Sunday, March 1, 2009

Take a Hike

Tomorrow night is my last class of the six week course: Six Weeks, Six Essays. We had to revise an essay we had written and I chose a piece I've been working on since the summer. I had to cut it considerably to get it down to 1,000 words (a requirement.) I'd like to submit it to Skirt! or some other publication. I promised myself (and Mike--these classes at Grub Street ain't cheap) that at the completion of each class I took I would submit one piece for publication. I think I'd like it to be this one.

***

“Check out that view,” Mike, my husband, says. He’s looking down at me because I have collapsed on a rock leading up to the summit of Blueberry Mountain, an innocuous name that suggests berry-picking in a flared skirt. For the past half hour I’ve taken to calling it “Death Mountain.”

While my hiking partner dangles himself from various cliffs, I find an even flatter rock and hunker down. One good thing about hiking with my husband: Cool Ranch Doritos®. It’s a little ritual I started when Mike and I first came up to the White Mountains together. On solid ground I rarely eat them—they have Monosodium Glutamate in them, and I’d read somewhere that this flavor-enhancing additive strips your taste buds so you have to eat more and more of it, until soon you can’t taste anything. That sounds too much like heroin to me, so I generally eat pretzels.

With one exception. Whenever my husband drags me on a hike, I reward myself at the summit with a bag of Cool Ranch Doritos®. Just knowing they’re in my pack keeps me moving toward the summit when my legs are rubbery and my feet feel like concrete blocks tied to a dead body. Mike loves hiking and has read every book on the Appalachian Trail available at your local REI. He even reads the wacky blog entries of thru-hikers with names like OfftheGrid and Ranger Randy (how do they keep a blog when they’re supposed to be out in the wilderness for six months?) When Mike takes me along with him, he spares me the 4,000 footers. We’re not peakbagging here, just trying to maintain some marital harmony—like when Mike sits in the husband chair at Macy’s nodding and smiling at me as I emerge in another sundress.

Attempting to catch up to my husband, I crawl on all fours, spider-like, up one rock ledge, hoping to see something vaguely horizontal. But right above me is another ledge. I suck on my Camelbak® mouthpiece like I’m taking a hit of oxygen, then repeat the whole awkward scramble again, this time scraping my knee. I haven’t had this many bruises since I was a regular at the Roller-Rama.

“C’mon Jenn, you can do it,” Mike the Cheerleader cheers. “Just think, would all those city girls with their fancy gym memberships and their manicures be doing this?”

No, they probably wouldn’t. It’s likely they never felt the need to act out a fantasy of being the ideal wife, who can scale any mountain or sail any channel to be by her husband’s side. I like this picture of me more than I do the prissy girl who prefers to lay on a hammock and read books about other people who climb mountains.

Then just as the ledge in front of me has been conquered, there…is…another …Goddamn…LEDGE!

“No more,” I say between labored breaths, “Just leave me here. I’ll catch you on the way down.” I sound like a climber on Everest, telling my teammate to leave me in the snowbank where I’ll ultimately be buried in an avalanche and flung into a crevasse. It’s OK, you go.

“You’re capable of more than you know, Babydoll.” Coach Mike implores. “We’re almost there. You’re doing really well.” He could be talking to a 6 year-old who, after weeks of swimming lessons, is still clutching the foam noodle.

When I think I can’t stand another minute of this, when I’m gushing sweat like a deceitful wife on Snapped!, I see it—the neat pile of rocks that looks like the Statue of David to me. The cairn means the summit is within our grasp.

As I heave myself onto the top of the next ledge, I realize we’re not alone. Three women are climbing down toward us. I knew Mike was right when, at the trailhead, he took the lipstick and eyelash curler out of my pack and tossed them onto the dashboard of the car. But my disheveled appearance goes way beyond undefined eyelashes—I am a wild woman with sweat-slicked hair, bloody scrapes, and about a thousand mosquito bites that have flared up into angry welts. My Camelbak mouthpiece has sprung a leak from all my nervous chewing, and now my left breast is soaking wet like I’m lactating.

A radiant young woman whose lustrous brown hair is neatly tucked back with her Buff® multifunctional headwear glides by me. Behind her are two older women with no-fuss ‘dos who look like they’re out for a Sunday stroll. None of them look like they have broken a sweat. And they aren’t just going down ANY mountain face, but a mountain face so steep they might have an easier time skateboarding down it.

“Why are these people here,” I grumble, after they float past us and vanish. “Why don’t they hike Sabattus like all the other tourists?”

“Did you see that? They were going down the north trail. That’s harder than ascending.” Mike says, with the admiration that only minutes ago had been reserved for me.

Yes, I think, because going up is a trip to Storyland. At the summit at last, I fall onto a patch of grass, exhausted, and quite possibly in the feverish throes of West Nile Virus.

***

The sun is starting to set behind the pines, and I’m breathing normally again. A slight breeze has picked up, rustling the half-empty snack bag beside me. There are less bugs up here, although a few gnats manage to find their way into my mouth as I’m eating. I watch Mike take in the view, looking more peaceful than he has in weeks. Now that I’m sitting down with the endorphins of all that physical exertion kicking in, I’m actually feeling pretty good. I’ve made it to the top of another mountain with my husband. I’m a tough cookie after all. I may never be ready to follow him up a 4,000 footer, but I can definitely meet him halfway.

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