Such was my painful first backpacking experience, five years ago. My husband and kids are avid backpackers, who go as often as adulthood allows. But I swore I would never attempt it again.
So why was I kitting up for another trip the weekend before our anniversary?
After 30-plus years of marriage, we’re looking at retirement in the not-too-far-distant future. And I don’t care for the prospect of devolving into separate lives. I want to have some shared hobbies. He wants me to stay healthy and strong, around to enjoy them for as long as possible. So I began exercising more diligently and mentioned that I might be open to considering a modest trek again.
That’s all it took. Before I knew it, permits had been secured, supplies purchased, and equipment assembled. No such word as “tentative” exists in my husband’s vocabulary.
As the date got closer, I started looking for excuses to bail out. What about our business? COVID? The drought? He was undeterred.
Two days before we were to leave, though, we received an email from the forest service, pulling our overnight permits due to the potential for fire. My husband was disappointed. I managed to look sufficiently downcast and suppress the fist-pumps of relief.
Still, we had reservations at a high-elevation hotel, which was to be our base for a couple days’ acclimation hikes. It was the perfect solution, in my opinion. Hike by day; a shower, clean sheets, and warm meal at night.
We found a route that looked challenging but (possibly) do-able. After a bumpy 40-minute off-road drive, we arrived at the trailhead.
The path started out gently, through a beautiful forest. Then it got steeper. The uphill climbs were as brutal as I’d remembered and after a couple of hours, I was ready give up and turn back. Exhausted, I asked some hikers coming the opposite direction how far to the lake.
With halos visible only to me, they said, “You’re almost there. Maybe 10 minutes.” An end now in reach, I pushed on ahead until we saw sparking waters in the distance.
My husband found a soft place to sit on the banks of the lake with a convenient boulder backrest. No other hikers in sight, we paused to breathe in enjoyment with all our senses. Pungent pine aroma. Cool alpine water caressing my bare toes. Breezes whispering counterpoint to the chorus of a neighboring creek. The intense tang of hard cheese and sweet dried fruit. Brazen aspens, rustling their golden leaves like dancers’ coins.
After we had returned to the hotel, my husband filled a cooler with trail grub and took me to a local park for a modified outdoor dinner, which he prepared with plastic dishes over a small camp stove as children played on the nearby swing set.
Back in our room, we fell into a comfortable bed, where my man dreamed of the trail and challenges ahead, while I slipped into a contented and dreamless sleep.
With its extreme joys and angst, new love gets all the media hype. But in the quiet confidence of long-time love, adventures still await.