My sister weaves flowers in her hair. She also works at a climbing gym and this summer spent a week hiking “14ers,” mountains with an elevation reaching 14,000 ft or more. Today, on this third day of vacation in Colorado she has invited me on a hike. After asking one of the locals, we discovered there is an 8 mile round-trip hike just minutes from our cabin. This will be no problem. I just ran a half marathon in April, surely I can walk eight miles comfortably.
As we begin the steep incline up the side of the mountain I begin to reconsider my hiking abilities. We have barely begun and already my breath is faster and deeper. I can’t talk without gasping for air. The path is rocky and narrow, every step requires a plan. As my sister and her boyfriend disappear around the bend I turn my focus to the trail.
I startle as I see a flash of green slither in front of my feet. I notice a splash of neon ribbon running through a feather and pick it up to save for my sister. I notice the bones of an animal left by the wayside, the smooth rock that is shaped like a skeleton. I look at the wildflowers and pick a few to press, my sweaty hands grasping tightly to their delicate stems.
I am ill prepared for this hike. As I huff and puff I begin to think of all the problems we could encounter on the mountain. I have just read Bill Bryson’s A Walk in the Woods and it is through this filter that I begin to contemplate our demise. I have only brought a fanny pack along and its contents are laughable: one water bottle, three granola bars, two small packs of peanut butter, sunscreen, chap stick, a pen and some paper. What I’m wearing is even worse. Hardly the supplies or outfit to keep me out of danger if a storm were to hit or a bear attacked. As my trail mates climb further and farther away I think of even more scenarios for which I am ill equipped: flash flooding, hypothermia, dehydration, snake bite, getting lost, rock slide, or heaven forbid twisting an ankle or breaking a leg.
Luckily Annie and Ben take turns waiting for me and together we arrive at our destination- Bailey Lake. The water is severely low and looks more like a puddle pretending to be a pond, but we are satisfied. We share our granola bars, write goofy haikus, and shout just to hear our echoes.
By now I can breathe, and am relieved that so far the clouds are only providing a welcome shade. All I want is to keep enjoying this moment, the clean air, the diversity of the plants and terrain, the view of surrounding mountains. Here there is no trash, no exhaust to inhale, no noise of traffic or cell phone reception. For four and a half hours we are the only people within sight. There is only quiet concentration and an awe of the beauty that surrounds us.