Monday, February 24, 2014

The Hike to the Top

The next morning came too soon. We had grand plans of getting up at dawn and shoving off early but instead we stretched and yawned and rolled over in our sleeping bags until the sun was good and out for the morning.
I woke up completely on empty. Thirteen miles of hiking the day before and an afterthought of a bagel for dinner had left me with nothing to refuel on so I welcomed a lengthy breakfast to start the day.

After tea and coffee and our piecemeal snacks we packed up and hit the trail. 

The first few hours on the trail were uneventful but thankfully shaded. Our muscles ached and even Uncle Jim insisted on far fewer pictures than the day before, opting to press on at a slow but measured pace. We surveyed the damage as we walked. Extra toes had sprouted overnight, hips had collapsed and were crushing our spines, the silly little poles we had joked about during our rim hike were now our inseparable crutches.

Photo Credit: Lissette

At 3 Mile Resthouse we stopped to drink and eat more snacks and use the fancy composting toilets. A little hut at the top of a steep staircase looked out over the trail below and offered shelter to weary bones so I sat in the shelter and drank and ate while Rachel and Jim opted to sit down at the bottom of the staircase and wait. 
As I hobbled back down the stairs I noticed her headscarf first. The bright yellow bandana and glasses were the same I had bumped into going into the bathroom at Phantom Ranch. Lissette was chatting with Rachel about tattoos and oh, did you see the rattlesnake in camp this morning?

Turns out Lissette was hiking from rim to rim alone. She had had a campsite down at Phantom Ranch the night before but gave it up and continued hiking to Indian Gardens. 

"No offense but Chicago isn't really know for being mountainous. Where did you train to get in shape for this?" I asked.
"Well actually I live in Madison Wisconsin now."
"Also not mountainous."
"Yeah you're right. Uh, stair master."

This girl is badass, no doubts about it. As we packed up to start hiking again she swung her bag on to and fell in step with us. 

Photo Credit: Lissette 

The going was tough, for all of us. Lissette had packed lighter and smarter than all three of us but she admitted that she would trade anything in her pack for some walking sticks like ours. Although even with them I felt like I was losing the battle to get out of the canyon and it was starting to show on our faces.
At the Mile and a Half Resthouse we stopped again. As we lay panting on rocks a young volunteer hiked up and introduced himself. He was handsome and fit and we were greasy and soaked in our own sweat but somehow you forget that when a guy strikes us a conversation with you.
"So do you work here?"
"Well actually I'm a volunteer. I hike the trail every other week and make sure it's maintained and make sure people aren't doing dangerous stuff or getting hurt."
"So is this like an internship you do for school or something?"
"Uh no it's just something I like to do. I'm actually in my thirties. I know I look young."

Uncle Jim sat watching us from a rock nearby, shaking his head at our shameless flirting once again. This one got the nickname The Fetus.

Photo Credit: Lissette

The last mile felt like forever. I pulled the last of my strength together and just kept hiking. Our little group spaced out with Jim bringing up the rear and Lissette bouncing between us all to check in and keep us company. 

The first time I smelled it it blew me away. A woman passed and I almost stopped walking to turn around and stare at her. Such a sweet smell. The sweetest.
The next person passed and smelled even sweeter. 
The smell of soap and freshly showered people, going down into the canyon for a day hike, was like breaking to the top of the ocean when you've been down in a moldy submarine for weeks. 
Only then did I realize how terrible I must smell, if someone just walking by me smelled so good.

Eventually all four of us made it out and we celebrated with whoops and shouts and then hobbled to Lissettes van, after buying celebratory t-shirts, for some well earned burritos.
Lissette went on to hike the Hermitage Trail, like a badass, while the three of us went home to go straight to bed. 

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