I recently went on a trip with a friend of mine, and learned something fundamental about myself. This is a long article, so I am going to break it down into chunks, posting a part each day until it’s done. The posts are in 3 parts. Each a short read.
We rested at The Meadow near the base of Pagosa Peak, and drank the last of our water. We still had 7 miles left to hike. When we arrived at the trail again, it was around 4 PM. The time we were supposed to be back at our cabins.
Jeff brought a ceramic water filter pump with him. So our goal was to get to the river and pump some water for us to drink. We were parched and would be moving like crazy men to get back to the car.
Somehow I ended up in front. I set a brisk pace (for me at least). I didn’t know how far the river was, but I wanted to get there because I was so damn hungry and so damn thirsty, I couldn’t stand it. But I couldn’t eat my dry ass trail food without something to wash it down with. So I kept a steady pace to the river, with no idea how long I would be walking.
I ended up walking for three miles. Down hill. Through rocks. (rocks mean you can’t just walk. Each step takes a mental calculation of where to place the foot, and you misstep a lot.) My quads started to scream. My feet protested. My toes burned. My knees squeaked. And yet, I wasn’t stopping until I got to that effing river. And I didn’t. I was damn proud of myself. Jeff and Dalton rode my ass the entire way, but I didn’t stop or slow down once. I kept a steady pace, again for which I was damn proud of.
When we got to the river, I had to rest. I was exhausted now both physically and emotionally. I dropped down onto a large boulder. Jeff and Dalton started pumping the water. While they were pumping, I wasn’t certain if I was going to be able to get up again. Wasn’t there a way they could just send someone to get me? I had a minor panic attack when I realized there was no rescue. We just had to keep going. Strange what the tired mind will think.
After they pumped the water and we drank some (it tasted weird, like dirt, but when you’re that thirsty, you drink anything) let me tell you, I’ve never drank water before and literally felt the energy it gives you, until then. I felt it and it was a wonderful thing.
While we drank, we checked our phones. We all had text messages. The wives were worried we still weren’t home. Jeff estimated we could be out of the forest and home in about 2 and half hours. We were four miles from the car. And if we booked it, we could be at the car in an hour. It was 7PM by now, we’d already been rained on a few times, and if we could hoof it, we could be home by 8:30 PM.
I let (wanted) Dalton take the lead. He was the youngest of us, and the fastest. Jeff went next and I came up the back. I was glad because the entire time we walked to the river I kept feeling like they were pressuring me to hurry (which was in my head of course. they weren’t pushing me at all, but it’s like having a car riding you in traffic).
So we started off. Jeff said we could be done in an hour…which for you math enthuistasts, was walking at 4 miles per hour, down hill, through a forest on the side of a mountain. Doing it on pavement is one thing. Twisting through the forest, dancing over stones and roots, is another. But man, I’d do anything to get to that damn car.
So I walked as fast as I could.
Dalton pulled ahead.
Jeff pulled ahead.
I sped up and caught Jeff, but only for a moment.
The sun was going down, the forest was thickening with shadows. Sounds of creatures emerged.
Jeff pulled further ahead.
I lost sight of Dalton.
I could still see Jeff’s white hat ahead of me, in the distance.
I was just walking. What Jeff and Dalton called the “Zombie Walk”. No thinking, no talking, just one foot in front of the other.
Then, for some strange reason, I started thinking of how predators go after the slowest in the group. How monsters attack the last person in line. How aliens beam up the last person in the march. I started to walk/run forward. I was completely out of breath, but was running almost non-stop. I was gaining on Jeff.
Then I stepped over a root, and twisted my ankle, barely catching myself before I fell. I slowed way down then. My energy had been spent in catching myself with my other leg, and my surety of hauling ass through the forest was gone. I just walked at a decent click. I checked my phone. I had only been walking for 23 minutes. If Jeff was correct, I had another 37 minutes to go. At a fast clip. And I was starting to flail.
I tried to keep it up as Jeff pulled further and further ahead. Then it started to rain.
I slowed down even further, unable to keep the reckless pace after all day of hiking. (Think about it, we’d been at it for over 13 hours straight at that point). My hands started to go numb from the pack on my shoulders. My feet weren’t much better. I finally lost all traces of anyone ahead of me. I was just walking alone, breathing with every step, trying to keep moving forward as much as possible. I wanted to desperately to stop for a moment, but I wanted to get to that car. I couldn’t feel my big toes now (I was still walking down) and my feet felt like needles were going straight through them. But I kept going. Through the darkness, through the rain, through thick forest vegetation that hugged my legs. I kept wondering what predators were lying in wait in the darkness under the plants.
It was then I heard a sound of some growling thing to my left.
I didn’t even stop to wonder what it was. Didn’t even look. It could have been an elk, it could have been a bear. I don’t know, I don’t care. I just wanted to get to the damnable car. I decided to check my phone to see how much more time had passed. It was dead. I had no idea how long I’d been walking or how much longer I had to walk. I just kept going. If there was an animal stalking me, it was going to get one helluva fight. I started looking for stones or sticks to use to fight it off.
I kept going, now wondering if I was on the wrong trail and no one would ever find me. There was a spot a ways back where another trail led from this one, and I was concerned I was going down some other path. How long would Jeff and Dalton wait before coming back to check on me? Would it be completely dark by then? Would they wait for a few hours? Would I be stuck in the forest alone at night? I needed to pee, but was unwilling to stop and do it.
It was then that I spied something white through the forest.
White? That’s not natural.
I kept walking. It was Jeff’s car. I had made it to the trailhead. I didn’t feel any sort of elation. I was numb.
Jeff and Dalton were there pulling off their gear, getting ready to leave.
I was done. It was 8:15 when I sat down in the car. My everything hurt. But I had made 4 miles in one hour and 15 minutes, downhill, through the forest. Not too bad for someone who had never done any serious hiking before.
In many ways I was done. So done. It was a long hard trip, but I completed it. It was my first real hike, and thinking back on it, the only really truly, miserable times I had was when I tried to climb Pagosa Peak. I think I wasn’t ready for that part yet and if I had just stuck to the trail, I’d have been tired, but fine. Seems to me, bagging a peak is something best accomplished a little at a time. Best to get acclimated to the idea of being so high up with nothing to catch you. I clearly wasn’t ready for that, and to be honest, I didn’t know what I didn’t know. I found out something about myself that day, and it wasn’t something I am proud of. Not something I am ashamed of, mind you, but it left me with a weird feeling, like there’s something in my head I need to investigate. Some part of me I never knew was there. It’s both intriguing and scary. But it’s there. I had thought I had no more recesses of my mind to inspect. I was wrong, and I think this trip helped trigger that, for which to Jeff, I am most thankful for.
I have not portrayed this hike in the most glamorous of light for the most part, but that was simply the tone of the story. I really did enjoy the hiking part in the beginning and the seeing the beauty of nature and hanging with some other guys as we discussed many things. Being in the mountains was fun, and being in the woods was almost poetic. I had a blast. And I thank Jeff for that. He shared something with me that has enriched my life and made me see and think in different ways than I ever have before.
Will I go on another hike up in the mountains? I think the answer to that is a resounding “yes”.
But next time I will know my own limitations and where to draw the line better.
That, in itself, made the trip worthwhile and the Monster Hike something I will cherish forever.