Saturday, July 2, 2011

When Will The Hurting Stop?

The first problem came in the email. "I'll be at your house at 5:30."

The problem being that it references 5:30 A.M.

In the morning.

While I should be sleeping. While everyone should be sleeping.

The second, third, and fourth problems are that Julie, my alleged good friend,  has decided that we will be hiking not one, not two, but three mountains. On the same hike.

There is a limit to the amount of pain and suffering and early rising that the human body can withstand. Julie seems intent on finding out what my limit is and possibly pushing me past it; if only slightly. Slightly past the limit, however, is all it will take when the hike in question includes warnings in the guidebooks like, "The ascent up the north slide is strenuous and, in inclement weather, can prove quite dangerous. The slopes are steep and you will most certainly plummet to an unpleasant death if you take one wrong step."

Or something like that.

It also goes on to warn that the descent is "The most terrifying, bowel-loosening vertical drop you have ever witnessed. The entire trail down the south face is composed exclusively of loose, bowling ball sized rocks that will dislodge and slide down the hill at the slightest provocation. The best you can hope for is that you will not kill any other hikers as your battered, lifeless body bounces down the rocky slope toward the woods far, far below."

I'm paraphrasing, of course.

So it was with a song on my lips and joy in my heart when Julie arrived at my house yesterday morning and I hopped in her car and we headed north to my certain destruction. Of course, the fact that I am writing this does spoil the ending a bit, as you are no doubt aware that I didn't die.

I just feel like I did.

The trail is one that Julie refers to as a lollipop loop. A lollipop trail merely describes a trail that follows a straight line, then does a loop, returning to the straight line which you follow back to the starting point. The name, however, evokes images of sweetness and happiness and brings to mind scenes of carefree children skipping about in a sunny meadow without a care in the world. Butterflies and flowers speckle the tall, swaying grass and everything is as wonderful as it could possibly be. None of that is true. And, I’ll get to those disgusting butterflies later.

The trail description in the book did little to dissuade us of this bucolic image of serenity. It describe a gentle three mile stroll along a well maintained dirt road before you leave the road and venture off into the barren, tortuous rock-scape that is the north side of the Tripyramids.

We pulled into the parking lot, and were both immediately struck by the fact that there was not another vehicle there. It was a parking lot big enough to rival that of a large chain store, but were were alone. To smarter people, that would have served as a clue.

A sign of impending doom, suffering, and despair.

But not for us! Oh, no. We were ready to hike. To explore the wilderness. To see nature as nature was intended to be seen. Experienced. Smelled. Tasted. Lived!

This is how happy we were when we started.

Or something like that. We strolled the three miles up the dirt trail and, by the time we reached the turn where we were to begin the actual Tripyramid Trail, we had been lulled into such a sense of complacency that the sight of the towering slabs of rock, jutting heavenward in front of us was like a punch in the kidneys.

We remained happy until we saw the first little climb.

I may have cried a little bit right then. And Julie was gracious enough to point out that was doing a lot of sighing on this particular hike. I assured her that the sighs were merely gentle expressions of boundless internal joy and delight. In fact, they were muted squeaks of boundless internal horror and terror.

We scaled the endless granite slabs, searching for handholds and trying very hard not to envision the human scab that we would be transformed into with one wrong step. Adding to the excitement was the fact that it had recently rained and the rocks, in addition to being steep, craggy, and pointy, were very slippery.

Please note sheer drop off of doom behind Julie.

View from the top of the first slide. Not in photo: Me weeping like a baby.

And covered with slugs. I realize that most people, when confronted with the dual trials of plummeting to a splattery death or accidentally grabbing a slug with your hand, would consider the splattery death to be the worst by far. I have long held the belief that slugs are the most horrible things in the universe; sent to this earth for the sole purpose of making me want to sprout extra mouths and vomit myself to death.

So the slugs added an extra thrill to the climb.

A few days later, we finally arrived at what we believed to be the top of the most strenuous part of the climb. As it turns out, we were mistaken. It was only the end of the part that we could see.  The rest of the perilous ascent was merely shrouded by pine trees.

A few days after that we finally arrived at the first summit, demarcated only by the fact that everything after that sloped downhill. The guidebook described the saddles between the three summits as gentle, strolling paths through the something, something, blah, blah, blah. And, for the most part it was.

The first summit.
Each summit, oddly, was exactly 40 feet lower than the previous one. Julie tried to explain her theory that, as each summit was lower, even when we were going uphill toward the next summit, we were really going downhill. Julie Hiking Physics is a special branch of science understood by very few people in the universe. I am sad to report that I am not one of the privileged few.

Second Summit. Notice how chipper and happy Julie looks.

I am also chipper and happy.
Third summit. Isn't this fun?

We made our way over the three summits and then reached the final descent that lead back into the wooded wilderness stretching out as far as we could see in every direction. It was then that my finely tuned instinct for self-preservation kicked in and I pleaded with Julie to call for a helicopter to come and rescue me. “No cell reception,” she said. But do you know what? She never even looked at her phone.

I spent a few serene moments hyperventilating and surveying the majestic landscape that surrounded us. “What mountain is that over there?” I asked in order to distract myself from the fact that I would soon be reduced to little more than a greasy smear across a few hundred feet of granite.

“Tecumseh,” Julie answered without hesitation.

That’s the thing about her. She always answers without hesitation, in a tone of absolute conviction. The problem is that 50% of the time, she has no idea what she’s talking about. I am aware of this. She is aware of this. As a result, I am dubious of everything she tells me with relation to the outdoors. The problem is, 50% of the time she is absolutely correct. She makes it difficult to discern between “Truth” and “Truth As Julie Sees It”. Her working theory is that if I know that she doesn’t know what she’s talking about, but I still ask her; she’s going to answer me.

My doubt all stems from The Gray Jay Incident, which I wrote about some time ago.

The thrilling descent.
Eventually, after I had asked her to identify every mountain in our field of view and I ran out of any other possible excuses to postpone the decent, we began the climb down the south slide. Slide is another poorly chosen word used by outdoorsey types of people. A slide is a little playground toy that whisks you safely to the ground from a reasonable height. A slide, when hiking, is an exposed scar of jagged rock that can, should you step incorrectly, whisk you to the rock covered ground hundreds of feet below. The difference is not subtle.

The car is a mere 4 miles out of the top frame of this picture. Easy!
We did manage to safely maneuver down the slope, only occasionally sending deadly showers of rock down on to one another.
Slippery when wet.

Reaching the bottom, all that remained was a leisurely stroll three miles back to the parking lot.  In theory, this should have been easy and, if the guidebook is to be believed, fun.

In practice, it was a horrible ordeal, made far, far worse by my constant whining and complaining. We slogged along the path, dragging our sore, swollen feet and cursing the fact that we didn’t bring jet-packs.

Out death march was punctuated by occasional swarms of butterflies, clustered in great, fluttering heaps on the road.

“Butterflies eat poop,” Julie explained.

Obviously, I did not believe her. This was clearly nonsense.

“Butterflies are symbols of innocence, freedom, and joy,” I told her, “They are dancing, shimmering creatures of magic, like unicorns and fairies and creepy garden gnomes. Butterflies eat pollen and moonbeams and sip dewdrops and nectar. They flutter gently onto the pink cheeks of young children and kiss them.” 

“Oh yeah?” she said, pointing to the festering pile of dog crap that the butterflies vacated as we came near them. “You want them kissing your face now?”

We finally arrived at the car, almost exactly seven hours after we had left it. My feet and my faith in the magical properties of butterflies ruined.

There were the cars of a few other fools in the parking lot as we pulled away.

But they were still hiking and we were going out for ice cream, which I planned on enjoying to an extent that was probably not normal.

We arrived at the ice cream stand, ordered, and sat down with weary sighs to refresh our souls with ice cream.

And everything was fine until a butterfly fluttered onto my Mocha Madness cone.

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