OK, my first confession is that I’m not much of an athlete. Working on the cover story for this issue really confirmed this for me. I mean, I am in awe of these people. I can’t even imagine doing what they do.
I don’t know about you, but my athletic prowess is more along the lines of “let’s go for a walk and I’ll try not to fall down and hurt myself.”
I do enjoy a good walk, though. I started walking for health reasons back in 1998 and enjoyed it so much I made it a point to walk every day. I began to explore new places on foot, especially when I traveled. So I’ve taken long solo walks in places like New York, Rome, Paris, New Orleans, and San Francisco. I’ve even hiked a bit in the Swiss Alps.
Confession No. 2 is that my favorite place to hike is in Minnesota. I “discovered” the Superior Hiking Trail in 2000, and I’ve tried to get up there twice a year ever since. I’ve had amazing experiences on the trail, not unlike Megan Sweeney’s experiences on the Appalachian Trail, only on a much smaller scale.
One of my goofier moments came about because my watch had stopped while I was hiking a few years ago. This totally threw me off, because I’m very careful to hike a specific number of hours and then turn around so I can get back to my car before dark. I always carry my cell phone with me when I hike alone, even though there generally isn’t a cell tower anywhere near the trail. Every once in awhile you’ll get a signal, which is sort of comforting. Anyway, on this particular day I had hiked all afternoon not knowing the time, not seeing another hiker, and feeling completely out of sorts.
Late in the afternoon, as I tromped along, panting, sweaty, and tired, my cell phone rang. Great! I thought. I’ll ask whoever is calling me what time it is. I flung off my backpack, fumbled for my phone, and answered breathlessly. “Hello? Hello? Can you hear me?” Nothing. Just as I was begging pathetically into my dead phone, along came this perky hiker couple, roughly half my age, who looked as if they’d been hiking about five minutes, because they weren’t sweating and they were positively bouncing down the trail.
“Hey!” I called to them. “Do you know what time it is?” They looked at me, cell phone in my hand, backpack and hiking stick abandoned at my feet, and answered cautiously, “Sure … it’s 4:27.”
“Great!” I said. “My watch stopped!”
And then the couple bounced on down the trail, probably whispering to one another, “What’s up with her? Is she late for a meeting or what?”
Half an hour later, I somehow managed to get in front of the perky couple (a wrong turn on my part, no doubt) and encountered them a second time. This time I was crouched on the trail, examining a toad. By the time I realized they were coming toward me down the trail, it was too late to stand up and preserve what was left of my dignity. So I let them approach me in full crouch.
“What you got there?” asked the young man.
“A really cool toad,” I said.
“Uh huh, that’s a nice one,” he responded, suspiciously.
“You got a good eye, spotting it,” the young woman said, going for the positive spin.
And then, off they bounced, thinking, I’m sure, that I had better get back to the parking lot pretty soon, because the bus would be there to pick me up and take me back to the state mental institution.
Confession No. 3 is that I really love hiking alone. I’ve hiked with other people, and that’s fun, but there’s just something empowering about finding the trailhead all by yourself and making it to the end without anyone pulling you up a steep incline or giving your rear end a shove to get you over a boulder. I also like not being on anyone else’s clock; I like to get going early, go where I want, take my time, hike as long as I want, eat what I want, and go to bed at 8 o’clock if I want.
I don’t see many women hiking solo on the Superior Hiking Trail. In fact, I don’t see that many people hiking, period. I like that. I like the solitude of the trail, just me, alone with nature and my own thoughts.
People ask me if it’s safe to hike alone, and I’m sure there are dangers. I’m a klutz, so I could easily fall over a cliff and break my leg…but I haven’t. I don’t think the trail is dangerous in any other way. People are very respectful, and I’ve never seen any wild animals or anything like that. I once got “attacked” by a very muddy, very enthusiastic black lab, but the only casualty was my white T-shirt.
I savor my twice-a-year hikes in the woods, and I always end up tired and happy at the end of the day. Once I hiked so hard that I actually fell asleep on the couch before I got my boots off!
About the Writer | Carole Gieseke is the editor of VISIONS magazine.