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Hiking Heaven turns to Hiking Hell

Zander on our Hike
Zander on our Hike

Over a week ago a friend of mine from church says – “Hey Dale, you wanna go hiking this weekend?”  I live in a valley where there are more than a few hiking trails available to climb mountains (Denver folk might call them hills).  I enjoy hiking but like the gym its getting to the trail that’s the hard part.  I quickly said yes.

That Saturday we met in the parking lot of Thunderbird Park and started up the trail – it was early in the morning (around 7am), the sun was already up but barely, and at just over 60 degrees, the air had a slight chill in it.  We talked most of the hike, I took a few pictures, and about an hour later we were back at our cars having hiked 2.8 miles.  I had a blast.

Saturday’s are weigh-in day for me on the Biggest Loser Blog Edition contest that I am in – so after the hike I weighed in and found I had GAINED a pound from the week before!  Truth is, I likely gained a few pounds but after a hike like that, I had sweat a couple off bringing my net gain to only a pound.  You can read more about that on my weight loss blog

Determined to NOT repeat last week’s gain – I decided to go hiking a few times before work.  So Tuesday, I went hiking by myself before work – same trail, slightly faster pace.  I really felt proud of myself at the end.  And even though I had missed working out at the gym on Monday (I’ve been going Monday, Wednesday, and Friday) because I was picking up a new gym membership instead, I still went to the gym that day for lunch – a double workout day!  Very cool.

Thursday I decided to take my son hiking with me.  We left a little early to allow time for a slower pace (he is only 5 after all).  That morning was amazing too.  Zander did great – we talked the whole time.  It was so enjoyable that I told him we would make every Thursday morning our time until it got too hot to go in the morning.  Now, the endorphins most have really been working because I was starting to crave the hike.  That night I convinced Stephanie that we should take the whole family hiking for our normal nightly exercise instead of walking around the neighborhood.  Something about the dirt under your feet is SOOO much better than asphalt and concrete.

I knew Stephanie at 6 months pregnant wouldn’t be able to hike up the mountain like Zander and I had – but there was another trail that looked like it was a bit less climbing and from my crude google maps check also looked like it was close to 3 miles long – only a little bit further than what we walk around the neighborhood.  I told all this to Stephanie and she agreed to go.

I strapped Lexi up using a baby carrying sling that made me look like a very fat woman and off we went.  For the first mile, it was exactly as I had sold it – flat trails with very little climbing.  But then… the trail took a swift turn up the side of the mountain.  I apologized to Stephanie, but since we were over ‘half-way’ and the trail was smooth hard rock (unlike the other trail that had a lot of loose rock you had to navigate) I was able to convince Stephanie that she could make it.  So we started the climb.

After about a mile, the trail that we had expected to make a quick turn down the backside of the mountain back into the parking lot, turned not down but up still again.  We paused.  We had already hiked 2 miles and the sun was starting to set – since I knew this trail was about 3 miles, we only had a little ways left so we pressed on.  When we finally reached the top – I could see the parking lot – but our trail did not head toward it.  It continued away from the parking lot.  So we stopped a hiker going the opposite way if the trail did indeed go to the parking lot – he said “Oh yes, its a loop that goes all the way around”.  Up until this point, we had seen several hikers passing us in both directions.  He was the last hiker we saw on the trail that night.

We pushed on and the wind (which had already been quite strong) picked up.  A wind storm was rolling in and gusts of over 40 miles per hour started to hit us with greater frequency.  The dust and dirt picked up by the wind begain to pelt our legs, back, face… It felt like we were being sandblasted.

The sun was long gone but we still had faint daylight left and I still had hope we would get to the parking lot before it was too dark to see the trail.  On and on we went, a five year old, a pregnant wife, and a husband carrying a toddler on his chest, huddled together pressing on.  At one point I thought about the time Stephanie and I were stuck in Boston walking several miles in a blizard – I’ll save that story for another day.

I apologized profusely as we pushed on.  A few times, Stephanie would grab Zander for fear that the wind would knock him down – it was certainly strong enough to do so.  I had Lexi tucked under the sling to keep her face from the wind and she did not object.  This was incredibly stupid of me to have not properly checked the difficulty and distance of the trail before I put my entire family in the middle of it with fading daylight and incredible winds.

Each crest reviled another dip and another climb in the wrong direction.  After a while, all hope of reaching the parking lot before total night fall was gone – the stairs were slowly popping out of the darkness that decended over us and the fading sunlight had faded completely.  We were officially in the park after sunset which is against the park rules but with over a mile left of hiking there was no solution but to continue on.

We finally reached the point where the trail turned back toward the parking lot however we were now on the far back of the mountain and the parking lot was well out of sight and felt equally out of reach.  The wind died down a little bit making some of this portion of the trail bearable but my mind raced with scenarios where the police would be at the van waiting for us because we are there after dark and our van had an expired three day tag on it (which has since been addressed and now has fully licensed tags).  I thought of everything from getting a ticket to getting arrested for putting my wife and kids in danger.  My wife was thinking of the same scenarios – and every five or six steps, I was offering apologies.

When we finally did find the parking lot – there were no police cars, no flashing blue lights, not even a ranger or ticket under the window wipers.  Only an exhausted family – hungry and weather beaten.  I started to think of more superficial things like the fact that I forgot to bring my Nike+ to know exactly how far we had gone (it was about 4 miles by the way).

I took the family out to dinner that night to make up for my blunder in an effort distract my wife from real anger.  It seems to have worked – the kids quickly forgot about the affair while eating sweet roles before dinner and Stephanie’s only response to date has been “I don’t think I’m going hiking with you again any time soon”…

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