I was excited to be invited on a hike with some friends last weekend. We were heading for the Pecos Wilderness, to a trail I had never hiked before (that’s my favorite kind of trail). It’s beautiful up there – forests of pine and aspen, rocky overlooks, and still snow-capped mountain peaks all around. I was warned to bring rain gear, as there was a chance of rain – but the weatherman was predicting that the storm (if there even was one) wouldn’t occur until late in the afternoon, long after we had finished the hike.
Dutifully, I packed my purple rain poncho and we drove and drove…and drove. It takes a while to get into the wilderness! We went from the interstate, to the highway, to state road (which progressively got more narrow and winding), and finally to a dirt road that was questionable in several spots. I was happy that my friend had a four-wheel drive, high clearance SUV.
It was beautiful when we arrived and as we gathered for a huddle before we started, the hike leader told us that the trail followed an incline through the forest until we arrived at the top of the mesa – where there was a huge, rolling meadow covered in wildflowers. He mentioned that we might be tempted to break out into song, as it looked pretty much like the mountain top meadow where Maria Von Trapp twirled around in the Sound of Music.
The hike up was pleasant…and for a while I even kept up with the strong hikers. That is pretty much how it goes when I hike – I start off enthusiastic and strong for the first little while – a leader of the pack! Then…
Let me give you a perfect example of how this works: I went for a solo hike a few weekends ago. It’s a simple enough trail – 2.5 miles to the top of a ridge with an elevation gain of about 1300 feet. As I was getting my backpack and poles out of my car at the trailhead, a youngish man and his dog were just starting the hike and we exchanged hellos. I started up the trail about five minutes behind them and before long, I passed them. They were walking pretty slowly – in fact, my initial thought was that either the dog was really old and couldn’t walk faster or that the man was recovering from some sort of injury that prevented him from walking a normal speed.
I felt like I was blazing my way up the ridge at a great pace. I only had to stop to rest one or two times, and only for a minute or less. Yes, I was becoming more winded and tired as the trail went on (and got steeper) – but that’s natural, right? But about three-quarters of the way up the trail, I heard a jingling sound behind me. I glanced over my shoulder…and it was the man and his dog! They still appeared to be walking at the same pace – but at my next rest stop, they passed ME! Inconceivable! I was reminded of the story of the tortoise and the hare – and in this case, I was the cocky hare.
So, back to my original story…as we went on, a couple of the stronger hikers pulled ahead and were soon out of sight. My two friends and I were next – but soon they were ahead of me and they had to wait several times for me to catch up. “Are you okay?” they asked, with concerned looks on their faces. I told them I had a headache. It wasn’t really a lie – I’ve had a nagging headache for over a week now – but really, I was fine to hike – I just didn’t have the stamina they did. I consoled myself with the fact that the rest of the group could not be seen behind us – so at least I wasn’t last.
We arrived at a landmark that we had been told to watch for and found the strongest hikers waiting for the group there. As we waited for the others, we began to hear far-off thunder and the blue sky turned gray. A few raindrops fell, and then more – and we took out our rain jackets and ponchos and suited up. As the rest of the group trickled in, in pairs and threesomes, people clustered together to chat. Suddenly, a group of gals began to sing:
“Raindrops on roses and whiskers on kittens. Bright copper kettles and warm woolen mittens. Brown paper packages tied up with string – these are a few of my favorite things!”
And they were off! As more members of the group arrived, they joined in and as they finished one number from the Sound of Music, they started with another. I found myself a comfortable seat on a nearby log and enjoyed the concert until everyone arrived.
We started walking again, with the choir taking up the rear – and some of the manliest men in the group began to sway and skip through the meadow as the gals belted out, “The hilllls are aliveeee, with the sound of muuuusic!”
It was just like I was in the Austrian Alps! Or maybe not. I’ve never been in the Austrian Alps, so how would I know? But I totally expected the Von Trapp children, dressed in their play clothes made out of curtains, to come running towards us at any moment to ask us if we had seen a “Doe, a deer – a female deer?” We reached the top of the meadow and turned to take in the gorgeous view. It was then that we noticed the thunder seemed nearer and we could see lightning, several miles in the distance.
Some of us figured that it might not be terribly wise to be the tallest thing on the top of the mountain when the thunderstorm reached us, so we turned around and began to descend – and then the heaven’s opened and the rain really began.
Now, I’ve been debating what kind of rain gear to take with me when I do my hike in Spain. It’s almost a certainty that I’ll run into weather, especially in the upper elevations. There are plenty of debates on various community forums regarding rain jackets and pants verses ponchos. I was leaning towards a poncho – it’s lightweight, not bulky, and while it protects me from the elements, it does double duty as a rain cover for my backpack.
I’m not so sure anymore.
Soon, the trail had turned into a muddy creek.
While my upper body was relatively dry, my hands and my forearms were wet and freezing. My boots were soaked and my pants were plastered to my leg to above my knees. I was one of the lucky ones. Some people had rain jackets that turned out not to be so waterproof. Others had neglected to bring their rain gear and were soaked to the skin. Still – I enjoyed it. My wool socks kept my feet warm and the views from the ridge were incredible. My hiking poles helped me to balance in the mud and on slippery rocks, and the baseball cap I wore under my poncho hood kept the rain off my face. I found myself hiking alone, the faster hikers ahead of me, the slower ones behind. I liked the solitude – and I may have even hummed a little of “Climb Every Mountain.”
It seems a fitting theme song, doesn’t it?
“Climb every mountain, ford every stream, follow every rainbow, till you find your dream.”