Life with a smile: In which I go hiking (and like it)

Published 6:18 am Saturday, May 5, 2018

 I went hiking with a friend a couple weeks ago. It was an activity I approached with some trepidation. In my experience, I tend to enjoy the concept of hiking more than the reality. 

Same goes for camping. It always seems like such a fun idea — pitching your tent, toasting marshmallows around the campfire, falling asleep to the sound of crickets. The reality of mosquitoes, hard ground and peeing in the woods is somewhat less enchanting.

Once — and only once — I attempted to combine both activities. The year I spent living in India, many of my friends were alarmingly outdoorsy (not entirely surprising when considering we had opted to work at a school located in the foothills of the Himalayas). One weekend, my merry band proposed we hike to an abandoned temple on a neighboring mountain and camp there overnight. It’s not that far, they said. It’ll be fun, they said.

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I swear to you that little jaunt is the closest I’ve ever come to genuinely believing I was about to die.

We just kept going up. And up. And up. Following narrow paths along steep cliffs in an ever-deepening fog. I was woefully ill-equipped, emotionally and logistically. I didn’t have the right shoes or a good pack and my sleeping bag was ginormous, strapped in a unwieldy mass onto my awkward backpack. 

I staggered along after the group, willing myself not to collapse into a weeping huddle on the side of the mountain. I spent a cold and uncomfortable night on the floor of the temple before stumbling back down the mountain in the morning and fleeing to the comforting arms of my bed.

That was the last time I went hiking with the crew. My role going forward was to bake cookies and celebrate triumphantly their return. That worked out much better for me.

Although I have come to appreciate camping, most of my “hiking” in recent years has consisted of walks on nature trails with my kids. These treks usually lasted approximately 37 seconds before someone started to complain and we’d abandon forward progress in favor of throwing rocks in the stream or picking flowers.

Thus it was that the memories of the notorious temple hike skittered through my brain when my buddy suggested we got outdoor adventuring together. I took several calming breaths, reminded myself that the Kentucky Knobs bear virtually no resemblance to the Himalayas, and replied with a nonchalant — “Sure.”

We arrived at the Central Kentucky Wildlife Refuge (which is lovely and you should go there immediately if you’ve never been) and perused the trail maps. The squiggly lines were nonsense to me so I left trail selection to my friend — “You pick,” so cool, so casual — and quietly prayed that I hadn’t just committed myself to a 10 mile tramp through the wilderness.

I’m happy to report that, apart from some asthmatic wheezing on the initial ascent, the whole expedition was fine. We were out and back in under two hours. I didn’t see much in the way of wildlife, unless you count the team of frat boys who were doing trail maintenance as a community service project. I’m pretty sure their testosterone-fueled vine whacking and log flinging rivaled the macho displays of many native animal species.

Although climbing Mt. Everest will never make it onto my bucket list, I enjoyed the hike and I think I’ll do it again. Just don’t ask me to carry a tent on my back.