It turns out that walking uphill is very good exercise and a lot less tedious than marching on a machine. Wind animates the vegetation, sunlight plays hide and seek with the scenery and insects aren’t terribly aggressive in California. When I quit smoking and took up hiking again it was not instantly addictive. My friend Sherry and I started walking together months ago on Molokai. We trudged uphill like middle aged broads, because we are. The days stretched into weeks, then months and we just kept going as the rewards became clear. Reaching heights with panoramic views caused a profound shift in perspective. In those euphoric moments problems became specs on the far horizon, easily forgotten bumps on the road. Driving to viewpoints does not afford the same experience. Working hard for it means something. Sherry lost weight and toned up fast, the dog drastically improved muscle definition, but for some reason I just got bigger. Not the fifty pounds I put on the last time I quit smoking, a mere ten, which is a huge improvement. Sadly even though my muscles feel ripped they have yet to emerge. If weight loss mattered above all else I’d quit, but good things have happened that I have no explanation for. I jump out of bed excited about starting the day and most people who know me will raise a skeptical eyebrow about that. I simply cannot account for excitement over plodding uphill, wheezing. We bitched and moaned a lot. And I’ll never convince anyone that a hot, dusty, steep road with scant shade was a path to enlightenment, but it was.
I left Molokai and sorely miss hiking with Sherry, but for now I’m stepping out on my own. Yesterday on a trail high above Lafayette, after reveling in that moment of joy that makes me want to skip like a Disney squirrel, I ran into a pack of teenagers coming up the hill. They must have been forced to hike as some kind of punishment because they looked miserable. Clearly the experience wasn’t animating them. I must stop talking about it or I’ll become irksomely zealous, as if to convert disbelievers to a wacky new outdoor religion.
Go climb a steep hill until your heart pounds and your lungs burn day after day. Bitch loudly, throw rocks if you must. Let it all out and just keep going. Get sunburned. Reach the peak and do it again. Savor the dust. Burn your calf muscles, strain you thighs, feel blood pounding in your temples. Keep going. Find the tree line and go higher because when you finally turn around to come back down, that’s when it happens. Everything expands. Life is infinitely joyous, gratitude flows like beer at a St. Patrick’s Day parade, worries are given unlimited free parking and personal slights turn to chicken scratch. Colors, sounds and smells are suddenly enhanced. I vow to be kinder and to listen more carefully.
I decided to quit smoking because I got winded walking up the damn driveway, but there is nothing like another chance. I injured my lungs and hindered my chances of seeing places I love and I’m sorry I did that to myself. But as long as there is another breath to take there is a chance to heal. Feast your eyes on beauty and ignore the rest, believe only the kind words, walk away from anger and give up the need to be right. Return a smile or better yet, initiate one. And if being passionate about hiking ever makes me skinny, holy cow, no one is ever going to hear the end of it.