I had forgotten a lot of things. I had forgotten that it isn’t just the path that means something on a hiking trail. It’s also about the marks on trees along the way. Yesterday, when I went on my first monthly hike on the John B. Scott Forever Wild Trail, there were places where it looked like there were three plausible directions the path could take. That’s when looking down was not enough—I had to look up, look ahead. Trail markers are a remarkably kind gift. I had forgotten there are an infinite number of small details to see when there is time to walk slowly and walking carefully is a necessity. There were beautiful little flowers all along the way. A gentle breeze blew along most of the trail and lots of leaves danced and did their pirouettes headed to the ground.
And then there were the smells. Part of the trail follows the shoreline of Lake Martin. Before I’d even seen it, I could smell the swampy terrain that I was getting to. Over and over again, I stopped to enjoy that loamy scent that’s part of any wilderness trail. It wasn’t exactly like the scent on the Tahoe Rim Trail but close enough to be recognizable. A few times, I got a whiff of a flower of some sort. I felt almost giddy, reminded that hiking is such a celebration of our incarnate being.
There were also new things to learn. Last time I went on a serious hike was in Tahoe in the fall of 2013, when I made the 30 day Ignatian silent retreat. Eight years later, my body isn’t as limber; I walk more carefully. Tomorrow I am having my cataract surgery but yesterday, I hiked with compromised vision. My depth perception is pretty bad so a couple of times, I reached for a tree trunk to hold on to and totally missed my mark, had to try again. It was a little scary and very annoying.
I found out the leggings I was wearing were way too warm for a muggy day in Alabama but that the recommendations I’d read for footwear for the Camino de Santiago were spot on. The big deal when you are walking a long distance is avoiding blisters. People do things like put a film of Vaseline on their feet as the first step in getting ready to walk. A couple of places, I’d read you should wear toe socks that wick well, and then put on another pair of socks that also wick well and provide some cushioning. Instead of hiking boots, hike running shoes that are light, fast drying and cushioned seem to work better. I got myself a pair of Altra Women’s Lone Peak 5 shoes based on those recommendations. While I didn’t do the Vaseline routine, I did everything else and boy, mine were happy toes and feetses. I had no hot spots, I had no place that rubbed, my shoes felt sturdy and provided good traction. I will certainly keep using them to hike.
Last but not least, because I am not as limber, nor have the balance I had in 2013 I need to make some accommodations for that reality. Especially in places that were slick or steep, having some extra help was essential. Yesterday I had to make due with a sturdy branch I found early in the hike to use as a walking stick but it was heavy and eventually, my arm got pretty tired. I’m going to need to get a pair of walking poles. I’m not thrilled at that prospect and I far prefer that to the alternative.
I have woken up today with only a few minor aches even after a 4 hour hike on an “intermediate difficulty” trail. That delights me. After tomorrow, God willing, I will be able to see a lot more, and that moment cannot come soon enough. This 61-year-old incarnate self still has some miles left in her. By this time in 2022, I will be home, if the pilgrimage works out. In the meantime, how cool is it that all around me there are wonderful hiking trails and I can go on these small adventures?