I received an early Christmas present yesterday. Well, technically, it wasn’t early, I just opened it early. I figured since I was grown up, I could either act like a mature adult and save the present until Christmas or act like a mature adult and do whatever the heck I wanted, and I opted for the latter. And it was the perfect time to open the gift and the perfect time to enjoy the book. (Since I love this particular gift giver’s wrapping, I wrapped another book in its stead, a perfect example of having one’s gift and reading it too.)
The gift? The Creaky Knees Guide to the 100 Best Easy Hikes in Washington. Isn’t that a perfect gift to prepare for my May adventure to the Pacific Northwest? Most of the hikes listed do seem easy enough for these creaky knees, but some seem difficult even for the pre-creak set. Eight miles round trip with a 2,880 elevation gain? Yikes!! Not a beginner slope for sure.
Just because a hike is easy, it doesn’t mean getting to the hike is easy. In one case, the directions call for a drive of 14 miles on a washboard road, and then another 3 or so on what sounded like a barely navigable dirt track. That is simply not an option for my poor ancient VW. The bug looks pretty and runs well, but the welds holding it together are 46 years old. Yikes, again.
And then there is the little tidbit I found in the book about a private hiking club in Washington with $5,000 a year dues and a mere 63 members. The sole purpose of the club? To stealthily grade, or rather de-grade the roads to their favorite trails, making the roads all but impassable, in order to keep the trails to themselves. More yikes.
The most daunting part of the book is the admonition against solo hiking. This isn’t the first time I have encountered that rule — every single tip sheet for hikers talks about the dangers of solo hiking. Apparently, “do not hike alone” is the number one rule. For everyone, of course, except solo hikers, who love being out by themselves. Yes, things do happen to solo hikers. Bad things. But bad things also happen to people walking in the city, solo or otherwise. (It was in the city, in a parking lot, that I fell and had to endure the absolute worst injury I ever suffered.)
I’ve already broken the solo hiking rule (being the aforesaid mature adult and doing whatever the heck I want) — I’ve hiked a couple of hundred solo miles (not all at once, of course) in various wild places, and many hundreds more walking in the Mojave Desert — the rather tame part close to town, though rattlesnakes and coyotes and jackrabbits carrying jackknives do abound.
I won’t give up solo hiking, no matter what the rule, nor will I give up my absurdly impossible dream of a solo backpacking trip on one of the iconic trails. Hiking in a group is too dangerous, at least for me. As a straggler who hikes my own hike, stopping frequently to drink in the ambiance or to take photos of nature’s artistry, I often have to hurry to catch up to the group, and so end up going much faster than I feel that either I or the trail can handle. And there are too many times groups cross creeks or rivers that are more than I want to attempt, and usually some well-meaning folk end up trying to help and merely land me in the drink. And if I hike in a group, I have to hike when and where they choose, regardless of what I might want. There is definitely a place for companionable hiking — I have done many hikes with others that were enjoyable — but that is not the same as being alone with the world, feeling connected to the world, breathing in the essence of the world. Of course, the first time I meet a cougar, I’m sure I will rethink this lofty position.
Meantime, like any mature adult should be, I am safe inside, comfortably ensconced in my armchair, reading about hiking in far-flung places and dreaming of being out in the wilds.
Pat Bertram is the author of the suspense novels Unfinished, Madame ZeeZee’s Nightmare, 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.” Connect with Pat on Google+. Like Pat on Facebook.