Greetings blog readers! I’ve decided to join the 52 Hike Challenge, both to get outside as much as I can in 2018 and to blog more regularly because, well, both are my cheapest forms of therapy. The challenge is simple; hike 52 times, once a week at a minimum. I’ve decided to do mine in a calendar year and see what happens.
I’ll be documenting my hikes, trying to surface any deep thoughts or revelations that come up. Or, if none of those exist, I’ll just share pretty pictures. If any of you are doing this challenge, let me know in the comments!
Without further ado, let’s get to #hike1: Split Rock Loop Trail, Joshua Tree National Park
As 2018 dawned, I felt decidedly tired and worn out. Being single, I don’t have the pressures of partners or kids and family that most people do, so I feel a bit guilty complaining. Still, between big and frustrating projects at work, travel obligations, and lack of sunshine during a New England winter…I was grumpy. So I made the somewhat indulgent/selfish decision to take a weekend off, and fly a bunch of miles to get as far away from my normal life as the continental US would permit. Hence, Joshua Tree National Park in California. I wanted a couple of days to put sandy, rocky miles under my legs and point my camera at pretty, non-New-England-ish things.
I was prepared and happy to go solo, but got lucky when a friend was available to join up. We arrived in the 29 Palms area after dark, so I didn’t know what the terrain looked like until the following morning. When I woke up, the ground was wet from recent rain, which seemed odd to me given that we were in the desert, but just goes to show how little I know about deserts. As we drove into the park, the delightful weirdness of Joshua trees began to appear, along with occasional huge piles of giant boulders amid a sea of desert brush and cacti.
Joshua Tree National Park straddles two different desert ecosystems, the Mojave and the Colorado, and our first hike was in the high desert, where to our great surprise and delight, we discovered that the rain we’d experienced at our hotel had turned to SNOW at the Split Rock trailhead. We have a history of magical snow on our hiking trips, so I guess this just proves we’re on to something. I mean, how often do people get to see snow on Joshua Trees?
This “hike” was more of a ramble/scramble; the loop is a 2-mile one, but we quickly got distracted by the big, climbable rocks. My friend, with whom I’ve been hiking/exploring for the last couple of years, is a fearless climber, with actual rock climbing skills, who loves to get to the highest point possible as quickly as possible.
I am not so fearless, nor do I have any such skills. So, I tried to get up there, too, but there came a point when I felt my shoes slip a bit on the snowy granite. Involuntarily I did some quick physics in my head, and my overactive imagination obligingly modeled what it would look and feel like if I slipped, so I chickened out and climbed slowly back down.
It’s worth noting at this point in our narrative that my personal hiking and exploring goals are usually about getting over myself. See, I am often self-conscious about the extra weight that I carry around, and tend to obsess about whether or not I am physically capable of keeping up with everyone else. It’s been that way my whole life, no matter how many sports I’ve played or miles I’ve run. There are times, like this one, when it has really impacted my ability to enjoy myself in the outdoors.
So, that little moment of timidness was a red flag. The good news is that I know myself well enough to shrug it off and give myself another challenge, which I did. I decided to see if I could find my way around the large rocks my friend was currently conquering, which I did successfully. The only problem was, when I got back to the front side of the rock feature, my friend was nowhere to be seen.
We are not strangers to losing each other while hiking/exploring, and we were no more than 1/4 mile from the car, so there was no real danger. Just empty, windy, chilly desert under a sky full of rapidly changing cloud formations. I wandered the trail a bit to no avail, and then, eyeing a large, seemingly easy-to-scale-but-pretty-high-up rock formation, braved my way to the top to look for my friend. I stood up there for a long time, scanning for a human among the rocks…
…and also taking inventory of my body, which hadn’t been challenged in this way for quite a while. I noted that my ankles were trying to remembering how to be supple on the rock, that my knees were trying to loosen up. I took huge breaths of desert air, calming my heartbeat. I shook out my hands and noticed my posture, which is always at its strongest when I’m on top of a high place.
After a while, I got chilly and headed slowly down, feeling that familiar war between my brain and my gut; my brain KNEW that my boots would hold on the rock, but my gut was convinced I was about to tumble arse over teakettle (isn’t that a delightful saying?). As I neared the bottom, and my boots held, my confidence poked its head out for a look, and I bounded quickly down and set off on the trail to find my friend.
I didn’t get very far before we found each other, and like a little kid, I proudly pointed out the big rock slab that I’d just been hanging out on, feeling unreasonably satisfied with myself in that moment.
As we headed back to the car, my friend suggested we climb a large, boulder-strewn crack in another set of rocks, which we did, albeit slowly since I was in the lead. Here, we had to navigate around some prickly bushes…
…but we were rewarded with a gorgeous view.
It was my first “hike” of the year, and I have no idea of the mileage, but it was probably pretty minimal, since we never even made it around the 2-mile loop. Still, it was enough to shake me out of my funk and careen me through the roller coaster of self-analysis that seems to begin every adventure I find myself on. At the end, my muscles felt stretched and my hands were gritty and my camera was full of gorgeousness, and we had an entire day of more adventures in Joshua Tree ahead of us. It was a good start to the 52 Hike Challenge.