I haven’t been on any hikes recently. I’ve been taking a couple of extra dance classes and also preparing for a show (my class will be doing two numbers at a dance performance put on by the local college next weekend), and I wanted to make sure I didn’t jeopardize that privilege by overdoing it. My body is used to the extra classes now, so when a friend invited me to go on an easy group hike with her this morning, I accepted. It didn’t seem like it would be a very scenic hike — it was more to explore a water system from the 1800s than to enjoy the scenery — but I’ve been trying to walk more in preparation for . . . I still don’t know what. Some sort of long, long, long walk perhaps. And this seemed a perfect opportunity to stretch myself a bit.
We met at a nearby dam and signed in. Since the Sierra Club sponsored the hike, we had to sign a waiver. I didn’t think anything of it — after all, I’d done Sierra Club hikes before, and anyway, it was an easy hike, only three miles, according to the English chap who led the group.
The scenery at our meeting place wasn’t very inspiring — just a lot of dirt bike trails carved haphazardly out of the desert floor by bikers — but after we climbed through the gate meant to keep out cars, and walked leisurely across the top of the dam, there were some pretty sights, including this rare example of fall colors in the desert.
We took a break so everyone could catch up to the leader, and then we continued up the path. The operative word here is “up.” The path started with a gentle incline that got steeper and steeper as we climbed. At one point, the only way I could make it up a sharper than 45-degree angle was on hands and knees. Embarrassing, but effective.
Our leader promised us that was the hardest part of the hike, but then we started our even steeper descent on sand and scree. (I had to pause here and reflect. I don’t think I’ve ever used the word “scree” in my entire life, never had reason to. Amazingly, I was able to dredge the correct word out of my magpie brain.) I wish I could announce that I descended that hill gracefully, but once (okay, I admit it — twice) my feet slid out from beneath me and I ended up “bum sledding” as the English chap called it.
“It’s easy from here,” the chap said when we all made it (one way or another) to the bottom of the path. “Easy from here?” I responded. “Wasn’t the whole hike supposed to be easy?” He said, “When we get back, it always seems to have been so easy.”
But we weren’t yet back. There was still a rusted and rotted water pipe to hike along for several yards (someone suggested that I use my trekking pole as a balancing pole, and it worked! Or maybe it’s all those relevés I’ve been doing in ballet class.) After the water pipe episode, we had to wade through a sand field where my legs sunk halfway up to my knees, ford a river, and climb one last 45-degree hill.
We returned to the cars three and a half hours after we started. Allowing a generous hour for breaks and a snack, we’d been hiking for at least two and a half grueling hours. Even at my slowest uphill pace, I walk a mile in thirty minutes, so I have no idea how long the hike really was. At least four, but probably closer to five miles.
We gathered around for a brief post-hike retrospective. The English chap asked if anyone was hurt. We all took stock and admitted we were fine.
He beamed at me and said, “See? An easy hike.”
Pat Bertram is the author of the suspense novels Light Bringer, More Deaths Than One, A Spark of Heavenly Fire, and Daughter Am I. Bertram is also the author of Grief: The Great Yearning, “an exquisite book, wrenching to read, and at the same time full of profound truths.” Connect with Pat on Google+. Like Pat on Facebook.