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When I was young, we used to go hiking quite often. Or it seemed often to me. I think avid hikers would snort in disdain. The Gorge area between Washington and Oregon has some very nice mountain and hill trails. I’ve also been up Mount St. Helens four times (which is, admittedly, an easy mountain) and Mount Adams. One of the places we went to often was Dog Mountain. If you get there at the right time of the year, the wildflowers are blooming and it is beautiful. Supposedly it is a hard hike. I didn’t learn that until after we’d done it multiple times before I was 12, so I don’t know if that’s true. Beacon Rock is just climbing stairs, and that is hard. That one is also boring, but the view is nice, I guess.
My uncle loved hiking and caving and found lots of little-used side trails to explore. He didn’t have kids, so he borrowed his nieces and nephews to help him explore. My mother used to come with until our much younger siblings got old enough to coin the phrase “My legs are broken, carry me!” When they were really little we could carry them in the hiking backpack. But it’s no fun to have to hike with a whiner. Apparently, the oldest four kids did not whine in that context, or if we did, maybe not as much? I remember enjoying going on the hikes, even in the rain, and thrilling at the views at the top and the exhaustion and soreness at the end.
I’ve done very little hiking since I got married and moved away. My Uncle died and with him some of the incentive to hike. The most we’ve done in years is hike the whole trail to the top of Multnomah Falls. We stop there often, but just as a rest stop on the way back and forth to visit family. On the day we decided to hike it, it was pouring down rain and we got completely soaked. I still had fun.
This lack of hiking has been bothering me for a while so last summer I decided to go back and revisit one of those hikes with my older kids. I chose the Ape Caves, a lava tube near Mount St. Helens, because it is by far my favorite place to hike. It is also one of the places we spread My Uncle’s ashes, at his request.
The local wildlife conservationists have a campaign going to stop the spread of white-nose syndrome in bats there. There were a bunch of informational signs, boot cleaning stations and a booth manned by two… uh… rangers? I realized again that I’m getting old because they looked like kids. Otherwise, everything was the same.
It was about 80 degrees outside but inside the cave, it is a constant 42 degrees. This is one of the reasons I love this place. I love the climate control. I don’t like being hot and sweaty and I don’t like my feet being wet from the rain, so the cave is a perfect place to hike. The lower cave is an easy 0.75 miles, but it dead ends so you have to come back. The upper cave is 1.5 miles and has a ladder to the outside world and a 1.3-mile trail back to the parking lot. When we got there, we were told that the upper cave is really hard. I did this so many times as a kid and now as a two-months pregnant, morning-sick, out-of-shape asthmatic, so how hard can it really be? Halfway through the upper cave, my eight-year-old informed me that we really needed to head back because he was sure we were lost. I decided we probably shouldn’t have done the lower caves because my kids weren’t used to that much hiking. But it was too late by then. One of the great things about going out to hike, as opposed to walking on a treadmill, is that you have to keep going to get back. You can’t just stop and be done. They seemed to halfway enjoy it but they got really tired. I really don’t know how to compare them to my childhood self since my perspective is so different now. But they didn’t complain much.
After we finished the caves, we went further down the road to visit the Lava Canyon and eat lunch. My kids haven’t had much experience with outhouses, especially permanent ones, so that was a fun educational moment. For some reason, they put the picnic tables close to the outhouse. There were so many flies!
I couldn’t care less about the canyon itself (though it is lovely and amazing, I suppose), but I was determined to revisit a suspension bridge there. It turned out it was way further than I thought and way harder. I’ll submit that the Lava Canyon is actually a hard hike. At least the part I went on. My husband, the ten-year-old and the five-year-old stopped a short way down the trail at a viewpoint. I kept going with my eight-year-old. After we were out of earshot, he suddenly asked: “Why don’t you and Dad get divorced?”
After some sputtering, I figured out why he would ask that and we discussed why that was not going to happen.
We did finally make it to the bridge. It didn’t wiggle as much as I had hoped but it was still marvelous fun. We ran across it several times and jumped around. I took a few pictures very carefully. I was quite nervous about dropping my phone through the slats.
We went home exhausted and successful. I didn’t end up as sore as I wanted, probably because it really wasn’t as hard as advertised, but it was still a great trip.
All of this is to say:
I hate hiking.
I’ve known this for a long time. So why did I go out of my way to go again? Through most of these hikes, I’m trudging. I pause to look at the view once in a while and then I trudge. One foot in front of the other. Step, step, why am I doing this? The whole process is just one boring step after another punctuated periodically by pausing to look around and wish you were at your goal. Once you get to the goal the process is repeated in reverse. Step, step, Why? All these lovely views have been captured on camera by somebody with way better photography skill than I have and I could just look them up online!
At some point on this trip (which also included the Astoria tower and a visit to the Portland Zoo), my husband pointed out that the vacation I had decided on was not what he would have chosen. Although he didn’t object to what we did, he didn’t find it restful or vacationy.
I said, “I know, I hate hiking, I don’t know why I did this.”
And then he said, “You like having been hiking.”
I don’t know if that is profound but I found it fascinating about myself. He’s right. The views are a nice memory, and when you are sitting in the car on the way home, the tired muscles can finally be ignored and I can concentrate on the success of completion. I guess. And you have to have done it to get to that point. It’s the same way I feel about certain types of exercise. I have been doing Hot yoga, which is horrible, but it’s totally worth because of how I feel afterward. Of course the views there are different and I’ve found it best to do yoga without my contacts in so I can’t see much.
If this worked on other things I think I could be an amazing person. Sadly there is a limit. There is something about hiking that makes it worth it, while other, possibly more mundane things just can’t compete. We have carpet that needs replacing, outdoor plants that have died and need to be torn out, the car is a mess, and there are constant piles of laundry in my room. It seems that the end result cannot compel me to work on those things. My sister once said that the end result of cleaning, that is, a clean house or room, made the struggle worth it. But all I can see is the lost time and wasted effort. Maybe it’s because she doesn’t have kids. My kids can’t ruin the results of hiking. They could ruin the process, I suppose.
Anyway, blah blah blah, ginger, that suspension bridge is Awesome!