Thursday, February 4, 2010

Hiking with the old men

I went on a hike with one of our neighbors and two of his friends the other day. I had no idea where we were going, but I was happy to be invited along. All 3 guys were older than me. I know my neighbor Dave is 70, because he told me and the other two guys were about the same age. Gary drove and I sat in back with Bob. We started heading out toward Madera canyon, which I am beginning to know pretty well because Katie and I have hiked there half a dozen times. But Gary turned off the main road onto a dirt road before getting to the canyon and we headed up into the mountains. The dirt road wasn’t too bad, but after winding and climbing for about 30 minutes, Dave said, “Why don’t you turn up here.” Gary swung the four wheel drive extended cab truck up a worse road and we bounced up and down for about ten more minutes until one of them spotted a cave on the hillside. “Let’s go see what that cave is like.”
Now it was becoming apparent to me that they hadn’t planned this hike out at all. I’m used to hikes where first we decide where we want to go, then we choose a trail of a certain length and difficulty, and then follow that trail just like we’d planned. These guys were just riding around until they spotted somewhere that looked interesting to them. I was happy to see that they all had small back packs and walking sticks. This showed a little bit of planning on their part anyway. I had only used a walking stick one time before on a hike and that was when we went down into the Grand Canyon. I found it helpful on the loose shale, but basically it was a nuisance to carry it around. I didn’t bring one, so one of the guys lent me an extra he had. I didn’t feel I needed it, but didn’t want to hurt his feelings. “These older guys need these “crutches” to help them along.” I thought. (You no what’s coming don’t you.?)
Well, we took off toward the cave. We walked along the road before starting up the mountain. The three of them were slowly walking along talking and telling stories. Every once in a while they would stop when the story got to a critical point and all laugh while I waited up ahead thinking, “This is going to be a long slow hike, I might as well just enjoy being out in nature.” I assumed they were actually stopping because they needed an excuse to catch their breath. As soon as we started up the hill toward the cave, however, it all changed. Dave and Gary took off up the hill and Bob and I followed. There was sort of a deer trail to follow to the mouth of the cave. When we got to it, we stood around examining it for a while. They decided it was created by water coming through from underground. As we stood looking out over the valley, I thought that was it and they didn’t know where else to hike, so I suggested going back down and walking up the road for a while. Nobody responded and I heard Dave call out from above us, “Don’t come around the way I did, it’s better to go down there.” and he pointed below us. “and then come up and around.” Gary and Bob didn’t take his advise, but scurried along the edge of the ridge which had a nasty drop off with loose rock all the way. I took Dave’s advise and went down and around. I watched the other two guys as they skillfully used their walking sticks, carefully negotiated the ridge.
There were no trails up the mountain, so we all fanned out finding our way up the very large hill. We were probably a mile high at this point and going straight up was not an option. The hillside was steep and rocky and filled with plants that could hurt you. There were thorny plants like Ochoteo and Prickly Pear cactus, and Agave’s with there sharp pointed ends and many other nasty plants that I don’t know the names of. I soon realized that I had to be very careful and really look at the hill as a whole and the array of plants before heading forward. Dave and Gary were up ahead of Bob and I. After a while Bob said his calf was hurting so he sat down and told me to go on. I thought, “Now I can really make good time and catch up to the others.” But I soon found myself in the middle of a grove of Ochoteos and the only way forward without getting ripped to shreds was to go back down a ways and around these nasty, aggressive plants. By now I see the other two going over the crest of the hill. I trudge on with the help of the walking stick as both protect from the spinney branches and an aid to keep my balance on the rocky parts. I carefully winded my way back and forth up the hill. The journey up took every bit of my concentration and physical awareness. I had to repeatedly stop, study the mountain and the terrain just ahead of me and re-decide how to proceed. I remember thinking, I haven’t done this type of hiking since I was kid and a sense of exhilaration came over me.. When I finally reached the summit that feeling must have still been on my face because as Dave watched me approach he stopped talking to Gary and said to me, “You get it don’t you?” I replied, “Yeah, I get it.”
The view was beautiful out across the valley. The sky was a deep blue with big fluffy clouds. On the way down I got stuck again and had to go back up retracing my steps. I thought I knew a better way down, but I had placed myself between a steep cliff and very thick foliage. I slipped on the rocks and fell, cutting my wrist. I tied a bandana around it to stop the bleeding. I noticed Dave farther down the hill watching me. He didn’t continue his descent until I was up and going again. When I finally got down to the road, Dave was waiting. We both spontaneously dropped our pants and began pulling out hundreds of little cactus spines from our legs. His only comment was, “That sure was a nasty son of a bitch.” and we both laughed.
On the drive home Gary stopped the truck periodically to point out the various mountains they had climbed together on earlier hikes. I realized these guys really new these hills. They didn’t need a map. When Dave and Gary were on the summit Dave must have suggested that we go on to the next summit and Gary probably said no that was enough. Even though Gary was the first to the top and the first one down, on the drive home Dave teased him relentlessly. In a very whiney voice he said things like, “I don’t want to go anymore. I want to go down.” “Where’s Bob?” We better go back and see where Bob is?” “For Christ sake, it’s like hiking with a little girl.” The more Dave teased him the louder Gary laughed. Nobody teased me. I guess when that finally happens I’ll know I’m part of the group.

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