Sometimes I think someone like me — out of shape, inexperienced, un-surefooted — has no business on the obstacle courses we call hiking trails, but then I think, “Why the heck not? So what if it takes me seven hours to hike a trail the goat children can do in four?” (Many young people, and even some old, skip up and down even the most treacherous trail as if they were half mountain goat, which is why I think of them as goat children.) It’s a wonderful privilege to have such an opportunity, and getting back safe is what matters, not how long it takes or how gracefully it’s done. Anyway, I do try to be extra careful to make up for my shortcomings.
And, oh, I am so glad that I take the chance! At Chiricahua National Monument, I went on a seven mile round trip hike in Rhyolite Canyon that’s considered a strenuous hike because at one point, there is an 800-foot elevation gain in less than a mile. To me, the strenuousness came from the at times ridiculously difficult trail itself. In the photos below, the rivers of white stones are the trail. Still, it’s an astonishingly scenic hike among rock pinnacles of rhyolite (a gray rock formed from volcanic ash), and culminating in what felt like a sacred place — the beyond awesome area near the balanced rock.
I took a much-needed break at the rock, and in the silence, I could get a sense the pilgrimage I am on. In a way, though so much less impossible than the epic thru-hike I dreamed of, this journey is giving me at least part of what I wanted from a long backpacking trip — a better sense of this great world we live in and perhaps eventually a deeper sense of my connection to it.
(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.”)