Tuesday, June 21, 2011

Why Hike

I love to go hiking in the hills that surround the Coachella Valley and Palm Springs. Sometimes, my love of hiking clouds my thinking.

Last week, I received an e-mail notice from one of my hiking groups. Steve wrote: “Celebrate the Summer Solstice. It may be heating up in the Valley, but up Highway 74 temperatures are still in the 70's…” I’m suckered in & reply that “Yes! Of course I’ll go! See you there!

Today being the Summer Solstice, I notice Palm Springs temps are expected to be 113F and I’m supposed to go on a hike. As I’m driving to the usual meeting point, I realize I can always back out. I committed to show up but did not commit to actually, like, hike. Several of the other hikers had this same thought.

Our group leader reminded us that the temperatures are 10 to 15 degrees cooler in those elevations. Well, OK! Let’s go! We did not stop to think: 10 to 15 degrees cooler than 113 is still hovering around the 100F mark! Ah, well, I have my 2-liter camelback, a peanut butter & jelly sandwich and a baggie of M&M’s.

We drove the 22 miles out of Palm Desert up into the hills along State Hwy 74. We parked in the convenient parking lot near the Elk’s Club and Cactus Canyon. Sixteen of us headed into the canyon: beautiful blue skies, warm weather and sun-caressed skin.

In my infinite wisdom, I had decided to wear my new Doc Marten boots – to break them in for Burning Man. These boots are way cool. All leather, steel toe, water proof and just too cool looking. Thirty minutes into the hike, I notice my feet are on fire. These damned boots are hot as hell! They don’t breathe. There’s no air circulation. And I’m working on a blister on my right heel. What was I thinking???

We’re hiking in a spectacularly beautiful canyon. The yucca is in in full bloom. There is brittle brush past their bloom tempting us with seedpods. The Manzanita’s red bark is just too beautiful. We’re hiking down hill most of the way into the canyon but I’m distracted by the flora.

We hiked 2.5 miles down to Horse Thief Creek. The trail is well maintained and clearly marked. Steve, our guide, spent much of last year creating the trails we hiked. Clearly, he loves this area of Cactus Canyon. We hiked down 2.5 miles and 900 feet into the canyon to the creek where we stopped for lunch.

This was the turn-around point. We lingered for an hour & a half. Most of the guys took a dip in the river to cool off. My refrigerator is set at a higher temp than the creek. I decided NOT to freeze off various sensitive body parts. I hung out on one of the huge boulders soaking up the heat & sun.

And then it was time to head back. Sixteen guys, just finishing lunch, drinking our share of water: time to walk back up the hills – 900 feet of hill. It was 1:30 PM; the sun is high in the sky, We are an older group of men. OK! We’re old farts with a median age of 55 or better. This hike back was no easy task.

I imagine the Butana Death March felt much like this. Several of our group are not seasoned hikers. The hike in took about 90 minutes: the hike out too more than twice that long.

I have COPD… There I’ve said it. I have Chronic Obstructive Pulmonary Disease. Twelve years ago I quit smoking after 32 years and it’s taken its toll on my lungs. I did it to myself. So, if you smoke, quit. If you don’t smoke, don’t start! This brought to you by the American Cancer Association…

I have lots of strength. I have little stamina. I can pick up & move 5 tons of rock: just not all at one time! Space it out over the day & I’m OK. Same with the walk back UP the 900-foot rise. I needed breaks along the way: along with Mark and John and Jay and Joe. To complicate matters, they ran out of water. You do NOT want to run out of water on hike in 100-degree weather.

We plodded on stopping in the shade as it presented itself. Why do you not notice there are few shady spots on the way down?

We all made it back to the parking lot and our cars AND more WATER by 3:30PM. I had another three bottles of water in my truck and thankfully drank one down even though it had the heat of tea without the Earl Gray.

This is not the first time I’ve been on hikes with these guys. This is not the first time several of our group had difficulties hiking back from the turn-around-point. Why do we do this???

We go on these hikes because we still can. It may be difficult but we can do it. Jay had a rogue virus 6 years ago and was paralyzed from the waist down. He had to learn how to stand up; how to walk; how to use the bathroom;. Mark nearly died of HIV, and through modern medicine his life has changed. John is 75 years old, healthy and determined. I have COPD and refuse to let it stop me. We go and support one another. We can do this.

These hikes are a bitch and I love them. If I can do these hikes, I can do pretty much anything.

Oh, and those M&M's? They melted into a messy glob at the bottom of my backpack.

Thank you for listening.

Jerry L. Hanson

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