We were young, so we hiked. We hiked up mountains in stiff dusty boots, down mountains into small hillbilly towns, and into resorts unwelcoming to hikers. When we got tired of hiking we hitched. With unemployed young lovers, with families, and with hippies towing a fifth wheel and an unusual number of bicycles. We accepted free meals, free beer, and half-eaten popsicles. We skinny dipped in the afternoon. We drank water from warm shallow lakes and bathed out of a collapsable bucket filled from the coldest stream a mountain can produce. And though she can produce frigid water, from late morning to early evening, the surface of every mountain was a furnace. Whether or not she wanted to be, her cohort, our captor the sun would make it so. The most persuasive of elements. I’ve never loved the wind so much as I loved it on a mountain. Nor the shade. Nor the stars.
We climbed to peaks and felt within reach. The world is full of hope when you are closest to the stars. What is better qualified to whisper you are able than unquenchable lights in an expanse of darkness? We forged strong-willed streams and got caught in a lightning storm. We covered, step by step, narrow exposed ridges that climb into where the air is thinner, and with it our confidence grew. Our shoulders pinched, our knees ached and who could stop us? We camped in the rain and verbalized that we’ve never really loved thunder.
And more than anything, we laughed. We laughed because our muscles hurt relentlessly. Because our socks were crunchy with dirt and sweat. We laughed because we seldom woke up before eight or hiked before ten. Because our packs were too heavy, and because we might get injured in the wilderness and we knew how exhausted the person was who would have to find help. The idea of one of us running was nothing if not funny. We laughed at how familiar every hiker looked; a trick the trail plays is that every hiker looks the same. Another trick the trail plays is that every hiker tells you the next great campsite is “just up ahead”. We laughed because it’s cruel to mislead someone who, as a means of travel, is carrying an extra forty pounds up a mountain. Laughing was often the most appropriate and fulfilling response and so we laughed.
We realized we were destructible and capable and poor at packing hiking food. We realized mountains never really end and that when the moon is full and near it’s as bright as a sunrise. We learned iodine makes the most questionable water drinkable. We discovered hunger is relative to amount of energy available and amount of energy required to make food and that like most other pains, hunger passes. We did not discover God or some new level of spiritual awareness. We didn’t have episodes of crying over suppressed emotional trauma finally unleashed by physical exhaustion. We marveled at beauty and perfect provision, and then we kept hiking. We prayed for lakes to be closer and for packs to fit better. We prayed for storms to pass. We met people delighted to be generous. And people delighted to be alive. We tried to be those people. And we were grateful.