August 20, 2017.
It’s the last day of summer, and I finally made time to go on a hike. Tomorrow I start the school year again for the 28th time. I head out of the house early and go to Palmer Park, which, in my opinion, is the city’s best park. Palmer Park is special to me because my great-grandfather used to be its caretaker. His daughter, my great-aunt who is still living, was raised and learned how to drive in this park. My dad learned how to drive in this park, and he taught me how to drive here. It’s a getaway right in the middle of the city which I especially appreciate today because suddenly, the summer is gone. As I move along the trail, I think about the breeze, the fly buzzing in my ear, the footprints in the sand and the beautiful Ponderosas and rock formations around me so I can remember them after I leave. I had forgotten how much I needed to reconnect with that beauty in nature that I took for granted all summer long.
Between taking care of friends with cancer, assessing hundreds of writing samples, and moving my parents from their home of 37 years into a retirement facility, I realized yesterday that I had not taken any time for myself this summer. If I was going to hike, it had better be today. Normally I hike at least once a week in the summer, or a few times a month with a hiking group, but I didn’t realize how much I missed it until today. Joggers pass me on the trail, and bikers whiz by on nearby pathways, but hiking is about so much more than exercise. It’s about contemplation and taking the time to enjoy the details.
Those who move too quickly will miss all kinds of things like flowers, rose hips, changing leaves, and quartz. In Colorado, every month the flowers are different. In June are mariposa lilies, columbine and pasque flowers; July features lady slipper orchids, harebell, and paintbrush; August showcases primrose, showy daisies and sunflowers. I feel better already–without regular hikes, I have lost part of myself.
I did get lost, in quite a literal sense. I decided to take a fork in the trail, sort of a road-not-taken idea, and after moving along a newer path for a while, I decided to backtrack and got turned around. I wandered around for at least 20 minutes trying to find the trail that I knew was close by, because I could hear people, but I kept getting stuck in washouts. I got scratched up and a little disoriented, but once I found the trail I could focus once again on the beauty around me with the hum of traffic in the background. I have never been on a hike by myself. One of the cardinal rules of hiking is to hike with a friend in case something happens, and sure enough, the only time I hike alone, I get lost. It figures.
I am discovering something new about solo hiking. Hiking in solitude allows me the time to reflect on the past and think about the future. I brought my headphones, because normally I like to listen to music when I hike, but today I’m realizing that I listen to music to drown out the other voices in the hiking group, not because I need to be entertained. Out here by myself, there is plenty to occupy my senses without the interference of music.
This summer I was so busy that I missed the Doug Hall Memorial Hike, which we started three years ago in memory of a good friend who passed away in a car accident. Doug used to hike alone all the time, using a rudimentary GPS that he programmed himself. This was back in the day before everybody had GPS in their phones. One time Doug took my brother Don and me on a hike up the front face of Pikes Peak, and as we saw Cameron’s Cone to our left and Gog and Magog to our right, Doug pulled out his GPS and started going off the trail. We said, “What are you doing?”
“I’m looking for Lou’s Trail,” he replied. I thought to myself, who is Lou? We kept following him as he took a few more steps before glancing at the GPS. “Aha! here it is,” he said, and tapped his GPS with a stylus.
I said, “Why do you call it Lou’s Trail?”
“Because, as you can see, this is where I lose the trail.” We had a little chuckle, and headed back down the mountain. That hike was long and arduous, and it taught me one very important lesson: to always, always make sure my toenails are trimmed before a hike, especially if there’s a lot of downhill. It’s such a comfort to remember that story today as I move through some underbrush. Doug loved being outdoors, and I feel like I can reconnect with him as I explore among these familiar rock formations.
After returning to the car, I drive up to Grandview Overlook, but people are there, so my pristine, solitary experience is blemished. It sure has changed. When I was in high school, we could drive clear to the end of the Overlook with our boyfriends and sit in the car and make out while we looked at the city lights. Today there’s a parking lot, and I have to hike a few hundred feet to get to the edge. No one can drive out there at night anymore, but at least the view is the same.
Now, after I return to my routine, I’ll have a great store of memories to draw upon as I face the year ahead. Tomorrow is another transition; the pace of my life is going to change again. Taking a moment today to sit, to reflect, and to gain some closure on the summer will give me something to think back on as I sit in my windowless office in the dead of winter. Sometimes my life is pretty fast-paced, and I take nature for granted since it’s so close and easy to access. All I have to do is look up to see Pikes Peak looking down on me, as she has looked down on people for thousands of years as our sentry to the West. I take comfort in her presence in my life every day. Even when I’m too busy to hike, she’s the one thing in nature that doesn’t change.