I had made a vow to myself before this hiking trip. I broke it just a few hundred feet into our first hike.
When one lives at – literally at – sea level, it’s to be expected that hiking at 5,000 feet of altitude won’t be easy. After a rough 2018, I’ve been doing better in the fitness department, but I have a ways to go. Part of being healthier is trying to appreciate my body where it is now, and thus I vowed, before heading out to a long weekend of hiking in Utah, that I would be chill and relaxed and give myself permission to struggle without suffering embarrassment or self-hatred. Mind over body, right?
It was a good thought.
With me fresh off the plane and eager to breathe that city mountain air, we headed to the Living Room, a popular Salt Lake City hike that is usually referred to as “short and steep” or “moderate.” 1000 feet of elevation gain in a little over a mile.
A gradually sloped and wide path begins the hike and there were flowers to look at and hillsides to marvel at, but I could already feel my lungs struggling to take in enough air. And then we started to climb.
Within a few hundred feet, my lungs started sending distress signals. My calves, which hadn’t climbed real hills in 5 months, began screaming obscenities at me. My upper legs did the lactic acid thing, and just like that, my zen was gone. I started to dream of elegant ways to turn back (I couldn’t think of any). It felt like I stopped every 10 feet, and I felt like an abject failure.
The patient steps of my hiking friend, who lives at 5000 feet and was barely breathing hard, sent me into a mild panic of embarrassment, and I had to stop and wave him on – “go ahead a bit, make some friends, and wait for me.” Having been through this with me before, he did, and I bent over, gasping, fighting nausea, and reminding myself that this always happens, and that I was supposed to be forgiving myself for it. Then I straightened, plodded forward at the slowest pace I could conjure, and kept going up.
At one point, I looked at what we had left to climb and wondered aloud if it was worth it. Bless my friend for simply not accepting my foolishness, and cheerfully urging me onward.
I was saved by the dogs out for hikes with their owners; petting a dog is a wonderful excuse to stop and gasp like a landed fish for a bit. I took solace from a few other hikers who stopped to sit and rest, sitting with them. And then suddenly, we reached the top, sooner than I’d expected.
The hike is named The Living Room because there are rock “chairs” and couches spread all over. It’s a popular hike at sunset, which meant there were quite a few people up there with us.
We watched as the sun set over the city, oddly comfy in our rock chairs. Titus the dachshund, who’s climbed more mountains than me, stopped by to say hi, and we agreed that we should have brought some beer. With downhill in my future, suddenly it all seemed magical.
As we headed down, my legs reminded me that I hadn’t done this in while, and I mentioned that I’d likely be sore the next day.
To my surprise, I felt great the next day, with very little soreness. My friend, upon hearing this, remarked “You see? You’re fit, you’re fine…you just live at sea level.” I don’t think he knows how much those words meant.
The moral of the story? There are three:
- Mind over body is a good theory, but sometimes its just a theory.
- Thank god for dogs (in this and all things) and patient friends.
- I’m not a failure, I’m just a flatlander.