Sunday, August 9, 2015

Hiking heaven

We took the hike because that's what you do when you're in Colorado. It's what we do, anyway, because the mountains call out to us. And if we don't answer, if we get too caught up in just ogling their snow-capped loveliness, our allotted time here passes and we're left grasping for them with a sense of desperation, the what-ifs settling over our psyches like impending afternoon storms.

In their bountiful altruism, the mountains extend a magic looking glass in front of our faces, giving us a chance to flash forward a week, a month, six months. 

Will just being caught up in their beauty have been enough? Will we be kicking ourselves for not venturing out on these trails, interwoven like a basket, each its own entity, yet together leading us back to the trail head, to our car, to this cabin we call home for never long enough?

I'm never quite as brave up here as I'd like to be, or as I am when contemplating what I will do when I get here, or when I look back thinking about what I probably could have accomplished. This truism manifests itself on this hike with my son Charlie when, on a perfect Tuesday in July, we come to a part of the trail that has been washed away by floods two years ago. 

On the other side of nature's ravine, the trail picks up, but reaching the other side would require more agility and less anxiety than I have at this moment. So  despite him telling me, "You can do this, Mom!" I not surprisingly take a deep breath and tell him I think I'd better go back.

A half, a quarter-mile after our u-turn, I call out an apology. We're walking single file; the trail is narrow, and if someone approaches, either they or we step to the side to let the other pass.

For what? Charlie asks. For not believing in myself like you believed in me, I think. But instead I say, “For being such a wimp back there.”

He seems to not even remember. We trudge on, backtracking down paths so rocky we can't look at the scenery lest we stumble; through the aspen groves; across a meadow; up a pine-strewn trail. He's a forgiving sort and, like his mother, more willing to forgive others than himself; more likely to feel disappointment in himself than in someone else.

With equal degrees of comfort, we're silent and we talk -- about school, about religion, about nothing at all. We contemplate lunch, re-savor last night's dinner, remember random answers from the silly question game our whole family has played (and guffawed over) for two nights now. 

He and I have always felt an ease with each other. Here in the mountains, our comfort level is especially high -- him in front of me, moving more slowly than he'd like (and I'm not a pokey hiker, really!). When I call out to him or when he senses the footsteps between us lengthening, he pauses to let me catch up and to catch my breath. When stepping seems especially precarious, he turns around and extends his hand, which I reach for like a quicksand victim.

By the time we reach the car, which is parked by a picnic table next to a stream, we've gone 5.8 miles. "Come on," he says, taking the words from me. We walk two-tenths of a mile more. "An even six," he says. And even more triumphantly, "This wasn't a destination hike, but it sure was a good one."

We sit at the table and eat our sandwiches which, like all hiking sandwiches, started out thick and savory and are now panini-smashed. They're also sigh-worthy delicious. We take a few pictures, then head back to the cabin. 

In a few days, Charlie and his friend will drop me off at the airport, then drive the rest of the way home. I'll wake up the next morning in my own bed and resume the running for which I've swapped out for mountain exercise the last five days.

It will be hot, so I'll wear shorts and a tank top and I'll carry water. I'll sweat and feel my heart beating, and if I gasp for air, it will because the atmosphere is sultry and not because it's too thin. 

I'll run five miles or six or seven; maybe 9 or 10 on Sunday. When I'm home, it's what I do. 

But if I happen to glance into a mirror; if I catch my reflection in a car's windshield or in a storefront window -- for a few days at least; a week if I'm lucky -- I'll see behind me a range of mountains, a rocky path, and a kid who's not a kid any more reaching for my hand when I stumble. And I'll find myself thinking about next summer, breathing in courage for all I'm really and truly going to do when we're once more in the mountains.