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.
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.