Sunday, August 21, 2011
CAUTION: INEXPERIENCED HIKER LEADING THE PACK
I have no sense of direction. Usually, I can get “left” and “right” correct (unless the coffee hasn’t brewed yet), but I must admit that I do the same mental trick I’ve done since I was six years old. I look down at my hands, trying to be subtle of course. I’m a southpaw so I glance at my left hand and then that left/right direction is a snap. I’m not (totally) embarrassed about this. Not every part of the brain works as well as that part that expertly recalls pop music trivia, a truly essential knowledge base.
North, south, east, west? Uh, forget it. I’ve tried using a compass to no avail. Just keep turning the thing or my body. Can’t get the compass point to stay still.
Being direction-challenged, I should NOT be the one proposing hikes on wilderness trails in my area. This occurred to me yesterday morning when we were about two hours into our one-hour hike. But if I didn’t take the initiative, who would? As we assembled for the walk, five humans, five dogs, I provided full disclosure. “I can get lost in a hotel room,” I joked. They (the humans, at least) looked at me quizzically. Who is this fool?
It was the second walk I’d proposed via the local gay and lesbian listserv online. Only Mitch replied. He had brought along his “part pony” beast of a canine on the first walk a few weeks earlier. But as I pulled up to the dirt parking lot, Jean and her partner Sally were there with their dog Xena. A short while later, a good looking man about my age drove in with two dogs.
Good thing I had ironed my shirt, I thought. It had been a last minute decision. I wasn’t going to. Mitch is at least twenty years my senior and, judging from the last walk, anyone else you showed up would be beyond my dating bracket as well. I discreetly checked my hair through the reflection of a car window as new guy Ron poked in the back of his car to pull out some gear. How does one get calf muscles like that?! Years of biking, step machines and the calf machine at the gym and I still have chicken legs. Damn genes!
Ron strapped on a tool belt thingy. “Are you a mountain climber?” Jean asked. She pointed at and named a thingamajig. Mountains? Maybe I should have been clearer in my email: a relaxing walk along a creek.
Ron corrected Jean, calling the thingamajig a whatchamadoodle instead. (My brain also fails to retain technical terms for items outside of my realm of comfort. Corkscrew? Got it. Specialized hiking gear? Huh?!)
With his dogs, Vera and Sherry, out of the car, we began our hike. Initially, there was awkward silence, none of us knowing each other. Mitch chatted up Ron and I talked with the lesbians. Their house was for sale, so was mine. We milked that for a good five minutes and then we listened to the creek water, navigating its way over the rocky bottom. My dog irritated Jean. He kept stopping in front of her or lightly brushing up against her as he passed. I tried not to be offended. She didn’t like Mitch’s dog either, announcing in the parking lot, “That thing’s too big. I don’t want anything to do with it.” Ah, yes. First impressions.
Eventually, I got some time to walk with Ron. Like me, he’d practiced law in the U.S. and now wanted nothing to do with the profession. In fact, he’d moved here a year ago and started a business as a dog walker/care provider.
Common interests, a clear attraction. I was smitten.
“My partner is older than me,” he added. “He’s at home now, taking care of the other dogs.”
And end of smite. Yes, the sound of rushing water can be quite calming.
Eventually, we reached a dead end. Well, the trail continued, but it was a steep climb. “That’s it, then,” I said.
Jean, however, seemed to interpret my comment as a judgment about her physical ability. “I’m not stopping here.”
“I’m sure there will be a clearing at the top. Lovely view,” Sally added in her beautiful Dutch accent.
And so we climbed, Ron leading the way, forgetting about his short-legged pooch Sherry who struggled at several points and needed a boost from me to pass a fallen tree. The last fifteen meters were the most challenging. Thankfully, there were ropes to pull us up as the soft ground gave way underneath us.
Once we’d all made it, we marveled at how wide and clear the upper path was. It extended out of sight in both directions. Obviously, there was an easier way to reach it somewhere. All of us sweaty, we stopped to refresh with water bottles, something I hadn’t thought of bringing. Neither had Mitch who deserved a medal for making the climb. He was breathing harder and sweating more than the rest of us, but I seemed to be the only one to notice. Mitch, a perfect gentlemen, did not gripe a bit. Jean, however, had to say, “Well, that was ridiculous. They should make the ascent easier than that.”
Sally added, “Lots of trees here. No view.” It was an observation, not a complaint. And then she added a statement of eternal hope that greatly extended our little hike: “I bet if we just walk five minutes ahead, there’ll be a nice clearing where we can stop and look down.” We walked on. And on. And on.
Eventually we bumped into two other humans, returning from that vast unknown area ahead of us. Both outdoorsy senior citizens, he walked with a cane and didn’t stop, but the woman obliged us, letting us know that the waterfall that Ron had pointed at on his map (another thing I didn’t think to bring) was still an hour or more ahead of us. The news deflated the group, other than me and, I’m guessing, Mitch. Time to turn around!
Ron and Mitch noticed what might be a clearing in the opposite direction (I think) of the creek and we traipsed off the trail, following the patch of open sky. A clearing, indeed! We’d arrived at someone’s massive, architecturally built log home, the summit of a sizable subdivision none of us knew existed. The view was stunning: the Strait of Georgia, Vancouver Island, smaller, rolling islands in the foreground. No doubt, all of us would have gazed longer, but we were on private property. The man peering over the deck of his stately home made that clear. He’d paid millions for this view. Just like Jean with my dog, he just wanted us to shoo.
Back into the woods we went. We followed the path downward until it ended at a fence. We turned right (East? South?), walking along a gravel road which spilled onto a paved street that curved around more homes in the subdivision. “Well, this isn’t what I wanted,” Guess Who grumbled. “Suburbia.”
For fifteen minutes, we traversed the curved roadway, reaching several dead ends. I began to feel responsible as I had been the one who suggested a walk along trails I didn’t know. Of course, I’d have turned back much earlier, but logic has no place when you’re off the beaten path and wandering aimlessly on pavement.
At last, we came upon a gentleman tinkering with his car in the driveway. I approached and asked how he could get back to a path or, worst case scenario, follow the streets down to the highway. He must have sensed my cluelessness because he guided us for a block and a half before pointing toward a clearing that would lead us back to the path and take us to our cars.
The dogs had a final dip in the creek as I watched enviously. At the parking lot, we said our goodbyes, Ron saying, “Thanks for organizing this.” Not a trace of sarcasm in his voice. He’d enjoyed it. I tried not to watch enviously as he packed up his car and called his partner to arrange their lunch date. Mitch also expressed thanks as did Jean and Sally. When I brought up doing it another time, even polite Sally couldn’t disguise her reaction, eyes popping out, mind telepathing the message, “Fat chance.”
There will be another walk, with or without the others. Mitch, in all likelihood, will come. In the meantime, I’ll take my trail map down from the wall in the extra room in the basement, make a mental note to remember my water bottle and maybe stop in at Mountain Equipment Co-op next time I’m in Vancouver. Might buy a thingamajig or two. Maybe even a compass. Perhaps this old dog can learn a new trick.