From the very first step, the trail was steep. A fellow hiker had said it was steep all the way to the peak. Was I up for doing this?
Not a mondo-hiker type, I wasn’t sure why I was even here. For some reason, I couldn’t get hiking off my mind. Maybe it was from seeing two movies recently, “A Walk in the Woods” and “Wild,” both extreme hiking stories. Unemployed for four weeks, perhaps I had to get out of the house, shake off the growing depression. And suffering through a painful illness was only making my funk worse. Then again, maybe this wasn’t the time to push my limits either.
“Should we go back?” I asked my dog, Rusty, only two minutes in.
Suddenly, we entered a clearing. Nothing but aspens. Dramatic side lighting. Subdued colors. All defining a magical space.
Deeper, higher, steeper we stepped. The aspens went with us, stands growing more magnificent with each five-minute interval. I ignored a wooziness in my back. Worries of irreparable weariness were climbed over. Only a quarter-hour in, I stopped to ask, “Is this most beautiful hike I’ve ever been on?” My only regret was voicing the words in a vacuum, hearing no one echo back their shared thoughts with me.
Then, a spacious meadow, as if trying to top the aspen’s glory. Awed, up, up we went. The darkest blue sky and a widest range of greens escorted us through a dark, forested territory. It wasn’t until hiking through here I’d caught my conditioning equilibrium, and was prepared to swath through whatever changeable terrain was ahead.
A man headed toward us. Like a log rolling uncontrollably downhill, I forced myself at him. “Sir, I’ve lived here twenty years and I believe this is the most beautiful place I’ve ever seen.” My endorphins were revving on all cylinders now.
After trekking over an hour, I still had no vision of what this “peak” was supposed to look like, or when I’d come upon it. I could see the steepest hill of the trail so far through gaps in evergreens.
Out of the denseness, a clearing showcased the horizon line high above me, crisply defining dirt from sky. What was beyond it?
I played a game. Walking slowly, keeping my eyes on the rocky ground below, I withheld my view from the peak until reaching flat terrain. Shedding my invisible blindfold, I opened my eyes to an incredible vista. Within the expansive space before me was yet another mountain to climb, some of it partially cleared, recognizable to all who lived here as the Santa Fe ski area. What scale. What clarity. And I made it up here without aid of a chair lift.
Lunching near the top, I talked with a young couple. I plunged into a conversation with them, speaking about the quality of life one suddenly feels being up this high. I was elevated, elevated by people, ones I usually left by the roadside.
Walking down was like getting twice the hike seeing it from the opposite direction. The light was different, too, with direct sun from above. Every new part of the path was seen in 360 degrees – I would not miss anything.
Along the descent, I conversed with hikers who told stories of other great trails, ones – like this one – few hikers knew about. I was chatted up by a pretty young woman who, unlike most down at city elevation, engaged me in an energetic and unhurried talk. Then, to my surprise, I met a woman who was hiking with her 80-year-old mother, ski poles and all.
Walking is man’s natural 5-hour energy drink (one without expiration), his anti-depressant (one without side effects), and overall tonic for what ails him that’s always free and what his body craves. No woes, no injuries seem too big to move human being’s precious legs forward. I am comforted by this realization, and will always remember the image of that 80-year-old climbing this trail, giving me hope for how I wanted to live when I became 80.
Among the trees, rock and open spaces at higher elevation, people smile. They talk of gratitude. They speak of these places as timeless and sacred, ones that enhance their “other life below.” It’s never work to get all the way up here.
Oh, but that’s just endorphins talking.
I suppose. But I use them whenever I can. As life is high up high, so can it be low down below.
(Favio – if you’re reading this, nice to meet you!)