After huddling under a small tree for shade in Arches National Park, trying not to die from a boiling body temperature, it saddens me to confirm that I am not good at hiking.
I like to hike. (I think.) I like to climb on things. I’m a great walker. I can speed walk, stroll, and strut with the best of them. And I walk up sixty steps daily to get to my apartment. But even with my impressive array of skills, I think I may have over estimated my hiking abilities. That, and I think I was a little too excited to explore Arches N.P. Combined with the guarantee of witnessing some bad ass, gigantic rock formations, I saw a sign upon entering the park that indicated possible big horned sheep crossings, and my enthusiasm went through the roof. “I get to see arches AND probably big horned sheep too?!?! Real ones?!” Not those animatronic ones from Disneyland’s Big Thunder Mountain Railroad.
Careful, timid people –tourists, if you will– probably thoroughly read the five pounds of literature that the rangers give you when you come into the park. I skimmed it. I looked at where the trails were. That seemed sufficient. And to be fair to myself, the first trail I hiked after lightly perusing this literature was fairly easy (just a little walk down the cracked-mud river bed), and the hike to the Delicate Arch as shown by the dotted line on the map looked about the same length.
And perhaps the two trails are the same distance, but they are not the same terrain. Where the first hike was on relatively level ground, this hike is all up hill. I didn’t know this though, and I’m still unsure if others didn’t either, as there were all kinds of people—different ages, different sizes—following the small wooden signs that were marked, “TRAIL” in carefully carved and painted letters. They were happy little signs.
I get a small taste of the uphill fairly early on. The first stretch of the hike is a series of small hills, much like what one would see at a dirt bike course. I have a good pace as I trek up and down the chalky, red earth, and over the white iridescent rocks. Not bad at all. I think, “Cool, I’ll be done and on my way to the Canyonlands in an hour.”
Then I see THE hill. It looks like… a hill. Coming from northern California I’m familiar with hills. Ours usually grassy and have oak trees dotting them, but this hill I’m staring at is bare because it’s not a golden grassy hill. It’s a rock. (Or several large rocks, technically.) And this slab of rock doesn’t actually look steep from where I’m standing, but I have experience with climbing up some California hills (they were good places to make out), and I remember how much steeper the incline is once right up against it.
I’m not thrilled. I can’t see the Delicate Arch. Not even a hint of it. I can see, however, a long line of people, making their pilgrimage slowly up the hill. For a minute, I actually think, “No. That can’t be the trail. Maybe there’s just ice cream up there. A vender with some water.” As I type this, I know that sounds stupid, but I couldn’t believe it. It’s 103 degrees, and all these people are hiking up that to see the Delicate Arch? Really? Even that guy with the six-year-old on his back? And that old woman? She doesn’t even have a water bottle.
Yep. All of them. The lady in Sari. The blonde in the crisp white shorts. The Europeans in their loafers and black socks. Everyone is on his and her way to the arch. And they are all passing me.
I get halfway up the hill and I stop and pull out my camera. Not because the view is amazing, but because I want it to look like I want to take a picture. What I want is to catch my breath. I click away. Eye at the viewfinder, completely not paying attention to what I’m shooting. I put my camera away and casually take out my water. I just need a sip I pretend. Lies. I drink a third of the bottle, doing my sip-and-look-around move, before I fall back into line and continue my hike up the hill.
(to be continued… when I’m not tired and my Internet is not being a pain)