One of our favorite things to do in our travels is put some extra miles on our hiking shoes. There are countless trails across America just begging for your feet to join in the steps of so many others before.
Now, I’m not saying that we are hard core hikers, or even intermediary. To be perfectly honest, we are lazy hikers, and usually only motivated by the thought of getting some exercise and seeing something spectacular at the end of the trail. So we look for trails that lead us to a magnificent view such as a waterfall or scenic overlook. We’d even settle for a unicorn along the way, or a taco stand run by leprechauns at the end of the trail. Yes, we need motivation.
If there is no “reward” at the end of a trail, we’ll tend to just walk until we feel we’ve had enough exercise for the day, and then head back to the car. That’s not to say that we don’t enjoy the journey. Although, whenever Al looks over his shoulder to check on me, he comments that I don’t look like I am enjoying myself. I simply do not have a poker face, and so you can plainly see that I struggle as we climb in elevation. But I tend to skip along without a care in the world when we are heading back down hill.
We hiked Bull Of The Woods Wheeler Peak Trail last week. It is classified as difficult. We were above 9,000 feet in elevation, so we felt the breathing challenge. But the temperature was perfect, we were surrounded by dense woods, and there was a luscious river keeping us company as we climbed up the mountain. We stopped and chatted with a guy along the path to ask him if the trail led to a scenic overlook or lake. He told us he had been hiking for about 8 hours that day, and was picking mushrooms. 8 hours? Why are we asking him for directions when he is obviously lost? And for goodness sakes, I wouldn’t even know which of the thousands of mushrooms we had seen on the trail were edible. For all we knew, that guy was tripping on those shrooms.
A few days later we hiked the Slot Canyon Trail at Tent Rocks National Monument. This was a shorter hike than Bull of the Woods, and only about 10 floors in ascent compared to the 25 floors we did at Wheeler Peak. But this trail would prove to be my ultimate challenge.
We arrived around 12:30pm, in the heat of the day. I think the temp got to 96º that day, which felt well over 100º in the direct sun. The park ranger at the gate informed us that the top of the trail closes at 3:30pm, and that he would be up there to usher everyone off the mountain top at that time. The reason for this is so that everyone gets down and off the mountain before the sun goes down and they close the gates. He can also make sure that no one is stranded or hurt along the trail as he follows the last person out.
As soon as you step foot on the trail, you begin to feel the climb as the sand trail makes every step more of a challenge than it needs to be. There are parts of the trail where large boulders block your passage and require that you climb over them. And then you begin a steep climb up the mountain. It all amounted to my perfect storm. I was huffing and puffing, my head spinning from the heat, and fighting the urge to throw up my lunch. My legs were weak and wobbly from the constant climb. Al was a great partner and helped pull me up quite a few times. But I was quite determined to make it to the top of the mountain.
This got me to thinking about ego. My ego was taking quite the pounding because I thought I was in better shape than that. Ego is like a double edged sword. It looks out for your comfort and survival, but it also makes you do some stupid shit. So in a situation like this, ego can make you give up because you’re just too uncomfortable and it’s just too hard, or it can give you a fierce determination to continue on and push past your discomforts. So, it can be seen as your ego fighting your ego. Which side of your ego will win?
I’m proud to say that I made it to the top of that mountain, and spent about 30 minutes trying to recuperate before we headed back down. I could see that others had a much easier time going up that mountain than I did. But I am not in a competition with anyone but myself, and I am proud of what I accomplished. On another day, I can maybe do that climb with much more ease, grace, and strength. It truly is a beautiful trail, and I would be happy to do it again. But maybe first thing in the morning rather than in the heat of the afternoon.
As we lingered at the top of the mountain, I thought about that park ranger saying that he was going to be up there at 3:30 to clear everyone out. I began wondering if he had a secret elevator that takes him to the top. Or maybe a helicopter. We passed him as we made our descent and he was headed up. I couldn’t believe it. He makes that climb everyday!!! I joked with him about my secret elevator theory. He replied that the Bureau of Land Management would never invest money to make his job easier. This broke my heart, these unappreciated rangers who work so hard to keep the parks in a condition to be enjoyed by all of us. They truly are the caretakers of this land. I assured him that I would be willing to pay extra in taxes to make his job easier. But if I had to guess, just feeling appreciated by all of us for the work they do, and picking up after ourselves, would make a world of difference in their life’s.
And so, this wraps up our westward journeys this year. We make our way east tomorrow, looking for lower elevations and higher humidity. See you on the road.
Written by: Elizabeth DiPace