There is not an audible whoosh when I slip my foot into one of my hiking boots. I listen for it every time, but haven’t heard it yet. There is, however, a deeply satisfying piston-like feeling as I grip the tongue of the boot with one hand, the fabric loop on the back with the other, and slide my foot in. A few loops of the lace around the hooks, a just-tight-enough tug, and a quick knot has me ready to go. That was part of the routine a few mornings ago as I got ready to hit the trail on one of my most memorable excursions in quite a while.
Meeting the crew at the trail head half an hour later helped me know just how demanding this trip would be. As I looked from Aaron, the seasoned Sierra Club hike leader, to Mike, recently transplanted to our area from the land of Colorado’s fourteeners, those 14,000 feet high behemoths of stone, I knew I was out of my league. Then there was Heather, a veteran naturalist with plenty of her life spent in the wildernesses of our nation, and Erin, whose well-worn hiking boots gave testimony to her time putting one foot in front of the other along the paths of innumerable rocky elevations throughout the southeast United States. Glancing down at my own boots and recognizing that I could only see their toes beneath my waistline (shrinking, thank you very much, but only slowly) didn’t help matters.
Finally, there was the crew member who would soon reveal herself to be the true leader of our sojourn, not because of her experience or other bona fides, but simply through the force of her personality. It was easy to recognize her as an experienced hiker because of her calm, I-belong-here demeanor. I’m happy to say, though, that my butterflies eased a bit, and I found no small measure of solace as I read the graphic emblazoned across the front of her t-shirt. It helped me know I’d be able to keep up with this most august group of trekkers.
“Wish, Dream, Sparkle,” with a wand-toting fairy flying alongside the words.
At four years old, this little hiker with the Velcro-fastened shoes was a force that had to be respected. That said, I knew I was going to be okay.
And I was. We had a wonderful morning, hiking within a tract of land preserved by the local government and maintained by the Land Trust of North Alabama. This hike was billed as “family friendly,” and it came about as a way to fill the need for activities that are slower and allow for folks to bring their younger children. (Quick aside: I wasn’t exaggerating when I described the other members of our group–there really are many, many trail miles hiked among them.)
That day we experienced much of what the trail had to offer us during the few hours we spent hiking along it. The color of the day was apparently purple, which suited our youngest companion just fine. She quickly stated it was her favorite color, and based on her outfit I had no reason to doubt it. We counted nearly 10 different flowers that were a shade of that particular hue, the most brilliant being a single crested dwarf iris–the only one we saw on the trail that day (crested, anyway). Gorgeous.
While my memory and notes bring back plenty of reasons to smile, the single event that sticks out in my mind came as we were hiking up a relatively strenuous incline. As we moved carefully from one limestone step to another, our youngest member–without prompting–suddenly burst out with a proclamation for the surrounding creation to hear: “I love hiking!”
I do too, young lady, I do too. Thank you for taking me along.