exploration was conducted with candlelight on a raft going into the cave where the stream goes underground. As they began their journey, they came across the Glowworm Grotto and were amazed by the twinkling glow coming from the ceiling. As they traveled further into the cave by poling themselves towards an embankment, they were also astounded by the limestone formations. These formations surrounded them in all shapes and sizes.
They returned many times after and Chief Tane independently discovered the upper level entrance to the cave... Tane Tinorau and his wife Huti, by 1889, had opened the cave to visitors and were leading groups for a small fee. The administration of the cave was taken over by the government in 1906 after there was an escalation in vandalism. In 1910, the Waitomo Caves Hotel was built to house the many visitors.
In 1989, the land and cave were returned to the descendants of Chief Tane Tinorau and Huti. They now receive a percentage of the cave’s revenue and are involved in the management and development of the cave. These descendants encompass many of the employees of the caves today.
There are several caves and numerous companies that offer tours. The company offering the deal we booked was Cave World. According to their website, the Tube It adventure includes drifting through a beautiful cave, crawling to a hidden waterfall, sliding down the hydro slide, and seeing heaps of glow worms. The normal fee is $124 per adult and takes about two hours.
We arrived at the Cave World check in desk and were warmly greeted by a very cheerful and friendly woman. My co-workers continue to tell me I'm the one with the accent but really it's the Kiwis with the accents and this woman had a great one! I just love listening to the rhythmic way they speak.
Our transport arrived and all 13 of us piled in....for the 30 second drive down the hill to their base where we all piled out. They handed us our wet suits and pointed in the direction of the changing rooms.
Now, this was one of the reasons I was hesitant to go on this adventure. My only previous experience with a wet suit had left me humiliated and embarrassed. Years ago, I was a paramedic. During our academy they put us through a day of swift water training. At first, I thought it would be great fun. Until I tried to put on the wetsuit. I'm a fairly big girl so trying to stuff myself into yards of neoprene was much like trying to shove a king sized sleeping bag into a twin sized stuff sack. Finally, I ended up with one person on each side trying to force me into it like a pillowcase. And to add insult to injury there was a newspaper photographer taking pictures for an article in the paper about the cadets. It is high on my list of experiences I never want to have again. So, when Shannon mentioned this excursion would require a wetsuit, I was a bit trepidatious.
Turns out I was right to worry. This wasn't a lightweight sort-of-cold-water wetsuit. This was a heavy-duty-OMG-I-fell-into-the-Atlantic-off-my-crab-boat wetsuit. I managed to get my legs squeezed in but the knee pads were protecting my shins and the crotch was halfway down my thighs. I got it zipped over my belly only by displacing my spleen and liver into my chest cavity. I got the coat over my arms but couldn't zip it over my boobs and still expect to breathe. Luckily I was able to trade that one in for a bigger one that at least allowed shallow breathing. The booties and shoes went on easily...with Shannon's help. I waddled penguin-like out to the truck and then had to have help getting in because I couldn't bend my legs enough to reach the step. Oh yeah, this was going to be fun.
We all piled into a jeep that had seen its last shock blow out in 1952 and off we went. The caves are, interestingly enough, in the middle of a bunch of farmland. I imagine some random Maori dude, wondering why his kids kept disappearing, went to investigate and found this GIANT hole in the ground. We bounced past herds of sheep and cows and eventually stopped at an anonymous pasture. I then had to hike penguin-like up a hill and down another, all while marinating in sweat and trying valiantly to breathe.
After choosing our inner tube and descending several dozen stairs into the depths, we were finally in the Footwhistle (Te Anaroa) cave. It was quite cool which was blessed relief as I was seriously overheating in the wet suit. The first hiccup came shortly thereafter. We entered a big opening and could hear a waterfall in the distance. Our guide said we were going to that waterfall. He said there would be a bit of crouching, a bit of crawling, and a bit of wiggling. I was concerned about the wiggling bit but he assured me I would fit.
We dropped down to all fours and crawled along an icy stream. Then we crouched through a slit in the rocks. Then came the wiggling part. I got down on my belly and slithered into the opening...only to get stuck at the exit. I could kick my feet and wave my arms but my hips wouldn't budge. Panic began to slide over me. The kid in front of me kept asking me if I needed help all while keeping his hand out of reach of mine. Shannon, behind me, was pushing on my butt and assuring me I was going to live. I'll admit I lost my cool and freaked out a bit. Finally, though, like a cork out of a champagne bottle I popped out the other side breathing a gasp of relief. The waterfall was cool, sure, but I was still reeling from my near death experience. The only thing I could think about was that I had to go back through that tiny hole to get out of there. The guide and I were in the back of the pack and he asked if I wanted him to go first so he could pull me through. I said hell no since I wanted him to be stuck behind me if I couldn't get out. I was pretty sure they would want him back and would rescue me in the process. He convinced me to go through the opening sideways this time instead of head on and what do you know, I wiggled through with ease. Phew.
The rest of the trip wasn't nearly so dramatic but it was quite fun. We floated along on our tubes staring up at a ceiling covered in tiny pinpricks of light. The glow worms are remarkable creatures that aren't actually worms. Their scientific name is arachnocampa luminosa. They look like stick bugs. They cling to the ceiling of the cave and drop down a sticky glowing filament from their butt. The light attracts bugs which get stuck in the filament (like a spider web) and become lunch. Hundreds of them overhead look like stars in a cloudless night sky. My favorite part of the trip was floating along in total darkness with the cave ceiling aglow and Shannon's feet tucked under my arms. It was wonderful. At one point, we jumped off a waterfall and then got to go down a water slide. The entire trip was about two hours long and well worth it. I would have gladly paid full price. Having it at a discount was a fantastic bonus.
Once done in the caves we had to hike up 104 steps to the farmland above and our waiting kidney buster. Back at the base, getting off that wetsuit was much easier than getting it on had been. Having to shower in front of a bunch of strangers was weird but after camping for two days, a hot shower was fabulous.
I highly recommend the tours at Cave World. They provided an enjoyable experience I would gladly do again. But maybe with a bigger wetsuit next time.
All the photos in this post were taken by our guides and provided to us on a CD after our tour.
My friend Lauren from work and I went on the March 26th hike together. We live really close to each other so we carpooled out to North Bend. My favorite thing about carpooling, other than having good company of course, is that you get to take the carpool lane!! The 405 is a ZOO during rush hour. The drive out to North Bend is quite a ways and if not for that lovely HOV lane, we never would have made it before everyone took off and left us. Although in retrospect, I’m not so sure what I was worried about. It wasn’t like I would be able to keep up anyway.
There were two choices for this hike. The Mt. Si trail is a 3200′ ascent with an extremely rugged trail and 7 miles round trip. The second choice was the Little Si trail with a 1250′ ascent and 5 miles round trip. One guess on which I chose.
So, we set off on the Mt. Si trail…….HA! Just kidding. Although I will get to type those words for real sometime soon.
We pulled into the parking lot and were greeted by Michael and a couple of the other uber hikers. The weather was cold and a bit windy but actually really good for hiking. Lauren and I hung out for just a bit until the other Little Si hiker showed up and then we headed up the trail.
It wasn’t straight up but it was pretty darn close. Within moments my thoughts of having someone to visit with while trudging up the mountain were dashed when I once again lagged behind everybody else. Although I had thought it would be cool to have company, I was also okay with being alone again on the trail. It gives me time to think. At least in between gasping for air and willing my legs to continue to move.
The uber hikers had still been gathering in the parking lot when we left and they soon caught and passed me. Michael was the last in line and as he jogged by, he told me this was the worst part of the trail. Silly me believed him too.
After a while of going straight uphill, the trail did actually level off and become while still not flat, at least not straight up either. This area was entirely different from the other place I had gone hiking, Tiger Mountain. This was a volcanic mountain range or something like that so the terrain was all odd looking rocks. It was also covered over by tall thick trees lending everything a twilight quality.
Everyone was far ahead of me so I had the trail to myself. Ocassionally, someone would come hurrying by. One man ran past me going up and a couple of others trudged on by but for the most part I was all alone. The diffuse light and complete lack of animal noise gave the whole place a forbidden forest feel. The trail was level for the most part with a few upward climbs here and there. The rocks, and there were some as big as small cottages, were covered in silky green moss. The trees were limbless until at least 20 feet off the ground and then the limbs stuck out at 90 degree angles. My cousins would have loved those trees when I was a kid. If they could have made it up to the first limb, they’d have used the rest like stairs until they were all the way to the top, touching the sky. I always seemed to be at the bottom looking up at them, too afraid to climb, too afraid I would fall.
At some point along the trail, I came across a bench. It was in an odd place, tucked off to the side and actually fairly easy to miss if one weren’t looking. It was just your basic wooden slatted bench, the kind you see everywhere, with a name engraved on it. It said it was in memory of Doug Hansen who had disappeared on Everest shortly after reaching the summit in May, 1996. He had trained on Mt Si and in the Cascade mountains. It said the bench had been placed here by his friends. When I got home, I Googled Doug’s name and found out that he was one of 15 people who died on Everest that year. He was one of many who paid a company to take them to the top of the mountain. In 1995, he had failed to make the summit so was determined to do it in 1996. His guide, Rob who was an experienced Everest climber, had practically dragged him to the top. He radioed the camp and told them they had made the summit and were headed back down. Hours later, Rob radioed in to say Doug was dead and he was in danger. The next day, Rob died on the mountain too. There had been an IMAX crew on the mountain at the same time filming a documentary and I remembered this incident from the film. Rob had been in contact with his buddies via his radio. They all knew he wasn’t going to make it and patched him through to his pregnant wife in New Zealand so they could say goodbye. It was heartbreaking. At the time I stood in front of that bench, all I knew was this guy had hiked in this mountain range. I imagined he had at least achieved his goal when he summited Everest. It would have sucked even more to die before you got there.
After a moment of silence for this unknown hiker, I headed out again. At one point, I was walking amongst all the trees, surrounded by giant house-sized rocks and just over to the left was a sheer rock face that went up at least 15 stories. A gash was slashed through the middle of it from a distant rockslide. Rocks of every size imaginable were strewn at the bottom of the wall. It was all so very surreal.
The terrain changed once again and the trail began going straight up. Several places required me to scramble up on my hands and knees. See, now this is why I don’t believe Michael anymore when he says some or other part is the hardest. The last two miles of the trail was more of a climb than a hike. I hauled my butt up tree breaks and through slits between rocks. I had to pause every few feet to catch my breath and curse Michael. This last stretch rivaled the trudge up the Cable Line trail I’d done at Tiger Mountain two weeks previous. It was truly tough.
At one point, I met up with one of the other club members on her way down. She joyful shouted “You’re almost there!” I noticed her perky attitude, her unsweat stained clothes, and her total lack of fatigue and wanted to deck her. Most likely, though, if I had done I would have missed and flung myself in a freefall down the trail I had just trudged up. So, instead, I smiled as best I could and breathed, “Thanks.” A few more feet up, I ran into my friend Lauren. She too looked way too unruffled for my taste but she assured me I was literally just steps from the top.
Sure enough, a few more turns and there I was. The way opened up and I was on top of the mountain. It was covered with rocks and the first thing I had to do was plop down on the rock and breathe for a minute. Then I was able to enjoy the view. Exalt in the view is probably more accurate. I had not seen anything that beautiful in a very long time. The valley stretched before me as far as I could see to the west and north. It was covered in pine trees with the ocassional roof peeking through. Over to the south and east was Mt. Si. And it was HUGE!! I looked up and up and up and was very grateful I had not chosen that trail. I would still be climbing that sucker.
As I stood there enjoying the view and all that beautiful oxygen going into my lungs, it began to snow. Soft, fluffy flakes drifted down around us. I turned my head up and caught some flakes on my tongue, just like a little kid. It was awe inspiring. I had to share the moment so I called my parents. I had laughingly and only half-jokingly told them that when I finally made it to the top of a mountain, I would play the Rocky theme song that I used as my dad’s ringtone. Unfortunately, I got a new phone not too long ago so I no longer had that ringtone. No matter, though. It rang through my head as I called my parents and told them that not only was I calling from a mountain top but I was calling them with snow drifting around me as well. (I am from Texas, as are they, and snow is an alien concept to us.) After I hung up with them, Lauren and I snapped pictures of each other and headed back down.
I find it interesting that my return trips are becoming so different from my ascents. It is, of course, so much easier going down so it goes more quickly. But also the last two trips, I’ve had company on the way down that I didn’t have on the way up. Lauren and I stuck together as we picked our way through the hard parts and then strolled down the trail. It snowed on us all the way down. The upper part of the mountain was somewhat open so the snow fell on us but once we reached the tree cover, it could no longer reach us. The leaves were so thick they created a premature twilight so it was almost like walking in a cave. Off to our right, where the rock face began to climb and there was no tree cover, the light was shining and the snow was falling. It was again very surreal.
We were almost at the end of the trail when my lack of attention caught up with me. My foot snagged on a rock and I fell down, landing smack in the middle of a mud puddle. I landed on my knee pretty hard but no damage was done. The only real issue was that now I was covered in mud. The import of that didn’t dawn on me until we got back to my car. I looked at my muddy self and my relatively new car that I’m trying to sell and wondered what to do now. Honestly, if I’d been by myself, I’d probably have shucked my pants and driven home in my undies. But I didn’t think Lauren would appreciate that and well, it’s just weird to see your co-worker without their clothes on.
An aside here about that. At the Starbucks headquarters, there’s a gym just for the employees. At first, this idea tickled me. However, after seeing a few people strolling across the ladies locker room without any clothes on that I then had to sit across at a meeting table, that enthusiasm waned. It’s hard to take someone seriously when you know what type of underwear they have on and that they have a Bugs Bunny tattoo on their ass.
Not wanting to freak out Lauren, I searched around for something to put down on the seat. I dug under all the various crap that seems to find its way into my car and discovered a raincoat that made a perfect mud tarp. It snowed on us all the way home. Even Lauren had to admit it was bizarre to have such a late season snowfall. I wasn’t complaining though. Well, at least not much. It was beautiful watching all that snow fall on the pine-covered mountains.
My schedule has changed now and I can no longer go hiking with the Starbucks hiking club. I’m really disappointed because I had looked forward to judging my progress by how much less I got left behind from hike to hike. I sent out an email to all my co-workers in the call center and only Lauren seems really interested in hiking with me. We’ll see though. I plan to keep going out on my own. And yes, Mom, I’ll bring my cell phone so at least I can be found by the GPS inside of it should I go missing. But really, it’s not like I’m going to be hiking Everest any time soon so I think I’m okay.
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.
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.