One of the reasons we moved to Montana was so that I could go hiking. I enjoy hiking and in our area of Montana there are plenty of trails for hiking. Typically I would go hiking at least once a week during the summer months of June, July, and August . . . but this year it has been a slow start. Yesterday I was able to take my first hike of the summer. Yeah, I know, it is nearly July, but June was a crazy month not very conducive to hiking. Bottom line was that I just did not have a free weekend to go hiking and when I did it seemed to always snow or rain in the mountains. Yesterday, though, all the cosmic dice aligned themselves and I was able to set off on the first hike of the summer!
Hiking this summer is a little different than it has been in the past. The biggest difference is that I lost all of my hiking buddies. First, it was the future daughter-in-law moving home to Salt Lake City after she graduated from college—that was a major hit, but survivable as I still had the youngest son. Then the youngest son up and moved to Salt Lake City after he graduated from college—something about wanting to be with his honey. This was a bigger hit as it pretty well left me to fend for myself. With all my hiking buddies gone I am now on my own—solo. Solo except for those times when I take my trusty and loyal companion, Maddie the Boxer dog. Maddie is a good hiking companion . . . she sets a good pace, checks on me, never complains, and listens to all my moaning and groaning as we hike. The only bad thing about her is that she can outrun me if we encounter a bear, thus making me bear meat . . . and she doesn’t take the heat too well. Because of the second reason I went solo for the first hike of the season.
For the first hike of the season I decided to hike in a whole new area. I chose Beartrack Trail, just off of the Beartooth Highway just before the pass. According to the trail guide books this hike was a simple four mile hike up to the Silver Run Plateau. The Silver Run Plateau is a beautiful area up around 10,000 in which the elk like to hang out during the summer months. It is surrounded by the mountains of the Absaroka-Beartooth Wilderness Area. The books promised magnificent and spectacular views of the mountains in all directions. It was a simple four miles up, four miles back . . . well within my range of ability and to a place I had never been before. I was quite excited for the great adventure.
Well, all those authors lied!
Then, again, maybe they didn’t . . . maybe I just didn’t read the fine print describing the hike. It was true that it was a four mile hike to Silver Run Plateau . . . straight up the side of vertical nightmare. The hike includes an approximately elevation change of 3,000 feet before it is all said and done. This means lots of steep switchbacks, and I mean steep! Had I only known before I started I might not have chosen this as the first hike of the summer. Silly me . . . today my body hates me for my decision. The booger was pretty darn steep and it taught me a valuable lesson—read the trail guide carefully!
It has been said that ignorance is bliss . . . in this case it was stupidity and far, far away from bliss. Blisters, yes; bliss, no. With great confidence I began the hike. It started out easy enough as I trekked through an open meadow into the forest that covered the side of the mountain. Now I do not know who comes up with these trails, but I do know that they have a sneaky way of laying a trail out so that they lure the hiker into their trap of pain and agony. By the time that the hiker figures out that he or she has been duped . . . well, it is too late. For the most part the first half mile was pretty easy—no rapid heart rate or heavy breathing. In fact, I enjoyed it.
Then it changed . . . slowly it changed. That is how they trap the hiker. Before I knew it the trail was becoming steeper, more rugged, and difficult. In a matter of moments I was huffing and puffing my way up the trail—the heart was pounding, the lungs were screaming, and the legs were beginning to complain. The real adventure was about to begin!
Now, I must admit that it is not all the authors’ fault. I do have to take some responsibility for the demise of my physical being as I plodded along. I probably contributed more of my fair share to my misery. First of all, I was carrying an extra couple of pounds (that is a fair understatement)—not in my pack, but in the spare tire I was lugging around in the midsection of my body. That extra weight did not help. Second of all, I am grossly out of shape thanks to a winter and spring of sitting around doing Zen exercises. You know Zen exercises . . . they are the ones you do while sitting around in the recliner and drinking a microbrew. Mind over matter—I didn’t mind and I didn’t think that it mattered. Well, shortly after starting the hike it did matter. I was dying on the trail.
In all honesty, there were moments I thought I was dying or I wished I could die. I cursed the extra weight. I cursed the Zen exercises. But I drew a line at cursing the microbrews . . . in fact, I really wish I had one at certain moments along the trail. It was at this point that I was thankful that I was hiking solo. No one had to witness my melt down. No one had to witness my moaning and groaning. No one had to hear my lamenting to God. No one had to witness my breaking down and crying like a baby. It was a sad, sad scene that was repeated throughout the hike up the trail. Thankfully the youngest wasn’t there . . . I don’t think I could have handle two of us crying like babies. Also, I was thankful the future daughter-in-law wasn’t there urging us to “hurry up”. I might have had to kill them both or at least spray them with the bear spray. When I am dying I like to be alone!
But I plugged onward. Despite my apprehension that the authors lied about the toughness of the trail, I also started to believe that they lied about the distance of the trail. I was certain that the trail was much longer than they said it was . . . at least twice as long. But, once again, I was wrong. I was just slowly plodding up the trail, wheezing, huffing, puffing and wishing I could die. I was biblically complaining—lamenting, they call it. Then it dawned on me . . . if an individual complains in the woods and there is no one there to hear the complaint, is it a complaint? I determined it was just a waste of time as there was no one there to even acknowledge of complaint . . . it was a waste of energy. Then I stumbled about a fallen tree and decided that it was a sign that I was on the right path . . .
. . . if you look closely at the tree it looks like a person who has thrown up his or her arms in despair. The head is tilted to the left . . . the arms are thrown to heaven . . . and I can imagine the despair and frustration of the individual. I saw this as a sign . . . God could handle my complaints. Besides, outside of God, there were no witnesses to my complete melt down.
I never gave up. It was not easy. I had to trick myself into continuing with the hike . . . trust me, there were many moments when I almost turned back. But I kept going. Primarily it was through deception. I kept promising myself rest at the next shady spot . . . it is amazing how much shade one can find when tired. Then I started deceiving myself that it was just beyond the next bend in the trail or switchback. This one proved to be a royal pain in the legs as each bend or turn in the switchback turned out to be more steep trail. At this point I was sure that the authors had lied. This trail was wicked! I was certain that I had hiked at least a hundred miles . . . not two and a half.
Finally . . . thank God . . . I reached the point where the trail leveled off. My heart slowly stopped racing. My breathing became normal. I was only a mile from the destination . . . I began to think that I was going to make it . . . and I did . . . and only in three and a half hours. I learned later that those in great shape and who hike the trail fast do it in about two and a half hours. Great, I thought, I was only an hour behind. Then I was told that was for the whole eight miles—up and back. I cursed them at the news. But I did make it . . .
. . . and it was everything that it was promised to be. It was beautiful.
As I stood there surveying the heavens from this lofty perch I was in awe. I was in awe that I survived the hike up. I was in awe that I could witness such beauty. Awe in a God who could create such a beautiful place. It was such a wonderful gift . . . then it dawned on me . . . I still had to get back. I still had to hike down. No big deal, I thought, it was nearly all downhill. It would be a piece of cake. Another mistake on my part. Had the hike started with the downhill portion it would have been a piece of cake, but at this point my legs had had enough. They were about to go on strike. It is amazing the pounding that one’s legs take in a hike up a mountain, but even more amazing the pounding they take going down. Despite the protest of my legs I made the hike down the trail in about a third of the time it took me to get up the mountain. Probably could have made it even faster if I had listen to my legs and just thrown myself over the edge.
I survived the first hike of the summer . . . barely. I never saw anything as wonderful as my truck when I got to the trail head parking lot. It was a great joy to sit down on my truck’s seats. My legs were grateful. I had survived. Now, nearly twenty-four hours later I reflect on what I have learned: I learned to read the trail guides a little closer—simple, scenic hike means hellacious; I learned that I cannot spend a whole winter and spring doing Zen exercises and expect myself to be prepared for the hiking season; and, I learned that when one hikes solo, well, anything goes—there is no one to dispute the truth of your story. For what anyone really knows I lied. But my legs would argue you on that one as I hobble along. And, I learned that I have to keep plugging on—not for anyone else’s sake, but for my sake. I earned this one and for that I am proud that I didn’t quit. In the meantime I have started a fund to build escalators for the mountains. There has got to be an easier way to get up the mountains. And, I have learned that the pain and agony, the lamenting and crying, is easily forgotten. I will hike again . . . it is all in the adventure!