Nope, it wasn’t pretty, but I did it with a tale to tell.
In June of this year I sat on an airplane returning to San Diego from San Francisco. I knew I was entering a new chapter of my life. I had said good-bye to my daughter and grandchildren who were moving to the other side of the world. I had spent most of my vacations in the last eight years visiting them in San Francisco. I knew my relationships with them would be changed to emails, texts and web cam “dates.”
I was also coming home to an empty house. For the first time in almost twenty years I would be living alone, by choice. No more roommates. I would have my three-bedroom house to myself.
In addition, my co-worker and long-time friend was entering a new life with the recent loss of her husband. How could I impact her as we walked through these new chapters of our lives?
I sat on that plane and gave myself a few goals for the summer, to avoid the sinking sense of depression and loss knocking at my door. I had already turned over a leaf and started going to a new church; after over ten years of being “unchurched” due to pure laziness. Part of my summer goals was a commitment to go every Sunday that I was not working (no more laziness) and try to “get involved.” I also decided to make more of an effort to make my hiking treks not just photography expeditions, but real exercise. Hike more just for the sake of hiking; get my legs, heart and lungs in better shape. Because of my weekend work schedule, it would take pre-planning. I took my phone out and on its calendar I digitally sketched in hiking days and hiking goals. I had to plan it so I could take these hikes on my own, not knowing if any of my hiking partners could join me on the days I was free. I knew the Penasquitos Canyon trail was an okay hike for a woman alone. I put it down, with a goal of walking it both ways, twelve miles, by the end of summer. Some of you know I made a partial commitment to that goal in July, walking ten miles in Penasquitos Canyon (https://gerisroom.wordpress.com/2012/08/)
On September 22, 2012, the official first day of autumn, I attempted this twelve-mile goal. It wasn’t pretty.
To some, the canyon wasn’t pretty. It is so dry, a spark could light it up like fireworks in seconds. I could envision a wild fire driven by hot winds whipping through the canyon and destroying it in less than an hour. It appeared brown and lifeless, but of course it wasn’t. I love the dry brown earthy summer shades of Southern California (with full respect for the fire threat).
A friend and I set out on a misty humid morning. The first thing we saw in the darkness was an abundance of rabbits. They didn’t seem the least bit afraid of us, and we had to shoo them away. Then in the early dawn light we saw two coyotes on the trail ahead. They didn’t seem interested in us, so we just kept walking toward them and they disappeared into the brush. In the early hours, the canyon was cool, shady and empty. We easily walked the six miles to the western parking lot, hats off, no hiking sticks, in two and a half hours.
The sun came out on the return hike. It beat down on us with a vengeance, as if making up for the muggy overcast morning.
I wasn’t pretty. Before long I didn’t care how I looked. I broke my “no short sleeves in public” rule and hiked in a tank top and shorts. This may have been the first time I’d ventured out in public wearing a tank top since I was in my forties (hyperbole here?). The sweat dripped from my forehead so profusely I kept a handkerchief tied to the front of my backpack to wipe it up. Not pretty.
With the heat beating down upon the shadeless trail, the slight but steady inclines were getting harder and harder. My legs were tired; my back began to hurt from the backpack. By the tenth mile, I was done.
Oh, wait . . . two more miles to go. We finally reached the lovely shade of live oak trees on the eastern side. There are no benches in the canyon, so if you want to rest, you either find a log or sit on the ground. I was afraid if I sat on the ground I wouldn’t be able to get back up. I did find a pretty good log once, but the ants ran us out of there. We went off the main trail and onto a smaller one along the creek, where it was cooler and full of animal sounds and wonderful damp smells.
Back on the main trail lined with oak trees and meadows, my legs and my back rebelling with every step, we were treated to the sight of several deer stepping out for their lunch. I stopped to take photos, dying for any excuse to stop walking.
After seeing the deer, our walk to the finish was slow but steady. We just wanted to finish.
And finish we did, with water to spare, but it wasn’t pretty. I could barely bend over to take off my boots and lift myself up into my truck.
I met my goal; although autumn had already officially arrived in San Diego earlier that day, it was close enough for me: I’d walked twelve miles before the “end of summer.”
The hike took me out of commission for two days, or maybe it was the humid hot September heat, I am not sure. But I learned some valuable lessons on this particular hike.
I am not in physical shape to walk twelve miles on a regular basis . . . yet. I need to walk more six and eight-mile hikes before I attempt anything over ten miles again. I learned that my “bad” ankle has not met its limit yet. The bad ankle did not make those last two miles so difficult, and it mended well. The limiting factor is my other muscles, ones not used during my sedentary years. Now that’s my new goal. Strengthening those muscles with more shorter hikes and walks. My feet were okay, no blisters, no pains. So I am very encouraged by what I learned, even though it wasn’t pretty. But then most important lessons in life aren’t pretty, are they?
What lessons have you learned that “weren’t pretty?”