JOIE DE VIVRE


The trail was dusty, the hot sun blazed, the temperature was rapidly rising and our 5 mile trail hike to Louis Lake with 2100’ elevation gain was becoming daunting.  I was the informal leader of the group and thought—correctly, as it turned out—the others would not be feeling well at the trail junction two miles in and 600 feet up.  I was doing fine, for although I do not like hot weather, I have lived in the desert many years, and the temperature was not a problem for me.

It was for the rest of the group, however, and we had a brief, mildly heated discussion whether it was wise to continue a difficult hike on a hot day.  I favored stopping by the creek that we had hiked along, for it was shady and cool there, and I felt the group would not likely to enjoy going to the end of the trail to the lake.  We went on, however, but not before I added a proviso that we would turn around at noon, regardless of where we were.  Definable turn around points are a way to remind people that one has to get home, too.

Often, at the beginning of a hike, my warm up process is slow and I feel like quitting.  Three days earlier, on a hike up Easy Pass, which wasn’t, I reached an open meadow with two thousand vertical feet of climbing ahead of me far to my right.  My spirits sank, but as I moved upward, a nice breeze removed the bugs and cooled me, and an hour later I was on top of one of the nicer places in the North Cascades.

As I ascended the trail, now thankfully in the shade of large Ponderosa pines, my pace fell into my comfortable cruising pattern.  I wasn’t hiking excessively fast, but I was ascending a 10% grade at 3 mph and then some.  I didn’t carry a lot of weight—my day pack had the 10 essentials (map, compass/GPS, sunglasses/sunscreen, extra clothing, headlamp/flashlight, first-aid supplies, fire starter, matches, knife, extra food) and a couple of liters of water—but I didn’t notice the pack, and I barely noticed the climb, over rocks, roots, branches.  It wasn’t effortless, but I had little sense of exertion.  I was one person, climbing upward, at peace with myself and the trail.  I’d wait for the others at the end.  I was comfortably cruising, a feeling I have more as I hike more.  It’s a sense of being one with the trail.

I got to the lake just fine, went back a few minutes later to encourage two others that they were almost there, one of whom told me that the fourth was feeling badly.  I realized I should have taken my pack when I went back, but I expected everybody sooner.  I took off my hat, found a small scrap of paper, and wrote a message asking the last person to stop right where I left my hat in the trail.  I returned to the lake, got my pack, and then started back, finding the individual in good shape and waiting for me.  We all ate lunch in the woods and finished two hours later.

Nearly 20 years prior, on the Appalachian Trail, I had this feeling as well, that my pack—then about 35 pounds—and I were one, inseparable.  I had forgotten that time until I heard a Pacific Crest Trail thru hiker mention it.  The concept isn’t that one is so strong that he or she doesn’t feel the weight, but that one is so accustomed to carrying a pack that he or she doesn’t see the pack as weight.  I was a person with an appendage most would call a backpack, but I’d no sooner walk without it than I would walk without my boots, hat, or left foot.

Five years before that, when I volunteered for the Forest Service in Minnesota, I had to help haul the gear out from the Boundary Waters after a person had abandoned it.  I portaged his heavy food pack over a half mile and returned for the canoe, a heavy Grumman aluminum model.  I had been portaging canoes the whole summer, and I picked this 75 pounder up, put it over my head, and was 100 feet down the trail before I realized I had done all of that without thinking, it was so automatic.

And twenty-five years prior to the BW experience, as a young man a half century removed from now, a canoe guide for Camp Pathfinder, I had to deal with an ill camper on a 6-day trip I was leading.  I had to carry his pack and my canoe, 140 pounds total, down the Tim River, rushing water and slippery rocks part of the equation.  I felt the weight, but I knew I was up to the task.  There never was a question in my mind.

I don’t have many more years of hiking the way I want to, but I have found a joie de vivre, and I enjoy every hike I do with this feeling.  If I am fortunate, as my body ages my brain will develop a new style of hiking, where I may not do as much, but will enjoy it just as much.  My canoe tripping has evolved in that manner, and with good fortune maybe my hiking will, too.

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