I stepped gingerly over a fallen tree of about four feet in diameter that had been weakened by a fire years ago about a mile from Saturday’s promised land — the 7,751-foot high summit of Smith Peak with a commanding view of Yosemite’s Hetch Hetchy area.
Getting around fallen trees was the least of my problems. The trail — as the ranger at the Mather entrance station advised me three hours prior — was overgrown with bushes. Overgrown is one thing, needing a machete is an entirely different matter. There were chest-high bushes yet to bloom with plenty of prickly ends completely covering the trail almoAst all the way to the summit.
At this point I had easily crossed close to 80 fallen trees. A few had bushes grown up around them. I had discovered if I stepped on large limbs protruding from the fallen trunk after testing it’s strength to hold my weight I could use that limb as a launching point with the help of my hiking poles to clear the shrubs without a scratch.
It worked a dozen or so times so it should work again, right? The fact the shrubs were now virtually all interlaced with their branches didn’t seem to register.
Long story short, I got into a one-side catfight as I lost my balance just as I tried stepping across the bush. I slammed sideways into the prickly ends of the branches that left their mark in the form of scratches all over my legs while breaking my fall somewhat to the ground.
As I laid there in a bit of pain making a quick assessment before I went to get up, I starting thinking — am I crazy?
I got home from work at 1:30 that morning, got less than 4 hours of sleep, then drove 2 ½ hours so I could go on a round-trip hike of 13 miles with 3,700 feet of elevation gain, make sure I got out of the Hetch Hetchy area before they locked the gate at 7 p.m., and then I was driving 2 1/2 hours back to Manteca.
I then looked at my fingers that my open gloves didn’t protect noting there were a dozen or so slivers from the branch ends that had broken skin with perhaps half of them bleeding. My legs meanwhile were crisscrossed with bloody red lines with perhaps a third of my skin covered with soot from the tree’s burned bark.
After cursing myself for a second I then came to the conclusion I was sane — more so than I’ve ever been before.
Besides I was having great fun.
I know. I sound like a nut case.
But if the truth be told my worst day hiking is still 10 times better than any other way I can think of spending my day off.
I will be the first to admit that dragging myself out of bed and driving 103 miles doesn’t make me a happy camper.
But within a minute of being on a trail as I head toward the peak du jour carrying a backpack I get this goofy grin on my face.
I can’t see it but boy can I feel it,
I realized about three years ago I was doing that every time I started a hike. It didn’t matter that I might have apprehensions about a hiking route I’ve never done before or if I was recapping concerns I had as I was headed cross country in Death Valley over two to three miles of alluvial fans into one of the seemingly endless canyons where others rarely venture. I always break out into a goofy smile.
I’m not going to lie. As I near the end of a hike I want to get back to the car. Almost always my feet are hurting especially on hikes of 10 miles or more thanks to matching bunions that the mere sight of makes grown men wince as well as two hammer toes. And if I ended up getting hurt — the worst was six years ago falling seven feet off a dry fall in Death Valley when I misjudged the stability of a rock I was grabbing onto and fortunately landed on my backpack but still got massive abrasions on my legs, rear end and an arm — it’s a fairly miserable return hike.
But after an hour or so of resting I want to — strike that — I need to go hiking again.
It’s a mental thing as much as being physical.
There’s something magical that words can’t describe soaking in the view from a 13,000-foot summit, standing atop an 800-foot sand dune in a remote area of Death Valley or looking at peaks streaked with snow reflected in a clear Eastern Sierra lake at 10,000 feet.
It provides perspective, a sense of joy, and a sense of accomplishment.
The world isn’t going to hell in a hand basket, it’s great to be alive, and there are always new challenges and adventures you can tackle whether you’re 14 or 94.
I think I get what John Muir meant when he wrote, “The mountains are calling and I must go.”
There’s great pleasure to be found in their valleys, meadows, and peaks. Venturing there also makes you realize you have a great responsibility to them and the rest of nature as well as to yourself and others.
What are a few scratches when you can heal what ails you?
This column is the opinion of executive editor, Dennis Wyatt, and does not necessarily represent the opinion of The Bulletin or Morris Newspaper Corp. of CA. He can be contacted at firstname.lastname@example.org or 209.249.3519.