I have learned that it takes me 5.5 hours to hike 10 miles, including two short writing stops, a wipe-out, and a few heavy-breathing rest stops on the climb back out. I have learned I don’t know how to estimate how much water to carry for 10 miles, and that it is possible to drop 2 pounds in a single day due to overexertion and mostly, water loss. I learned all of this at Clifty Falls on Sunday because apparently I needed to learn something new.
The plan was to hike as much of Trail 8 as we thought we could handle. It was Kurt’s last free day before we leave Madison, so we wanted to do something, er, “epic.”
The trail map described it as rugged, and it looked steeper than what my knee might like. But as Kurt and I took off on the smooth dirt path, We found our pace was pretty decent and the trail was virtually empty.Well, it was empty until a cross-country group of middle and high-schoolers (and their middle-age coach) dusted past us like hares on a turtle. I’d like to say we’ll get to end this with the turtles winning, but I don’t have those type of morals to my stories.
We were doing great though, so when we reached the end of the 4.5 miles of trail 8 we decided to explore a bit, then head up Trail 2 – the creek bed.
It was guaranteed to be a pretty route, and Baxter was just enjoying all the water so much it seemed unfair to deny him his fun and take the trail back up yet. I took a few minutes to write and Kurt hunted fossils.
We stuck to the creek bed for miles. And miles.
We occasionally passed trails that would take us up and out, but I was feeling so confident at an early one that I posed with flexed biceps and then as I often (strangely) do at momentous occasions, I mooned the camera. It was just a quick turn and drop, a snap of the camera and an almost skip back out onto the creek bed.We were totally conquering this.
We saw tiger swallowtail butterflies and phlox and felt the power of our legs picking our way across the creek along dry rocks.
Bax took heat breaks in the many pools along the creek bed. We were rocking this hike. Booyah. Kurt was happy. Baxter was happy. Marla was happy…
It was an ideal hike and we were ready to be done, when we came to the sign warning us (or was it challenging me?) that there was no exit ahead, we were glowing with admiration for our accomplishment at hiking the creek bed. The rocks really tested the shocks in our frames and it felt good but exhausting to have made it so far. There once had been a connection between the base of the falls and the overlook above, but it no longer was accessible.
I had a decision to make (Kurt always leaves these things up to me): continue forward and finish the hike to the end, at Clifty Falls, then turn around and hike back to this point before hiking out; or turn now and take the dirt path back up to the main trail and hike back out. We looked at the map. From where we figured we were, it only seemed a short distance to the falls. The creek bed was rocky but we had done well so far, mostly following the lead of our sure-footed, four-footed companion. But we were tired and it had been a perfect hike so far. The perfect morning of a perfect day to end our perfect time in Madison. (I wonder what the operative word is there?)
Naturally, exhausted and nearly out of water, I chose to push on, to hike the whole way to the falls.
Shortly into the dead-end canyon I miscalculated the distance from a rock to the ground and straight-jammed by bad knee. After a few choice words and trying to rub the pain out of my knee, Kurt tried to talk me into turning around and hiking out. After a few more choice words, it was decided we would push on. It was his last free day in Madison, and he was going to see Clifty Falls… whether he wanted to or not.
I haven’t told you this already, I am a crazy mixture of control-freak and competitor. So it should come as no surprise that when hiking, particularly with someone taller than me, I want, no need, to be in front. I like to see everything in front of me and I like to be in the lead. I’m not proud of it, but there it is. It’s probably another reason I usually hike alone.
When you’ve been married for 17 years, you get to know each others’ quirks. Some you tolerate, others you work to overcome. Kurt doesn’t mind me taking point in hiking, if only because it means I’m cobweb catcher on the more closely knitted paths.
So there we were. I was in the lead, carefully picking my way across the now huge boulders and downed trees that separated us from the final section of the creek bed below the falls. Each 10 yards required a crawl or a climb or a scramble up and over boulders. Even Baxter was exhausted and fell into the creek from a particularly tipsy rock.
We could hear the sprinkling of what was, by this time of year, Clifty Drip. It was then that Kurt shot ahead of me. It should have been fine. This was, after all, what I pushed on for—so that Kurt could get to see the falls from the end of this long hike. So it shouldn’t have turned on that competitive, controlling part of me. The instant he passed me, my wholly exhausted self, which had been entirely focused on navigating each boulder and stones on top of the boulders, immediately switched focus to him.
I was down in the time it took for him to turn to the sound of my “Accck…” And I was so tired that even the fall seemed to occur in slow motion. My foot didn’t lift high enough to clear a large rock on top of the boulder we were on. Instead my shoe caught mid-lift while my whole body was still moving forward. I spun as I fell, protecting the cap of my knee but landing in a twisted heap, a stone jamming into the tender right side of my bad knee.
It wasn’t so much the pain as it was the frustration, the realization that every lesson I think I learn I seem to forget within a short time. Like that this was about Kurt getting to see the falls, like I need to stop trying to be in control of everything, like the lesson I supposedly learned from the previous blog about the Buddhist notion about being satisfied with good enough. And mostly because once again, in trying to prove just how tough I was at something, I proved exactly the opposite.
Kurt was his usual patient self, seeing if I was okay and waiting out my fit. He didn’t have to wait too long. “I don’t wanna cry.” I stammered. “I don’t any water left to drink and I don’t wanna’ cry out what I have.” Then we were both laughing again.
We had our look at the pretty canyon walls and what remained of the falls in the summer drought, and picked our way back out: me limping, Kurt patiently enjoying the time away from work and Baxter already back to full speed.
Back home I showered off the poison ivy and sweat, looking down to see a big black tick squiggling around in the bottom of the tub. I washed him down and as I was finishing up got annoyed that somehow I recently developed a pimple on my bum. It was only a second later I realized my pimple was a second tick, already digging in. It was retribution, I knew, for that midway mooning. Payback, Clifty Falls style.
Truthfully, there’s no way to know a lesson except in hindsight. If we had done that same hike, even with my jamming the leg and wiping out, if those falls had been magnificent, or if we had seen God at the end of the trail, the lesson would have been one of perseverance and how all that stick-to-it-ness and paid off in the end after all.
Lessons are, after all, whatever we make of them. I choose this one to be that it’s no grand lesson at all. Some choices aren’t any life-altering way of reflecting on how much I would suck as a Buddhist or fail as a Christian or humanist or anything of the sort. It’s just that sometimes decisions are simply about which literal path to take, that my personality is not always ideal as a hiking partner, and that some days are just more adventuresome than others.
Happy dog. Happy husband. Happy Marla.