[Written about a backpacking trip taken Labor Day weekend, 2014.]
We hike on a trail lush and shaded, damp with the season’s last remaining runoff. We are at the peak of summer. Murky puddles take the place of streams. Riverbeds are dry. The evidence of winter is nearly diminished. But it is still 30 degrees cooler than Phoenix. At an elevation of 7,500, we traded — for a weekend — dry desert for the smell of mountains and pine needles and cool dirt and something closer to sky.
Feeling fortunate for be outdoors, I am optimistic. At least for the first several miles. When the trek heads uphill, I reconsider.
By the end of the first day, my collarbones are bruised. I am sunburned on the back of my neck and calves. And my hips have carried the weight of survival — food, sleeping arrangements, and water, the heaviest and most essential of the three. My knees are swollen. They feel 20 or 30 years older than the rest of me. This isn’t unique though. These are just the perils of backpacking. Something that comes with the territory. Backpackers know (yes, even the amateur ones) that ten miles carrying a pack makes your body feel like hell the next day. I knew this as I went to sleep, but come morning, as my weight displaced the air in my sleeping mat, my joints brushed the rocky ground. Tight muscles, angry bones and blistered heels all throw a temper tantrum.
But our muscles and bones and blisters can’t win this battle. There is a reckoning of mind over matter. We are only half way there, and are exactly as far from the start as we are from the end.
“Are you drinking water?” my husband asks me from ahead.
“Yes,” I answer.
“Are you ok?” He questions again a few minutes later, as I trail a little farther behind.
“Yes. I’m just slower than you!” His stride is three-fold mine, six-fold the dog’s. I stop at the bottom of a long ascent. I am admittedly tired.
On top of a fire-damaged stump, a stack of rocks balances, one on top of the other, like a woodsy game of Jenga. I’ve seen these displays several times throughout this trek. The code indicates human interference. It whispers, “Someone else has forged this path. You’re on the right track. Keep forward.”