The first long hike, for me at least, usually isn’t all that long. Say five miles or so. And usually not that high, under 10,000 feet of elevation. I have learned from past experiences to make it as light as possible. No more gear than needs to be done. It would be great if I could follow these rules one day.
So you start out slowly, walking along a winding ridge-line. Those first few miles always feel pretty good. It’s even better if you plan a slight down hill, just to make them seem shorter.
But then, you hit the first up hill and you begin to sweat.
No problem, you think at first. Then the sweating leads to huffing and puffing. Then the random muscles cramping.
“Dammit,” you think to yourself, “I wasn’t on the couch that much this winter.”
Or, maybe I was.
Winter always saps a lot of energy and tone and only leaves me flab in return. It’s not a very fair deal. So I start every summer with the first long hike and assess how much damage was done. I am happy to report, this year, it’s not as bad as past ones.
True, there was a bit of wheezing. And while the water calculations were good, I didn’t take enough to eat and came down starving. Which leads to another critical consideration in hike planning.
Always hike somewhere near a place to reward the good behavior. Like Golden, so you can hit the all you can eat pizza at Woody’s after. The majority of their crowd is always sweaty hikers and sweaty bicyclists. No feeling bad after the hike or ride, sitting with your people doing the recovery carb loading.
It’s always worth it, though. That first wander in to the woods to smell the pines in the air around you. Feeling the brisk breeze come down mountain, carrying the bite of the snow still covering the peaks and the impossible freshness only mountain air possesses. Being able to stop for a moment mid puffing and look over a mountain valley, looking far away to the horizon at the plains unfolding from the mountain under your feet and spreading before you like a carpet.
Surrounded by beauty, even the fatigue and aches are nothing. They all fade away in the face of the mountains. The beauty that extends back to the beginning of time, and will go on far longer than we will. The single greatest thing I have ever experienced.
Today, I stopped on a mountain and held Steph tight and said: “It’s better up here. It always is. It always is. ”
Perhaps next year, I will not let winter win. I will not let days with huge snowfall and blasting arctic winds keep me inside. Where boredom haunts every footfall on the treadmill.
It was not this year.
Perhaps next year . . .