Sometimes, the trail conspires against me. It conspires with the rocks, the trees, and the water to take me out. To trip me up or even drown me. To let me know that perhaps I’m getting too old to be there.
The trail has always talked to me. I felt the presence of a wolf hiking alongside me eleven years ago on the 500 mile Colorado Trail. From that experience, I adopted my trail name, El Lobo. El Lobo was both a protective trail spirit and a guide leading me to wonderful experiences.
Hiking and backpacking has always been a tremendous experience that completely transfixes my mind to the trail. Hiking ten hour days, my eyes are focused on my footfalls while the alpine nature renews my soul. There’s an energy transfer in this ecosystem. Usually nature recharges my body. Sometimes the flow is reverse. It’s a give and take.
My experience in the Mount Zirkel Wilderness Area started off with my body sacrificing fragments of flesh and blood to the Wyoming Trail. My brain may have been foggy from one-too-many IPAs the night before. I awoke at 5:30 and hit the trail by 7am. I only had one cup of coffee which is a bit light for me. Within minutes, at my first creek crossing, I slipped on a rock and partially fell into the water, slamming my shin so hard into a rock that the instantly forming bruise looked like a compound fracture. I was fine though and continued onward.
Not long after, I was negotiating my way over a large tree that was blown down across the trail. I didn’t need to stand up on my feet, but I did. As I stepped off, I’d forgotten about my pack. The weight tipped me backwards and I fell blindly into some logs. A stick lodged into my calf that I only fully removed at the ER last weekend. The infection was obvious at that point. I was given seven days worth of antibiotics.
Most of my falls and scrapes were in the first two hours of hiking. I slipped in some fast-moving water later in the day, although honestly, the cold water felt good at that point. It must have looked dramatic as Rob reached out his hand to me and I grabbed it to be pulled from the dangerous torrent. Emotionally, it was just another reminder that I wasn’t physically fit enough to be out there. Good thing I don’t backpack alone.
Long story short, I found my trail legs. I was physically exhausted at the end each day and my feet were extremely sore starting out each new day, but that trek was in my wheelhouse. I did get down on myself initially out on the trail and I’m still wondering what I need to do to improve. There are physical things that went well and some that didn’t. My planks and squats paid off. My stamina throughout the entire day was weak. I can work with those things. What has me a bit psyched out is my poor balance on the trail. Some of that is strength, but some of it is age.
Researching how to stave off the loss of balance that comes with age is part of what I’ve enjoyed the last ten years as I’ve focused on fitness in my fifties. I like researching and experimenting workout-related routines. The answer is very likely to get out on the trail more. So, five days after my big backpacking trip, I hiked with Brittany and Margot in Eldorado Canyon.
Now that I’m in my sixties, I don’t doubt that I’ll need to moderate my hikes. I demonstrated I can still run a marathon last October, thirty-five pounds heavier and five years older than my previous marathon, if I just run slow enough. Four days on the trail might be one day too many. Certainly, bushwhacking through miles of blown-down trees is something to avoid on future hikes.
But I will return to the trail for epic adventures. I planned to hike the Maroon Bells Loop this summer but couldn’t pull it off. That will be next summer. That might be three days. The trail just gives back so much, I can’t imagine not being out there. One of my favorite experiences is drinking unfiltered water from the absolute headwaters of this nation’s rivers. Dipping my water bottle into the water running off a snowpack in the basin of a thirteen or fourteen thousand foot peak. It’s like being at the head of the line for the world’s water supply. Being out there is so special. We went two full days without seeing another soul. This is why I live in Colorado.