Originally published on Clever Title Goes Here as a two-part series in May of 2003.
I was not prepared.
In the suburbs of Houston, Texas, there isn’t a whole lot of hiking to be done. And when there is, it mostly involves stepping over strollers, skateboards, and geriatrics in the mall. There is no uphill, there are no gargantuan tree roots, and there is certainly no snow.
I was not prepared.
I showed up at the church at nine a.m. on Saturday, ready to greet the morning with gusto. We were going hiking, and I hadn’t had a good walk in a while. This was going to be fun. We were going to eat our lunches on the trail and then walk back home. I was approximating a sort of Brownie Troop atmosphere.
I was so not prepared.
We arrived at the base of Larch Mountain, which is when I felt the first of several lumps in my stomach. I thought to myself, “we’re at the base of a mountain. This is going to be pretty steep. I hope I’m wearing the right shoes.” The “work” boots I had bought in the little boys’ department at Payless suddenly seemed frighteningly inadequate. I wondered if I could just shut off my brain for a while and feel this thing out, because nothing is worse than trying to get through a situation when your brain is screaming obscenities at your adventurous-yet-often-misguided spirit.
I took a deep breath. It was time to get out of the car. A cool breeze greeted me, washing over my skin like a linen sheet that’s been line-dried in the middle of a meadow. “Wow, I thought. Anything that starts out like this can’t be all bad.” My group started heading towards the trail. I followed.
Three minutes later, I was breathing heavily and desperately wishing I had looked up hiking in an encyclopedia instead of trusting that my suburb-influenced definition would suffice in the Williamette Valley. Of course, if I had done any thinking at all beforehand, I might have come up with this: “I live in the Williamette Valley. That means that the entire city of Portland, Oregon is surrounded by MOUNTAINS! Note to self: most Portland outdoor activities involve going uphill or downhill with varying degrees of difficulty.”
Fat lot of good that information was doing me now, though… I began accepting my fate. I would fight valiantly, but I would probably die here. I wondered if the ski patrol existed on mountains where there was no skiing, because they would be the perfect knights in shining armor, whisking me down the mountain on their medically equipped go-carts. Then I began saying goodbye to all the things I loved about this life: Opera… As Seen on TV products… Hooters…
I was so wrapped up in my thoughts that I didn’t even notice how far we had gone. All of the sudden, the temperature started getting cooler. The climb became a little less steep. I was energized in a way that I hadn’t been all day.
Which was good, because pretty soon after that I started hearing a familiar crunch from the people ahead of me. Two and two came together. Colder air. Less steep. Crunch. SNOW! WE WERE GOING TO HIKE ON A TRAIL COVERED IN SNOW?!?! Most of the group was in shorts, including me. At that point, though, there was no point in turning back. We were much closer to the end of the trail than we were to the beginning, and as long as no one fell and got wet, we wouldn’t have to worry about hypothermia.
It wasn’t very long before I realized that those of us in shorts had an advantage over those of us who weren’t. We could brush snow off our bare legs and the wind sweeping over them would help dry. However, if snow seeped into any pant-like fiber that wasn’t waterproof, it would stay wet and cold for a very long time. It’s honestly the only example I have of “less is more,” because those of you who know me best will know this- to me, more is always more.
I know you’re thinking, “how did Leslie know all of this bare-legged strategy?” Simple. I fell approximately 358 times, and each time, I was able to shake it off and keep going (minus the nightmares in my mind of winding up ass-deep with no one around to call for help). The biggest problem, and all mountain hikers and climbers will back me up on this, was fatigue. I knew from skiing that you could sit down in packed snow and it would act as insulation from the cold, so therefore, each large blanket of packed snow that we passed looked like exactly that- a blanket. We had only been hiking for about four or five hours at this point, including lunch, and all I could think about was, “I wonder if everybody would be down with me just stopping right here to take a nap.” The water that I had brought was long gone thanks to very poor rationing and the idea that “certainly three bottles will be enough.” Though I wasn’t tired and whiny enough to start really coming down on myself for being stupid and uneducated about hiking, it was headed that way.
I slowed down my pace considerably, and doing it just killed me. Even though it was completely unrealistic, I had started out the day thinking that I would be one of the ones to finish first. The reason I wanted to do this escaped me then, but after having had some time to think about it, I know it’s this: Brianna, Sara, and Tania hike all the time, and it’s a big part of their hanging out together. I believed, and wrongly so, that if I could make it through this hike as one of the first finishers, than maybe I was tough enough to run with the big boys. (Let me tell you how ludicrous this was: Sara and Tania were laughing about how slow we were going, and I was doing good to hold on to both my lungs at one time.)
As my emotions started setting up for the pity party, my friend Holly slowed down her pace as well. She is a very experienced hiker, and I think she knew that I was having trouble keeping up. Feeling sorry for myself turned into the joy of knowing that I wouldn’t be alone. Holly gave me water. Holly said it was okay not to be Sir Edmund Hillary your first time out. Holly told me I was wearing the wrong shoes and carrying the wrong bag and that the next hike would go MUCH better.
I’m sorry… the next hike?
I looked up. We were at the edge of a highway. Elation rushed into every pore, every vein, every artery… we were here! Apparently, elation in my body also translates into channeling the spirit of John Lithgow. “I never thought I would see this moment,” I exclaimed. The group laughed. It was okay. They had no idea what an accomplishment this was for me. I’m not an athlete. Hell, I don’t even run if I’ve missed the bus.
Inside, I was glowing. I thought to myself, “yes… there will be many more hikes, because this is where God lives.” And the more I think about that statement, the more I know it to be true. We had started out in sunshine and cool breeze, and ended up in snow and fog. It was just so glorious and rich and… full.
The next morning at church, Wendy came up to me and handed me a small pin. I grabbed her and gave her the biggest hug. The pin reads: “Columbia River Girl Scout Council, Portland Oregon 1987.
That’s when I knew I had really made it.