Written 2~12~99

My First Hike

    ( click here to find out why this is my first )

    I chose the Tillamook Head trail in Ecola State Park, Oregon, because Sidewalkís review promised "views of the roiling Pacific foaming over jagged, rocky headlands, with a pinch of salty breeze and a hint of history accompanying every step." Iím always up for hints of history, but what I was really after were some dizzyingly high cliffs to gaze from.

    I had heard of ten essentials that hikers should always carry, but didnít know what they were. I guessed as well as I could (later I found out I had guessed all ten), and put everything in my backpack, along with my camera, inhaler, and Pete. Since I was only planning a three-hour hike or so, I felt kind of silly packing an almost-full backpack, but I told myself that I was going to play it by the rules.

    I pulled up to the trailhead and noticed one other vehicle: an ancient orange-and-white pickup. As I was pulling my stuff out of the car, the owner of the truck returned from the trail. His boots were caked with mud, and across one of his shins, his jeans sported a huge muddy smear. He had obviously slipped on the trail and fallen into the mud. I thought to myself, well, even though Iíve never really hiked before, Iíll be a better hiker than he is if I can make it without getting mud on my jeans.

    I studied the map at the trailhead and noticed something I hadnít realized before: the trail was one-way, meaning that its five-mile length ended somewhere else than where I was parked. No problem. I chose a viewpoint halfway down the trail as my destination, and started off.

    As may be expected in winter, the trail was very muddy. I agilely hopped from side to side, from rock to log, and avoided the deep mud. It was slow going but easy; that other hiker must have been some kind of klutz. The trail wound up through the forest, and within fifteen minutes I arrived at a breathtaking viewpoint. Far below me, waves pounded black sand, leaving thin white streaks of foam. Directly to my right, a cliff dropped a couple hundred feet to the sea. To my left, big angular rocks jutted from the sea, occasionally decorated with white spray as waves smashed them from behind. In front of me, I could see the Tillamook Head lighthouse, abandoned today because of the fury with which storms batter it. There was a tree right at the edge of the viewpoint, smooth and curved like a reclined arm chair. I promised myself that when I came back this way at the end of my hike, I would sit on the tree, rest, and enjoy the view as my reward.

    After taking some pictures, I set off again. The trail headed to the right toward the cliff, and I couldnít wait to see the view from up there. But soon, I began to get tired. All my bad hiking memories began to hover in the back of my head as I tried to ignore them and have a good time. I kept walking, and finally realized that hiking is like all other forms of exercise: I get fairly tired right away, then work through it and reach a plateau where I am no longer tired. This may have been obvious, but I had been so focused on the idea that hiking makes me tired that I didnít think it all the way through. What good news! I could be a real hiker after all.

    I continued to pick my way around the mud puddles and duck under fallen branches. Puddle. Trail. Trees. The trail mostly ran through the forest, not along the coastline, and I began to get bored. My nose started to run. I was no longer exhausted, but I wanted to Get There. I quickened my pace a bit. Once or twice, I came upon a tree interesting enough to photograph, but it mostly just looked like a forest to me. Finally, I arrived at a "hikersí camp," which was comprised of a covered picnic table and an outhouse. The viewpoint was close!

    The trail between the camp and the viewpoint, my destination, had turned into a small stream. I walked along the edge, steering clear of the mud and running water. The trees opened upÖ and I saw a section of chain link fence. It was obviously put there to keep people from falling off, but also prevented me from stepping far enough out on the cliff to see much of a panorama. This reduced view was paltry compared to the last viewpoint, despite its greater height. I was disappointed, but didnít lose heart - after all, if I stayed at the top a shorter time than I had planned, I could stay at the first viewpoint longer before it got dark.

    I retraced the trail to the hikersí camp and made use of the outhouse before continuing. Now that I had reached my goal, I felt light and happy. I was Super Hiker. It occurred to me that if I jogged down the flat parts of the trail, I would make better time, so I did, stopping anytime the trail became rough or muddy. I strolled (and sometimes jogged) along, enjoying the sensation of a brand new world opening up for me.

    Then I came upon a fork. A fork I didnít remember noticing on the way up. To the left was an unfamiliar, wider trail that looked like it went the wrong way. To the right was a narrow trail heading up an incline that seemed to go the right way. But I wasnít really sure, and suddenly the mood of my hike changed. I realized that I was inside a really big forest, and that my way wasnít as clear as I thought. I stood there in confusion and contemplated my alternatives, finally choosing the path to the right. I followed it up the incline and onward for about five minutes before the trail became vague. Was I on a trail at all? It looked like a trail up to this point, but now there were trees growing where I thought I should go, and I couldnít pick a clear path ahead. I became uncertain and second-guessed myself, turned around, and decided to take the wide trail that was at least definitely a trail, no matter where it went.

    I hurried back down the incline, and didnít notice a patch of mud toward the bottom. In an instant, my knee was soaked and my jeans were marked for all to see. No more pride for meÖ I lost my self-image of Super Hiker and re-joined humanity. I laughed at how silly I had been, and took the other fork.

    The wider trail was wide enough for a vehicle, and tire ruts were visible most of the way. After following the trail a few minutes, I was certain it was not the trail I had taken before. I began to worry that the trail would deposit me somewhere other than where my car was, but comforted myself with the knowledge that I was on a definite trail, that it must go somewhere, and wouldnít peter out into nothing like the other one had.

    Before I knew it, I found myself back at the trailhead! I had stumbled upon the "kids and seniors" trail, which was much shorter, and bypassed most of the hilly parts. My relief at not being lost was tempered by the realization that I would have to start the original trail again to reach my favorite viewpoint. As I stood deciding whether to hike back up, a couple got out of their car to take in the view from the parking lot. As they glanced at me, I could just hear their thoughts. "Look at that mud on her pants! She must be some kind of klutz."

    I decided the view was worth the extra hike, so I started the trail again. This time, what had taken fifteen minutes before seemed like an eternity with sunset lurking just around the corner. Finally, I arrived and collected my reward: twenty minutes relaxing in the nook of the tree, drinking in the view as well as some water.

    Then, as day turned to dusk, I sauntered back to the trailhead, arriving just as it became dark. I contemplated my success: beautiful views, no blisters, no exhaustion, and I didnít get lost (mostly). As a symbol of my new life as a real hiker, I proudly bore the muddy badge on my knee as I left the park.


    Why was this my first hike? I have mild, exercise-induced asthma that wasn't diagnosed until mid-college. So, up through high school, I just always thought I was out of shape. My family did the occasional Mt. Rainier day hike, and I always ended up huffing and puffing, which eventually made me stop thinking of hiking as worthwhile or fun. And I hadn't gone since.

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