Mud; that’s what I remember most about my first hike. Now that I’ve walked The Camino, I can finally admit that my first experience was not a pleasant one.
Many years ago, Mr. Wiz* and I had befriended a lovely older couple that we had met through business. Pat and Bruce were a bit eccentric and lots of fun. Bruce was tall, lanky and reserved. Pat was short, spunky and chatty and they both carried themselves with the air of their wealthy upbringing. Bruce had hiked the White Mountains in New Hampshire all through his childhood and once they had married, Pat had eagerly joined him.
If you were going to make this trip with someone, Bruce was your man. He was an experienced hiker and knew every inch of every trail. So, when they suggested a trip, we knew we were in good hands. They chose one of their favorite trails and booked the huts we would be staying in along the route. We drove up in their van, along with a few hiking friends they had adopted over the years.
When we arrived, Bruce passed out these crazy looking hats that he had designed; netting that hung down to your shoulders was hand sewn around the brim of a canvas hat. I had already decided that it didn’t match my carefully coordinated outfit, until Pat mentioned that it was the end of black fly season and might come in handy. I remember eating my lunch, one Triscuit at a time, bringing it up along the side of my body, then carefully up under the netting to ward off any hungry flying visitors.
The sun was shining, the views were beautiful, the path was easy and the first day was a pleasure. We made it to the huts early and signed in. I stopped short at the door to the sleeping area and was transfixed. I knew we would be sleeping in bunk beds, but no one mentioned that they would each hold four people, with the top bunk almost reaching the ceiling! I couldn’t think fast enough; Top? Bottom? Middle? I was persuaded to take the bottom, but as I watched a heavy-set man akwardly shimmy his way to the very top, I already knew that, with each creak of the bed, my sleep would be at a minimum. On the up side, all the fresh air made us appreciate the dinner prepared by the hut staff and the stimulating conversation that followed. It was exciting to meet such interesting people from all over the U.S. and the world and to be a part of this exclusive club.
When the morning wake-up bell rang, I was relieved to still be alive. The bed had stayed intact and I hadn’t been crushed in my sleep, but I was having trouble opening my eyes. When I said “…Good morning…” to Mr. Wiz, from what I could see, he had a slight look of panic on his face. With the whole camp in attendance, Bruce surveyed the damage: my eyes were almost swollen shut, my ears were larger than normal and sticking out a bit and my nose looked exactly like Karl Mauldin’s, the character actor whose nose could double for a big potato (Bruce ’s way of softening the diagnosis with a little black fly humor). Since there was no ice available at the huts, I had to make do with the droplets of ice cold water from the sink to soothe my eyes, get dressed and get going.
This next day was totally different from the day before. We were now headed up past the tree line. The sun and the flowers were gone. The weather was colder. The ground was covered with jagged rocks and boulders and in order to see where I was going, I had to walk, bent over at the waist, frantically moving my head from side to side. I had told Mr. Wiz to go on ahead and I would walk with the slower group. He had been so attentive to me all day and I wanted to give him some time on his own to enjoy his adventure.
He had already settled in at the hut, hiking boots off and feet up when he heard that a young woman had fallen into mud, but was not injured. “…That’s got to be my Lindita!..” he said, as he jumped up and scrambled to put his boots on again (in Spanish, adding “ita” to a word denotes affection). He ran all the way and was ready to scoop me up and carry me back to the hut, but stepped back when he saw the look of determination on my face. All he could do was quietly walk next to me as I limped back, still bent in half, but now covered in mud. I don’t remember much about the dinner that night and slept through all the snoring and the creaking.
The final day would be the pinnacle of the trip. We would be doing a bit of climbing to get to Mount Washington, the highest point east of the Mississippi. I didn’t remember the word “climbing” in the original trip discussion and still bent over, panicked when Bruce yelled “…Photo Op!..” as I stood sandwiched between two other hikers on a narrow crevice, trying to smile for the photo and not look down.
It was amazing to be on “top of the world” and as I stood next to Mr. Wiz, sharing this exhilarating experience, I realized that this was the end of the road for me. I had had enough and knew that he would enjoy the rest of the day much more without me. Thinking quickly, he managed to get me a ride down on a van filled with senior citizens touring the area.
Little did I realize that my giving up would result in some glory, as each member of the tour insisted on having their photo taken with the “mountain girl.” With a bandanna tied around my forehead, hiking sticks in hand and just enough mud still on my clothes to look the part, I regaled them with my adventures on the ride down.
As I walked to the planned meeting place, I spotted Pat and Bruce. Already down the mountain for hours, they had showered and taken a day hike. I remember feeling jealous, thinking that I would never be able to be like them.
Our dear friends have since died, but thoughts of them were with us every day as we hiked through Spain. When I look back now, I realize that Pat and Bruce were just about the same age back then, as Mr. Wiz and I were when we walked the Camino.
With every birthday, I seem to get a bit bolder, a bit more daring. I’m still growing into the person that I hoped I would be and I can’t wait to see what’s around the next corner (or boulder).
*Who’s who? See “Cast of Characters” on the “About” page.