I’ve been trying to simulate a backpacking trip as much as possible without actually backpacking or taking a trip. Each day I go on a hike across a different terrain, and deal with each setback, situation, or slippery slope as best as I can.
(Using the term “slippery slope” is sort of a private joke. I hate the euphemism, finding it beyond trite to nerve-wrackingly painful, but in this case, I mean slippery slope literally.)
My hosts dropped me off at a place called “Trees of Mystery,” a tourist attraction in the Redwood Forest. I’m not much for popular spots, but they assured me it was something I ought to see, and besides, I was nursing a sprained calf muscle and I liked the idea of an easy day.
At the beginning, it was easy — a simple trail to various trees of interest, such as something they called a Cathedral Tree, a group of nine trees that formed a niche where weddings were often held. There were life-size wood carvings telling the tale of Paul Bunyan, but I passed those by. It seemed strange to have wood carvings amongst living trees, sort of like having a pig roast at a petting zoo.
I stood in line for what seemed like an hour to take the tram to the top of the trees. I find standing in line a ridiculous waste of time, and generally forego any treat or torment that I have to wait for in a crowd, but as I listened to the various languages people were speaking, I realized some of my fellow standees had come halfway around the world to see what I was about to walk away from. So I waited, bathed in the giggles of the young women behind me in line.
I ended up in the gondola with those three gigglers. One was obviously the hostess, and when the gondola stopped a third of the way up, she explained that when there wasn’t a lot of people, the tram zipped to the top without stopping. So being there on a busy day had its advantages — I got to see the trees as a whole. (Usually I couldn’t see the trees for the forest — there was no way to step back far enough to see the whole tree.) I could see all the way to the top, and all the way to the bottom, and was amazed that those trees could grow so incredibly tall with only shallow roots.
When we arrived at the viewing platform, I took a photo of the tree tops, then headed down via the new “Wilderness Trail.” They claimed the mile-long trail was steep and for experienced hikers only, but people skipped down the trail as if it were a walk in the park (which, technically it was). Silly me. It turns out the skippers were from Switzerland, so the path was nothing to them. But oh, my — that trail really was STEEP. More than 45 degrees in spots. Part of the trail, I had to descend sideways, and so very slowly. Several people fell on those very slippery slopes, but I managed to keep my feet, mostly because I had good tread on my trail runners and I used two sticks.
The gigglers had also chosen to walk down, and they heeded my advice to use the walking sticks provided. They kindly waited for me when I got too far behind, and their giggles were a cheerful accompaniment to the ordeal.
I made it to the bottom without mishap. If nothing else, such excruciating hikes are teaching me that it doesn’t matter how fast or sure footed others are. It doesn’t matter how long or short, how hard or easy the hike. All that matters is the next step.
(Pat Bertram is the author of the suspense novels 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.”)