When my boyfriend Andy mentioned going hiking, I thought it sounded hard. Climbing over rocks, walking uphill, getting out of breath. I wasn’t sure it was for me.
“C’mon,” Andy said, “It’ll be a new experience for you.” I shrugged. I was willing to try it, since I lived in Arizona now.
Andy and I had started dating in college, and he moved to Phoenix for work as a stockbroker. I graduated a semester later and followed, my mind filled with thoughts of pending engagement. I was 22. I had reasoned that a husband would provide me stability in a sexy sort of way, that the road to forever was filled with romance and sex. It was boring when friends and others got engaged, but my being engaged – it was when my life could really begin. Andy had given me a key to his apartment. “Don’t abuse it,” he had said, and laughed.
To prepare for my first hike, I drove to a sporting goods store.
Inside a salesman approached me. “What’s your hiking boot size?”
“I don’t know. This will be my first pair of boots.”
“What’s your shoe size?”
“Seven and a half.”
He led me to where the hiking boots were, against a carpeted wall at the back of the store. “So you’d probably wear…” His voice trailed off as another customer approached him. He held up his index finger at me. “I’ll be right back to help you.”
I waited and stared at the hiking boots for a few moments. He never came back. No one else came to help me either. I found boots I liked in my shoe size. I paid for them and left, thinking about my hike up Camelback Mountain in a few days.
The sun punched down on my back, and I could feel my unprotected skin start to sizzle and shrivel. I was wearing a workout tank top and workout shorts and a perfunctory layer of sunscreen, my hair ponytailed. I didn’t think it’d be this hot in March. I didn’t think the sun would be this pushy and unrelenting. When the breeze blew it felt like a hairdryer in my face.
I sweat-slogged up Camelback Mountain, taking big strides as I walked uphill, panting, mouth dry, stones crunching beneath my feet. My hiking boots were really more like shoes, thin and rising just below the ankle. I looked at the short shrubs and flat cactus plants beside the trail. Prickly pear they are called, Andy said. I looked ahead several yards at Andy’s beat up army backpack on his tan, tank topped shoulders. If I listened closely enough, I could hear our water bottles sloshing around in his pack. I dreamed of water. My heart jumped and jerked in my chest, and sucking in the warm, dry air did little to slow it.
Before long I could feel my upper back grow raw and red, like a stovetop accidentally left on, where it cooks nothing but itself. My feet felt squeezed inside my hiking shoes, and my toes hurt. I tried to keep up with Andy but found myself farther and farther behind. I panted on.
Finally he stopped at a rare flat spot and stopped to rest just off the trail in a clearing. I caught up to him.
I summoned enough saliva to form words. “Hey, can I have some water?”
“Sure. How ya doin’?”
I caught my breath. “I’m ok.”
We drank. After a couple minutes he put the water bottles back in his pack, swung it on his shoulders, and hiked on, me scrambling to keep up with him. Within a few minutes I was sucked dry again.
I called to him. “Andy?!”
A few yards ahead of me, he stopped and turned. “What’s up?”
I caught up to him. “I think I’m done.”
“But we’re not even halfway to the top.”
“I know, but it’s so hot.”
I could see he was sweating too, his face pink and his blond hair wet. “But you live in Arizona now. This is what it’s like.”
“Can we just go back?”
“C’mon, just stick it out.”
“My feet hurt.”
Andy rolled his eyes and sighed.
We hiked down in silence. Was Andy mad? Was he disappointed in me? He didn’t offer any water on the way down.
Three days later the blisters on my feet popped, my back stopped glowing red, and the skin began to peel and itch, and I had promised myself that once I found work I would buy bigger hiking boots to allow for expanding feet during a hike. I also began to think I should carry my own water.
Lorna is a writer and speaker. Her narrative nonfiction and poetry have been recognized by Pacific Northwest Writers Association and the Oregon Poetry Association, and have appeared in several magazines and anthologies. Lorna also speaks publicly on motherhood, finding resilience through writing, and her experience in AmeriCorps. She is at work on a memoir about going from LA party girl to trail worker in rural Alaska. For more, go to http://www.lornarose.com.
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