Glenn and I are training for multiple hiking trips later this summer. In August we plan to do backcountry camping in the Olympic National Park/Forest area (Washington) and over Labor Day Weekend we’ll be hiking all the way around Mt. Hood (Oregon).
Circumnavigating a volcano! It doesn’t get much cooler than that.
Both trips will involve considerable climbing with loaded packs, covering 10+ miles a day. In preparation, we’ve been spending our weekends hiking – testing out our packs and camping gear, and getting our legs ready to carry us the distance.
Recently we decided to do one of those “Meet Up” type hiking events…where you meet 10 other complete strangers in some parking garage on the outskirts of town, climb into each other’s vehicles and carpool out to a remote trailhead.
I struggle with social anxiety – so spending the day chitchatting with total strangers was way more intimidating than the hike itself!
But, since the Mt. Hood trek will be with a gaggle of strangers (36 to be exact), we figured this was a good opportunity for me to get in some practice holding a conversation with someone I had just met, while I was also working on my physical conditioning. Nothing like multitasking after all.
The hike was gorgeous – giving us amazing views of several of the area volcanoes, including Mt. Hood, Mt. St. Helens, Mt. Rainer, Mt. Adams, etc. Physically we did fine and had no trouble keeping up with the group. Woohoo!
There were several interesting characters on the trip that entertained me along the way.
For example, a mother and son visiting from Canada whose tales of past hikes and adventures were continually interrupted by requests from the Americans in the group to convert meters into feet, and Celsius into Fahrenheit. Or a pair of older divorced ladies that got to know each other by regaling one another with their trials and tribulations of online dating.
There was one gentleman which I was drawn to. He was a sweet, quiet and curious older man.
He was part of our carpool to the trailhead. During the hour plus drive we learned about all sorts of hiking and climbing adventures he had experienced over the course of his life. He was one of those people you meet that has been everywhere, seen everything and tried anything.
In many ways he embodied the ethos I am currently trying to live myself – constantly seeking that next adventure. We learned that he had done the hike we were about to do several times in the past, and he mentioned that it was one of his absolute favorites.
As the group hiked, he fell farther and farther behind.
He moved along at a slow and methodical pace, occasionally stumbling just a little or stopping to rest on a tree. I was concerned about him and spent much of my time at the back of the hiking group so I could turn around and visually check on him.
When he reached the summit he took a seat on a rock ledge and spent several minutes looking out over the vista. He seemed content, yet dispirited. He looked exhausted, yet determined.
When it was time to leave and begin the hike back to the trailhead he struggled to get his backpack into place. I noticed his right hand was shaking as he discreetly tried to tuck it into his back pocket. It was clear that the hike was physically more than he was comfortably capable of. This seemed odd since he had hiked it several times in the past and would have known what to expect.
In the car on the way back to town he told us that he had Parkinson’s disease.
My heart sank as I realized that he had most likely come on the hiking trip, one of his favorite trails, because he was saying goodbye to that amazing vista. As his disease progresses, he’ll most certainly lose the ability to do an activity that he so dearly loves – hiking.
It got me thinking about how many years I have wasted being a spectator in my own life. Even though this gentleman was facing a horrible disease, he had a lifetime of adventures and memories to look back upon. It confirmed for me that I am on the right path, and reaffirmed my commitment to being active and adventurous for the rest of my life.
It may have even helped me realize that overcoming my social anxiety means I will continue to have the opportunity to learn important lessons from complete strangers.