“Walk as if you are kissing the Earth with your feet.” – Thich Nhat Hanh
I typically try to find hikes in the six to eight mile range with anywhere from 1,000 to 2,000 feet of elevation change. For a serious hiker this would not be terribly hard. The guys that I know that are bad-ass trail blazers will knock-out 15 to 20 miles in a day. I am not a bad-ass. About four to five hours is all I am willing to devote to the activity.
The other thing I like are loops, a hike whose start loops back to the start rather than an “out and back” where you walk to the end, turn around and retrace your steps back to the start. I like the change of scenery in a loop. If I find a good loop to hike I try to figure out which way everyone else is going and go in the opposite direction. What I have learned over the years is the suggested direction is usually the easiest and that was the case on our hike Sunday.
I try to come prepared for hikes. I carry a Camelback for water, a first aid kit, some energy bars and depending on the forecast, some warm clothes or a rain jacket. The weather in the mountains can change very quickly. I have experienced quick rain showers, thunder storms, even snow when the hike began on a crisp 50 degree day. There is no way to prepare for everything, I don’t have enough room in my pack, but for a short hike hopefully I have everything I need to get me out of the woods.
One of the advantages of hiking against the stream on a loop route is that I get to see the other people coming into the woods or those that are finishing. The hike we did Sunday was six miles, 800 feet of climbing and categorized as hard primarily because of the terrain which included sloshing through the mud, crossing several streams, and climbing up and over rock outcroppings. It was strenuous but not overwhelming and certainly not the hardest hike I ever done.
Given that it was labor day weekend I wanted to get an early jump before the crowds hit. When we arrived there were only three cars in the parking lot. When we left, four hours later, there were well over a hundred and we met many of those poor, unprepared souls on the trail.
This trail, I assume because it borders a popular picnic area, is marked every half mile with post telling you how much further you have to go. As we passed groups of people, many with very small children, the most frequent question we were asked as they passed us was “Is the rest of the trail hard?” When I looked at those tiny legs, covered in mud and those tired, sad little faces I couldn’t lie, yes, it was hard.
Most of these people didn’t have hiking boots on just muddy tennis shoes though I did see a couple in flip-flops and they were carrying half full plastic water bottles they bought at the convenience store. In the beginning it seemed funny to me but as we continued to pass one group after the other I started to wonder what were these people thinking? The sign at the beginning of the trail says, six miles and HARD. Is there another way to interpret a hard six miles that I am missing? Even if the sign didn’t say HARD the six miles part should have scared the average Mom and Dad with three little kids away. It would have made me stop and pause twenty years ago with two small children.
When we had about a mile to go a large group of small kids ran past us trailed by their parents. One of the Dad’s asked me how far the waterfall was from where they were. I told him not far, maybe a half a mile or so. I asked if they were going to falls then turning around and going back the way they came? He said no and I guess the look on my face indicated that I thought that was a bad idea. He smiled at me sensing that I had walked in his shoes many, many moons ago and asked “Would you turn around?” Apparently my appearance didn’t give him the signs he needed to answer that question, covered in sweat and mud. Yes, go see the waterfall, then turn around and head back to your picnic of fried chicken I told him. His wife, who looked like her fun balloon had already been popped, said thank-you and they trudged onward.
We all walks paths into the unknown but what I have learned in 56 years of living is that there are people who have walked those same paths before us. Most, if not all, are willing to share their experience with us and their perspective. Really all we have to do is swallow our ego and our pride and ask, but for some that is the hardest hike of all.
“Pride makes us artificial and humility makes us real.” – Thomas Merton