I always have the same thought when I go hiking: “This is why I ride horses.”
Not to say riding horses is, per say, easier overall. Just ask my thighs, calves, & bouncing boobs at the end of a long ride. But it’s a different kind of work, & besides the few times I’ve landed on my ass glancing wonderingly at the sky, I’ve never had to pant like a dog while riding.
Last Saturday I summited a mountain. It wasn’t my first, that was Mt. Washington in New Hampshire during college. It’s the kind of climb where it always felt vaguely unfair to me that I had toiled up & up & up that rocky face, only to be confronted by a family who’d driven up the other side in a minivan, but I digress.
Mt. Ellinor is the most rewarding climb, which is what everyone kept telling me on their way down as I sat, sucking down Gatorade or panting at the edge of some switchback. I lost count of the number of times I almost quit, decided it wasn’t worth it, & went down to the comfortable embrace of the Emerald Queen.
I was alone, aside from the 200 odd other people on the trail that day, & the only thing I was accountable to was the picture in my heart of the view I’d seen, from one of the photographers I follow on Facebook, where they’d summited the mountain few days before. I wanted to see Seattle, Puget Sound, & the Olympics from a high I had to earn.
So after every switchback, rock scramble, & random bug slap, I seriously reevaluated my priorities, going through the stages of grieving, only “Jame’s stages of hiking.”
The first ½ mile or so is a jaunty, “look at me! I’m hiking!” easy moving out. This drop rapidly to a settled “fuck this all”-itis I carry more or less until the first viewpoint.
Hiking sucks. Bugs suck. I could be holed up in a bookstore somewhere, not sweating like a pig & using my own two damn feet to get up this overgrown rock. Hiking is overrated. How much farther? A 1000 feet up that? I’m a crazy person. Why hasn’t somebody locked me up yet, for my own good. Oh look, look at the hot college students scampering upwards & downwards like puppies. Nod & smile & say some sarcastic remark, but take a breath first or else you sound like a mosquito. Why is everyone on this trail so nice, hiking sucks. You people are weird. How far is the car if I turn around now?
That’s when I looked up from my toil, realizing I was halfway there not because of any trail markers but because I was in a zone I’d always been fascinated with in college, the krummholz. It’s a subalpine zone where the trees still survive, but due to poor soils, erosion, & near constant wind, they don’t grow very high & they have a very dense, gnarled growth. It’s a sure sign you’ve almost reached tree line, & that was the first thing that kept me moving upwards at a glacial but slightly more determined pace.
The second was reaching the first real viewpoint at tree line, soon after watching a bachelor party tramping & chattering downwards. I was able to stop & enjoy the view of the lake below, & just make out Puget Sound, but Seattle was hidden by a cloud bank that was rapidly filling in the waterways & valleys below me & chasing me up the mountain. It wasn’t the view (or the selfie to prove I’d earned the view) that I was set on, & besides, the real rock scramble had just begun.
Also, for every single downwards hiker that flat out lied & said “You’re almost there! It’s so worth it!” Bless your hearts, honestly, cause I almost lost it halfway up the talus steps.
Now, I’ve been a happy tomboy a great majority of my life, & pink was the worst color to me for years (still kinda is, I mean, c’mon why does every girly thing have to be pink?) But the noises I made when I scrambled up the last sharp boulders, rounded a corner & saw this laid out before me after 3.5 miles & a 3000 foot climb, well, can only be described as not quite hysterical squealing.
So, I summited a mountain. I earned my right to sit on the couch half of Sunday, reading a book & petting the purring cat. The house is still a bit in shambles but it pretty much always will be, & it’s fine place to be.