Wednesday, June 27, 2007

Cotton Kills

A couple of jobs ago, I met some coworkers in the office parking lot on a Saturday morning for a hike at Mount St. Helens. It was summertime, so I wore a pair of camouflage shorts (in protest of the war, and cus they make me look like Avril Lavigne) and a white T-shirt. Some of my colleagues were wearing jeans.

Our boss, who is something of an outdoorswoman, strolled by (on a Saturday!) and laughed at us for being inappropriately dressed for hiking. "Cotton kills!" she said.

Her words echoed through my panicked little head on Monday, when I got the call that I was going to hike up a mountain. I went straight from the dog park (where I was when I got the call) to R.E.I. and dropped $150 on appropriate outdoorwear.

I already knew I need a backpack, and had sort of fretted about what pants to wear. I grew more afraid when I learned there would be snow.

"Do you have boots?" my contact asked.

How come people keep asking me that? And how come they never mean quite the same thing? I'm fairly certain that the ladybug boots weren't what he had in mind.

The thing is, too, when I first started thinking about this excursion months ago, my thoughts turned to shoes. I needed comfortable hiking shoes for summer weather. Didn't know I should have gotten comfortable hiking boots for snow! And really, it was too late. I couldn't go out and buy a new pair of boots and expect to hike in them the next day without breaking them in. My Payless city girl snowboots would have to do...and they did just fine.

So that's one thing I didn't get at R.E.I. Their boots are too expensive anyway. The pants, the short- and long-sleeved synthetic shirts and the backpack? Worth every penny. But what is the deal with synthetics and body odor? My lord, I started wondering if I'd forgotten to put on deodorant when I got dressed at 4 a.m.

Yes, 4 a.m. Not only did I have wardrobe to fret about, but I had to worry about getting to the meet-up at 6 a.m., which is a good hour-forty-five from my home.

All that's smokescreen, however, because I realized about 20 minutes into the hike what I was really afraid of. It was the bat caves all over again. Someone had seriously overestimated my hiking chops.

When my contact said 2 hours, 2.5 miles, 2,000 feet -- it sounded leisurely. I failed to do the geometry to discover that is equivalent to walking up a mountain at a 90-degree incline.

I'm only slightly exaggerating. It was uphill, mostly steeper than 45 degrees, and not on a maintained path. So I'm climbing over rocks, tree roots, shrubs, creeks of the small and wide variety, snow and finally, up the face of a giant rock formation atop the mountain.













Note angle of incline of snow on which I was standing (bottom left) when taking this picture. It is nearly as difficult to walk across as it is to walk up it.

The hike was the most strenuous thing I have ever done in my entire life. And I wasn't even with people I knew well enough to squat down close to the earth and sob in front of. I had to keep a smile on my face, even if I couldn't keep up with the pace.

I took a zen-like stance and decided not to feel embarrassed that I had fallen so far behind. It was a beautiful day. Look at those fantastic mountains. Boy, this exercise is good for me. One foot in front of the other. Enjoy the moment. Don't waste the experience by getting distraught.

See? Still smiling. (Again, note angle of rock formation in bottom left corner.)

As I sat at the top for several hours, getting sunburned after apparently sweating off my sunblock, I got to know a couple of technicians who make this and similar hikes two, three times a week.

"They don't tell you what it's going to be like," one of them said. "They say, 5 miles, and you're thinking, no problem! The first time I came out, I wanted to turn around and go back to the truck."

Me too. It sure made me feel better to hear that.

I'm glad I didn't know what it would be like. I wouldn't have gone. And I'm glad I did it, even though I wouldn't do that particular hike again. But bring on the bat caves!

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