Our hike master is out of town, and usually when she's gone--we all play hooky--no one hikes. But this week we planned an epic 3-4 hour hike, and I was most excited to prove we had hiking motivation without our guru.
The night before one of us bailed when she realized she didn't have enough time to hike before a flight. It caused a small tremor of doubt and the hike was almost canceled. We persisted--until the next morning when 30 minutes before departure, the temperature was 34. Still under the blankets, I texted Nikki and questioned whether it was too cold. We wavered and then held our ground. Once the sun came over the mountain, surely it would warm up.
I layered my hiking clothes, put on a hat, and zipped up my jacket.
As we pulled into the parking lot at the base of the trail, a pile of boys emerged from two trucks and waved.
"Good morning," I called out. "What are you guys doing here in the cold?"
"It's my Eagle Scout project and we're repairing the trail where it's eroding. Up by the falls."
Eeek, I'd forgotten about the eroding part of the trail.
"When we finish," the young man added, "you're invited to meet us for donuts."
Nikki mutters under her breath, "We'll be long gone."
He's mistaken us for lightweights who won't make it very far, but as we climb the trail, going back for donuts, becomes my phrase of choice when we're faced with unexpected peril.
At the first creek crossing, it is straddled with logs, branches and rocks. We both pause and scout the terrain. Two logs look somewhat friendly and I proceed cautiously. As I inch myself along, I see the logs are iced over. I bend down and hold on, skating my feet past the worst part. I'm over!
Nikki contemplates alternate routes. She chooses stones and crosses the water with wet-around-the-edge-of-her-shoes consequences.
Once on the other side, we pause to survey our conquest; had we looked more upstream we would have seen an easier place to cross where the width was only a jump away from the other side.
"If only we'd looked upstream!" Look upstream, becomes the mantra of the moment.
Before we began our hike, I'd remembered the friend who fell in the creek on our last hike. When I reminded Nikki, she said she'd made this hike in the late summer and the creek had all but disappeared--it would be no threat to today's hike. When we reach the second swell in the water, Nikki remembers since the late summer it's snowed and this is the runoff.
We find a place where crossing may be possible, but it needs some beaver construction. I head down the trail where branches and logs are strewn about. I tug and pull out a decent log and we heave it into the water. It's not enough. We meet back and maneuver our logs into a path. Nikki goes first. Agile she is, but her toes dip into the icy creek.
I look upstream. Ah ha! A leap onto a boulder, a step onto an even larger boulder and I make a clean crossing.
When we reach the final river crossing and even looking upstream doesn't bring a better route, I suggest in jest, "We could go back for donuts."
We're not going back for donuts. This has become more than a hike; it's become our preparation for the apocalypse survival. We look upstream; we walk upstream; we keep walking and find a possible passage if we enhance the crossing. We pick out big, flat rocks, and heft them into the river trying to build a bridge. I feel like a Boy Scout in pursuit of a merit badge. We cross with ease and notice the icicles forming on the side of the creek. The weeds are frosty white.
The swollen creek is now behind us and the rest of the hike is a breeze. It opens in several places to an amazing vista. The air is clear and I can't remember a time when the valley was so lovely. The best part is walking on the crunchy leaves through the groves of aspens. The sound, the smell.
Two and a half hours later, when we reach the base on the other side of the mountain, the sun shines, my jacket is tied around my waist. I'm exhilarated by the accomplishment, and thankful we went ahead despite the obstacles.
Once again, nature has taught me another way to conquer life's obstacles: find another way, plan another route, be persistent--encompassed in the phrase--Look Upstream.