My legs quaked as I braced my hands on my thighs to suck air. Panting, I raised my head to look at the trail.
And yet another rise that loomed in front of me.
Holy crap! Fuck this shit!
Eight hours earlier….
It was late on a Saturday night, and I was already nervous at the prospect of trying something new, let alone meeting new people. But it was an innocuous enough label on the hike I was was considering signing up for the following morning. “Mt. Sanitas, Boulder. Moderate-to-strenuous,” it said. Well….
I’m in shape, I reasoned. I walk for 20 minutes a day, and hiking is just walking on a trail, right?
I also do yoga five days a week, plus strength training. Plus, the hike was nearby, in Boulder, so I wouldn’t have to drive that far, and the start-time was a reasonable 9 a.m. (not 6:30 a.m., like some of the other hikes). Out of excuses for a milisecond, I quickly clicked the button. No turning back now.
The next morning I woke up at my usual time, showered, and applied my makeup (taking extra time, to make it look like I’d barely taken any time with it). Then, due to a bad map on the hiking site, I arrived somewhere in the middle of a residential neighborhood. Not a trailhead in sight. Fortunately, the hike’s organizer had left his cell number on the website. “Oh yeah, the map on the site is wrong,” he apologized… and spent the next 10 minutes talking me through as I drove to the correct place. By the time I found parking and hoofed it several blocks to the trailhead the group was long gone. There was a sign posted at the trailhead warning people of recent mountain lion sightings.
I decided to do the hike on my own, anyway. (There were lots of other hikers out. Odds are the mountain lions would eat one of them first.)
I set out and quickly hit the first set of “stairs” — a series of two-foot high boulders set into the slope. Giant step up, giant step up, giant step up…. After about a hundred ungodly paces, the stairs evened out onto a steppe. Okay *breathe, breathe* that wasn’t so bad. I looked ahead to see that the trail went flat for about ten feet, then went up again. Okaaaayyy…..
I was getting lapped by scores of other people: teenagers, other people “my age” (who were probably from Boulder — i.e. Hippie-Health Central), and even by senior citizens (evidently the altitude had affected their abilities to tell that they were too old for this).
Yes, I was being lapped by people who were running — uphill — and downhill — over the giant two-foot rocks and past me. Instead of Sanitas, I began to call the mountain Sandinistas; I could see Nicaraguan rebels using this as a training course.
Moderate to strenuous? Are you fucking kidding me?!?
That was when I realized that “moderate to strenuous” for Colorado was different from “moderate to strenuous” for the rest of the U.S. And “moderate to strenuous” for Boulder was different from “moderate to strenuous” for the rest of Colorado. I’m in good shape compared to the rest of the country. I worked hard to get to where I am, and I wear a size 4. That’s skinny in the rest of the country.
It’s average in Colorado. I’m in average shape for Colorado.
But now, I wasn’t just in Colorado. I was in Boulder Country.
After about five rounds of fuck this shit. in my head, I knew I wasn’t going to quit — had known it from the start — because that’s just not how I roll. But it made me feel better to give myself permission to dismiss the mountain.
And then finally, when I was ready to die, I reached another set of boulders that just had to be the top. There were others, who appeared to be part of a group, panting, too.
“Y’all don’t happen to be Boulder Social Hikers, do you?” I asked.
“Yes, we are.”
Hallelujah! I didn’t even care about the sweat trickling down my nose or how my ponytail had held up. I was just grateful to have caught up with the group. And to still be cognizant and upright.
Going down was the easy part. I caught my breath, chatted with some of the other hikers. It was nice. But I haven’t forgotten the way up. And I haven’t forgotten how that mountain almost got the best of me.
Sanitas, I’m coming for a rematch. You won’t know when, but someday, when you least expect it, I’ll be at your base. (If you have expectations, that is. You’re a mountain, for pete’s sake.) Just you and me.
Be ready, bitch.