I have not always been an outdoor enthusiast. I have not always enjoyed hikes, the woods, camping or being outside in general. I wasn’t raised to be, but knowing a little about how my parents were raised, I have to chalk it up to location rather than inclination. I grew up in a desert on the Mexican border. While lots of people do hike around there, I think the combination of excessive heat and rattle snakes along with general unfamiliarity of the area dissuaded our family from really exploring. We had a lake front summer home in the San Bernidino Mountains where I’m sure hiking was easily accessible, but we were much more inclined to spend the summer in the boat and water-skiing than going for hikes. I wouldn’t trade out those summer memories for anything, but I have to wonder if they would have been fuller had we explored a bit by foot.
Prior to moving to Washington in 1994, my hike experiences had been limited to one family hike in Switzerland when I was eight and a few group hikes in Germany when I was an exchange student at sixteen. I didn’t see the point of hikes. At eight, I was focused on the prize at the end (Dad had promised us there was a fantastic restaurant at the top but it was just a snackbar) and at sixteen, I was too cool to be impressed by the hikes although I had a great deal of respect for the castles that were the destination of the hikes. I’d never been camping in a tent and didn’t see the point.
My first year in Washington, my roommate invited me to go with her on a company camping trip to Ike Kinswa State Park. We were loaned gear from her coworkers and really had no idea what to expect. Fortunately, her coworkers took great care of us and made it a fun weekend. It was easily ten years before I went camping again.
My brother went to college in Utah where he fell in love with hiking and camping. He spent a few summers working in a survival camp for at risk boys. At one point in time, he came to visit us and we borrowed our friends tent-trailer and took him camping up at Lake Diablo. He loved being there with us and couldn’t believe we hadn’t spent time exploring the area. After he died, we spread his ashes out there and spent the weekend hiking. We’ve been hiking ever since. At first I wanted to hike to feel closer to him. Over time, I realized that in hiking, I was feeling closer to me. The sights, sounds and feelings that hit me while out in the woods influence my artwork. They bring me back to center when I’ve been feeling overwhelmed. The biggest surprise I’ve found in becoming a hiker is how many great people we meet in the woods.
This past Saturday was beautiful and around 80 degrees out. My husband had to work, so the kids and I decided to explore a new-to-us trail. We loaded up our day packs with our 10-essentials, water and trail mix and headed out. About a mile in, my daughter realized she had left her water in the car. We agreed to share and ration rather than turn back since it was only a 4 mile hike. We passed only a few people on the first part of the trail. Each of them made eye contact, said hello and made some friendly comment about the beautiful day or the nice trail. Nearing the last half mile of the trail, we met a group headed back who showed us the path up and over a rock slide. They helped us decide that we were strong enough to continue on to that last somewhat dicey part of the trail and gave us some advice of what to expect. We crested a rock pile to the top of the rope secured to help descend the next steep slope and waited as a pair of hikers ascended. As we started down, I noted they were waiting and watching us. One said to me they would wait to make sure we got down okay. We did, and waved to them as they headed down the rocks. We traversed some pretty big obstacles, both real and imagined, to get to the end of the trail but we were so proud of ourselves for getting there and so inspired by our beautiful surroundings. As we emerged from the last tunnel on the path back, a young couple stopped us to ask how we did and to ask the kids what their favorite part of the hike so far had been. My daughter mentioned her least favorite was forgetting her water bottle in the car. Without hesitation, the young man opened his pack and handed me two bottles of water saying ‘We have plenty more and I insist you take them’. Then they asked the kids a few more questions about any hazards they may need to watch for and went on their way.
The rest of the trek back was fairly uneventful, but both kids kept talking about the friendly people we’d met on the trail. They recalled other friendly people we’ve met on other hikes as well and it occurred to me that hikers are a tribe. They are explorers. They are nature enthusiasts. They aren’t necessarily overzealous environmentalists but do firmly understand that we impact nature and vice versa. We may share a trail but we are each on our own path. In fellow hikers, I am reminded of some very basic principles: Be kind in word and deed. Look out for your fellow man. Be prepared for the unexpected. Offer unsolicited encouragement. Don’t be afraid to ask for help. Make time. #GoOutside