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Hiking is something I have just discovered in the last couple of years. Don’t get me wrong, I have been aware of the concept of walking-on-trails-and-rocks-and-up-and-over-mountains since I was young. I have, on occasion, dabbled in a stroll thru wildflower dotted hills or along scenic overlooks. But until I met my husband I had never really done “camping and hiking”. My family was more of a swimming-surfing-fishing-cabin-in-the-woods-cold-ocean-water going type of group (Perhaps I shall talk about that some time in the future). Now I find myself taking in the overwhelming enormity of Yosemite National Park or the strange otherworldly beauty of Lassen Volcanic National Park at least once a year. And every year I love it more than I did the year before.
Hiking with Ryan’s family is an experience. They choose fun (is fun the right word?) hikes like summiting Half Dome (which requires gloves at the end so you are able to use your upper half to haul your exhausted lower half up a near vertical granite rock face by way of steel cables. Honestly, for me it turned out to be exhilaratingly fun!) or getting to the top of Clouds Rest (the name itself screams, “Altitude sickness!” – which I experienced in some capacity). Preparations for these mammoth undertakings begin the night before. Ziplock baggies come out and are filled with handfuls of Starbursts, pistachios, crackers or dry cereal, trail mix and beef jerky to be consumed on the move. These are the prefered fuel of veteran mountaineers. Stacks of peanut butter and jelly sandwiches are slapped together and doled out to be consumed when you reach the summit. Camelpak reservoirs are checked, rinsed, filled and rechecked. Backpacks are stuffed with the provisions and tailored to the hikers needs. In my case I carry a small packet of duct tape folded in on itself many times, two kinds of medical tape: foam & silk (for blisters and “hot spots”), tissues, hand sanitizer, lip balm, “sugar pills” (glucose tablets for Ryan), a pocket knife, and some sort of I.D. just in case… is that morbid? In the case of my husband and his brothers they carry HUGE backpacks filled with food, water, and camera equipment on top of camera equipment. Ryan usually has a high tech water filter/pump on hand that could get drinkable water out of a sewage tank if need be (I know that is a disgusting thought, but it’s true and its usually what we tell someone who asks, “Is it okay to drink that?” as we pump water out of a crystal clear mountain stream). When all has been packed, strapped and stowed in a bear box a time is set for the start of the hike, usually between the super awesome hours of 4:00AM and 5:00AM so we can beat the heat of mid day. Now, everyone to bed. And then I lay in my sleeping bag, listening to the sounds of nearby campers, thinking, “What have I gotten myself into? Do I really want to do this? Oh man, this is gonna be rough!” Fade to black.
I don’t think I need to detail the events of hiking to you. It’s basically one foot in front of the other, up and down, heart pounding, lungs pumping, muscles pushing and joints pulling – depending on whether you are going Uphill (butt, hamstrings, calves) or Downhill (knees, quads, knees. Did I mention knees?). All of this is punctuated by brief rests, panoramic views, and oftentimes, lots of switchbacks. And on any given hike you will hear me appreciatively breath out, “Gorgeous! Beautiful! Awesome, amazing, wow!” about a hundred times. Yes, I like the view.
I’ve found that despite the apprehension in the run up and prep of a daunting hike, I revel in this form of exercise. Having communion with Creation. Sharing an experience with other like minded people. Accomplishing a feat of strength. Unplugging. Appreciating all over again what my arms and legs can do for me. I’m going to keep doing this for as long as I am possibly able.
At the end of it all, when the trail has been laid out behind you, you’ve passed by the trailhead for the second time that day, you might find yourself nodding off in a car seat or a canvas chair by the campfire; body aching, covered in sweat and dirt, the rushing of blood and oxygen starting to slow, the accomplishment, exhaustion and satisfaction of a day well used is summed up in one long exhale, “Ahhhhhhhh.” My recommendation? Be sure to stretch and drink water. Or, do what I did after my hike to the top of Half Dome: walk straight thru camp and into the frigid Merced River fully clothed to ice down your aching knees, share a cold IZZE sparkling blackberry juice with your sister-in-law as she stands in the river next to you (also still fully dressed in her hiking apparel), shower, eat five pieces of pizza as you nod off in one of those fully reclining camping chairs, and head to bed to enjoy the deepest sleep of your life.