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Smart hikes, silly hikers

I knew I was in trouble less than twenty minutes into today's hike. I was at Lopez Lake campground, and I had chosen the Cougar Trail for several reasons. It winds along the periphery of several camps - thus there would be water and bathrooms along the way, and people should I need them. The total elevation gain was 150 feet, didn't sound that awful, the total length 3.4 miles, manageable when there isn't a lot of climbing. I also had not done this one before, and new hikes are always the source of new delights. There were indeed delights: the usual but still wonderful wild turkeys, the quail, and the lovely little mule deer.

By the time I was twenty minutes in, though, I was noticing my left calf rather too much. This calf has developed an almost-permanent arthritic flareup condition, and I know from too much experience that this isn't something I can "work through". Still, I thought I might be able to ignore it. Interestingly, I can sometimes make my mind turn away from such things as pain and float along on the beauty of the thing. It's rather like disengaging myself, not quite the Lamaze method but close.


I figured I'd do what I could with it, see how far felt comfortable going. Because of my current heaviness, trekking up inclines wasn't so much fun, either. I felt more tired than normal. But this, too, I normally can get past. I often start hikes feeling more tired than I am farther in. It takes my body a bit of time to adjust.

I got past the first couple of campgrounds. I glanced at my guidebook. It said to "climb the hill around the mustang campground and water slides...". I didn't see a hill going up. I saw a trail going down. Then I saw a path-like thing, rather steep, going up. I thought, that must be the hill. Rather more steep than the pathway but I figured the guide writers know what they're doing. I started up a rather steep ravine-like pathway, thinking it would level off. It didn't. Ahead of me was even more steep ravine-like pathway, with occasional footprints in it. Others had done this, they knew enough to go this way. So I kept climbing. I was quite hot by then and fighting little flies and stinging things. At one point I brushed some insects away and managed to get myself stung. The side of my finger. It hurt like hell. But it didn't swell up. I decided to wait it out, see what it did.


My heartbeat must have been racing by this time, because this path just kept climbing and it was a lot steeper than what had gone before. I decided then that I would not be going back this way. I didn't relish the idea of trying to walk *down* this path. The dirt was slippery, sandy, not easy to grip. A little farther, I kept thinking. I spotted what seemed like a ridge ahead. Then it dawned on me: this wasn't a path at all. It was a drainage channel.

If I headed up farther, and believe me my body was saying no, I had the feeling I would not be finding a way beyond. I would be forced to return the way I came.

Now, normally I am one to forge ahead. THis is why one time  I trudged out of a hiking area in the dark, so tired that I had to tell my feet to take one step at a time,into a deserted parking lot. This is why I suffered over six months of poison oak rashes another time. This is why...well, thing is, I usually go on, whatever the consequences. But those consequences were not seeming like the way to go this time. I turned around. But I didn't just turn around. I sat down and more or less slid down that steep incline. Jeans, good jeans, don't know what I did to you.

I found the path, the one that went down, and I took it. My goal at this time was to get to the road and just get the hell back to my car. i was really tired and my knees were hurting. The path wound down closer and closer to one of the campgrounds. There was a restroom and a drinking fountain, just a short downhill piece away. I started down that bank, and slid almost into the splits. By some miracle I did not fall down! And I recovered, got back to walking almost normally by the time I reached the restroom. I rinsed off my hands and took long drinks of water.

I found my way to Lopez Drive and started the climb up. Lordy! It seemed like straight up! I got to a place where there were horseshoes and a bench on the side of the road. I sat on the bench, recovered somewhat, then took on the road again. It was slowish going. Finally I was able to see my car and I limped on over there. I looked at the nearby restroom, thinking maybe I should use it, but I simply didn't have the energy to get there. I drove home.

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Judith Lautner
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