Bravely tackling a challenging hike under harsh conditions, I am dismayed to encounter folks much older than I, seemingly finding it easy. And it only gets worse from there.


Panting just a bit, I clamber out of the final desert wash and straggle down The Trail to the ramada, whence I launched 2½ hours ago. The breeze that cooled me as I left, just before nine o’clock, is now overheating me. The temperature has climbed 15 or 20 degrees Fahrenheit, and my single bottle of water has been empty for a while.

I can feel muscles whose name I don’t know. What’s that one that runs down the outside of the hip? Well, both hips, actually, and who voted for bilateral symmetry anyway? My two-of-everything ache: knees, ankles, bottoms of feet. Damn it, even my toes — protected by heavy-duty hiking shoes — are sore.

According to my map, I have walked 5 miles at most, which doesn’t sound like much; according to my new activity-tracking toy, I have simultaneously climbed the equivalent of 82 flights of stairs, and that’s leaving out any ups-and-downs that involve less than 10 feet of continuous climbing. On reflection, I’m not sure there’s an entirely level stretch on the entire stretch I was on.

It isn’t quite a Rocky moment, all jubilant arms over my head at the end of a training run, but I should be feeling pretty good. If not physically, then psychically. I did it! I hiked The Trail! Cue the triumphal music.

Or not.

I’d be lying if I didn’t admit that my sense of accomplishment is somewhat lessened by my fellow hikers. Let me explain.

The out-and-back trail I completed is part of a 7½ mile trail that circumnavigates Pass Mountain in Usery Park, near Mesa, Arizona. It’s not a mountain like the Rocky Mountains, but it’s way more than a hill. Most of the folks I met on the trail, or was passed by, were doing the entire loop: a loop that is well beyond my capacity, both by length and by up-and-downedness.

It’s not the hard-chargers who bother me: the mixed-gender gaggle of sunburned twenty-somethings going by in a cloud of dust. The forty-something women in a group of three, making good time on their weekly circuit of the mountain. The singleton guy of indeterminate age, running and checking his time. Running.

No, these folks cause me no angst. If anything, they make me feel better about what I’m doing. It’s a serious, demanding business, this Trail, suited to young people, fitness buffs, and a few, select 61-year-olds.

Where I start to get uncomfortable is with the folks out there who are not youngsters, not by a long shot. The late-sixty-somethings in their hiking club. A septuagenarian couple, both apparently anorexic, both clearly focused on task.  An eighty-something guy in a lumberjack shirt who started at dawn, he tells me, and who is making about a mile an hour, I figure — a pace I outpace by less than seems reasonable.

Nor are they all fitness buffs. Many are just folks who got up this morning and said, Hey! Let’s go hike around a mountain today!

And so we have the multi-generational family group with the pre-school member in a purple tutu and ballet flats. The parents carrying toddlers unencumbered by hats. The friends out walking their dogs: a German Shepherd and a Labrador Retriever, straining at their respective leashes; a beribboned lapdog, bounding enthusiastically along, apparently unbothered by the elevation gain or the roughness of the trail.

The young lovers, not looking at the scenery or watching their feet. The thirty-something pair of women who are talking as much as they’re hiking. Where do they get the breath? The fifty-something guy who stops to take a phone call, negotiating that business deal while clambering around the mountain, and then swigs some water from a re-purposed gallon of apple juice before striding purposefully on.  

The middle-aged couple with no hats or water, just ‘out for a look.’ The woman wearing flip-flops.


Now, I get the bit about doing my own hike and not comparing my results to anyone else’s, at least in theory. Really, I do.

But as I drag my bilaterally sorry butt off The Trail, the most demanding one I’ve ever tackled, the most demanding one I am ever likely to tackle, all I can think of is tutus, frou-frou dogs, and flip-flops. Really? Flip-flops?

Guys. You’re killing me here.

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16 Responses to Hike!

  1. Neil says:

    I absolutely understand. After 2 years of work to build up to it, I finished my first half marathon and felt pretty good about completing it only to find that some guy wearing a full mascot suit – bobble head and all – was done 20 minutes before me! Twenty minutes!! I feel like I’ve lost 20 pounds of water and he did it wearing a comforter!
    And don’t even get me started on the 80 year old (okay it’s true, he is nothing but lungs and legs) that did the full marathon at a faster pace than I ran the half…waaay faster.
    But – the day after a particularly long or hard run – I think to myself, “Hey I did it, and most of my friends have trouble climbing a flight of stairs.”
    Amazing how transiently superior it makes me feel!

    • Isabel Gibson says:

      Neil – I’m glad I was spared the guy in the mascot suit! Maybe that little girl in the purple tutu could run with him next time. The real payoff, of course, is how I feel the next day (or maybe the next . . ). Ready to go again.

  2. Sid & Lorraine says:

    Good for you but I wonder; would the Big Guy not spring for a helicopter ride? :-))
    Once again I suppose I have missed the point. Stay hydrated.

    • Isabel Gibson says:

      Sid & Lorraine – A fling-wing ride to the lookout? Why didn’t I think of that? Great idea. I’ll take it up with himself. Actually, there’d likely be a market in dropping people off on the far side, all discreet like, so they can be comin’ round the mountain (and now that I see it, why didn’t I use that title? dagnab it) for maximum effect with minimum effort.

  3. Well done!!

    My sister once walked 5 miles (for charity, at the last minute)
    in new-ish cowboy boots. She would have exchanged them in an instant
    for flip-flops.

    When I was 22, I hiked up an 8,000-foot mountain in tennis shoes.
    Coming down was as hard as going up.
    The next morning I could not move any muscle — I suffered for a week, actually.

    My cousin continued to do that hike for 40 years. At 65, he did it again and
    died half way up. His body was found by another hiker. What a way to go. 🙂

    • Isabel Gibson says:

      Barbara – Yes, the only cowboy boots I’ve seen on The Trail are on people riding horses. Seems like a wise choice. As for your cousin, I’m sorry he died at 65, but glad he died living. We should all do so well.

  4. Much sympathy from someone who has been tied to computer work and housebound by rural winter conditions and was never really fit due to intermittent illnesses. The most encouraging word I have encountered is that thinking about exercise provides something like 70% of the effect on muscles of actually doing the exercise (Norman Doidge, The Brain that Changes Itself, quoting M. Merzenich). Apparently, you could have prepared for your hike by visualizing it for a while ahead of time. I tried it one winter, thinking every so often about climbing the hill behind our house. Come spring, despite my restricted lifestyle, I could walk up the hill without breathlessness on the first try. That would be no feat for you at any time, but for me, it proved the point that I had sincerely doubted to be true. If you are galloping towards the Galapagos, try thinking about what comes next on your tour and “walking yourself through it mentally.” Apparently, the imagining prepares the brain for the performance and the prepared brain works on the muscles even if you are unaware of that process. And while your comparisons of yourself with others makes for hilarious reading, try not to; accepting the you inside your skin will promote maximum efficiency in the use of your personal resources. Have a wonderful journey!

    • Isabel Gibson says:

      Laurna – I wonder whether this visualization is akin to what sports psychologists teach elite athletes to do? I know a fellow who swears that his winter visualizing his new golf swing made all the difference between his end-of-season and start-of-season performance. He said (as I recall) that it was as if his brain needed to accustom itself to the new way of doing things, before his body could perform. I’ll certainly give it a try.

  5. Jim Taylor says:

    I go hiking for a week, in the Rockies, every year. I used to take on the 28 km hikes to prove I could do it, and survive. Now I take the 10 km hikes…. That’s all a preamble to saying that 61 is too young to feel exhausted at the end! More seriously, I hope to continue going hiking — even if only around the neighbourhood — until I too drop dead doing something I enjoy.

    • Isabel Gibson says:

      Jim – I did roughly a 10 km walk yesterday to a water park to watch birds – the walk part was all on sidewalks, nowhere near as interesting or as demanding as walking a trail. But I figure every bit helps in building capacity. And yes, don’t we all hope to drop dead, especially doing something we enjoy.

  6. Jim Robertson says:

    Reminds me of my hikes up Mt Cascade in Banff to the Amphitheatre when I lived in Calgary a century ago (actually 1968/69).

    I was always huffing and puffing, while older people (likely in their 40’s but some at least 60 ☺☺ ) just strode on by like they were out on a flat trail.

    When I lived in St Albert AB ( 1975-1978) I did a cross country (up and down ravines) run 2-3/week and wondered when I would ever get in shape. But then I went to Saskatoon on a course for work. I ran there and could have run forever on the flat prairie….

    • Isabel Gibson says:

      Jim R – What do they say in training circles (not that I’ve ever been inside one)? Something about hills being the runner’s friend? The best kind of friend, perhaps: one that pushes us just enough.

  7. John Whitman says:

    And you used to laugh at people “proceeding by foot”! Aren’t you sorry now!
    John W

    • Isabel Gibson says:

      John W – Nope. I am unrepentant. What I laughed at (as you well know) was not the “proceeding by foot” but calling it that when there was such a wonderful word available. To wit, “walk.”

  8. Alison says:

    You put in words exactly the way I feel! I love and admire your ability to do that. Glad to have you as a friend!

    • Isabel Gibson says:

      Alison – Well, I’m glad to have you as a friend, too. And I’m delighted some of these resonate with you. Many thanks.

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