During my sister’s wedding weekend I took a very lonesome ~ 2 hour hike and promised to share more about it here. This hike was the loop at Pine Valley Park that connects to trails at Pike National Forest. Halfway up a hill and halfway down. I had already done the loop around the lake at Pine Valley Park. We had been one of the first folks to arrive at the park for the picnic (see prior post). I had been to other Jeffco Open Spaces and was excited to see what this particular park held. Part of the South Platte River ran through Pine Valley Park and the lake were definitely scenic. However, I love the challenge of going up to reach a summit especially on winding trails where you see lesser touched parts of nature. Thus, the decision to embark on this longer hike. It’s always a thrill to be at any peak looking out at the world spread out in front of you.
I started up all on my lonesome with the sun bearing down, but was soon greeted with good tree and cloud cover. In fact, I soon was a bit scared about impending showers. I would not be prepared for that. I also didn’t take anything with me beyond my cellphone and a trail map – never a smart decision. I took the climb at a pretty brisk pace to start, but I felt good fortune on my side as the clouds would remain friendly looking. Slow and steady I told myself. Good thing I had fueled up with a pulled pork sandwich and water right before I’d left.
The noise from around the lake had died down half an hour ago and I had only run across one other human being on my way up – someone who looked like a ultramarathoner… they definitely looked like a daily hiker. First thought I had was, “these are the only type of people who you see on trails solo.” I’m so out of place – I was wearing jeans and a polo. Reaching towards the peak there was a good lookout point which I decided to slow down at and look around. It was one of those places with giant boulders that you could crawl over and look out in panorama at some nice views from high up. I had heard some folks up there as I approached. Definitely Russian I thought as I heard the voices more distinctly.
I soon was out onto a small clearing and saw the people 200 feet away. Some kids and some older folks. They hadn’t spotted me yet as I been pretty quite in my new balance kicks. I slowly made my way up towards the boulders. Suddenly, my eyes started to water and sting. My sweat had mixed with sunscreen and was pretty painful running into my eyes. I probably looked really ugly not being able to open my eyes. This is not the first time this has happened to me btw. However, this episode was pretty severe. It’s also not a good idea to wipe your eyes with hands that had been exposed to sunscreen. It just worsens the pain. I hope this experience finally ingrains some sense into me to not let this happen again.
An older Russian in his 40s or 50s with a thick neck started heading back from further up the trail. “Oxana, Oxana” he shouted probably calling his wife. Then I heard him stop mid-sentence as he spotted me. Eyes tearing uncontrollably. I went to sit down on a stump, blinking to try to see where I was going. I heard him shuffle around me. Next was hushed whispers from multiple Russians, then them calling the kids and heading up the trail. It was a group of 4 adults (3 ladies of varying ages and the older stocky Russian dude) and 4 kids.
Inside I was thinking – what must these folks think of me? Truthfully, they probably thought I was tearing because of something in my eye? But at that time all I could think about were other reasons for tears. Was this weird Asian dude awestruck by the beautiful panorama? Was he sad over something and that’s why he was all alone? Did he lose something or someone? Did he have a family member die hiking? Was he himself planning to end it all? Was he mentally disturbed?
I collected myself after maybe only 2-3 minutes. However, it felt like forever. I decided to stay there a bit more, I climbed around some rocks and saw the two kids and one lady still taking pictures further out by the short cliff. The view was nice and I wanted to take a picture too, but already embarrassed, I quickly shoved my phone back in my pocket and climbed back to the main trail as silently as possible. I made my way further up the trail, relieved that my tearing episode was done with. After just another few minutes I saw I was catching up to the rest of the Russian party who had already started heading further up the trail. As they had kids with them I knew they were going to be slow. One kid was complaining that he didn’t have a walking stick lol. I would have to pass them and the trail ahead was quite narrow. It would be strange to hang back and walk behind them. I quickened my pace and passed on the side of the trail with a deep drop off, saying thank you as they moved to the side. “Sure” they responded. I was glad to be soon past them.
Continuing the Hike with some Reflection
Filled with such relief I continued the hike in earnest with a clearer head. I had started by focusing on the climb – I now had my head up and could appreciate the beauty of nature around me. I appreciated the destruction of fire that I saw on parts of the mountain, but also the amazing beauty of renewal. I took some quick snapshots of late summer colors during this part of the hike.
I soon started making my way down the hill the rest of the loop. There are quite a few snakes up there that I passed on my way. I found myself appreciating the serenity and quiet. There was no one around and I was secluded to my own thoughts.
I thought of course thought about wedding but also about my own place in life. Weddings are new beginnings for the bride and groom but also for me. I would have a new family and a new relationship with my sister. I’m sure I will always think of my her as my little sister, but she has also grown to be a wonderful woman. I’m blessed to have her. It’s a little scary but new life experiences often are.
Experience is great but reflection makes it that much more powerful. Any way, after having a zen moment I continued on.
In many open spaces here in Colorado, I’ve seen wild raspberries. Well after tackling probably 2/3 of the loop I ran into another family, young husband and wife with 3 kids. The kids were all excited by the wild raspberries. Picking the shrub clean. The parents were up ahead. I was heading up to the raspberries myself when the kids decided it was time to catch up to their parents. One boy of around 7 stared for a good long while at me. I smiled back.
I knew I wanted to pass these folks too. At my leisurely stroll I soon made my way up towards the group. The boy turned around calling out to his mom and tried to prod her with his stick he was using as a hiking pole. He wanted me to pass by. I once again quickened my pace and suddenly the woman jumped with a startle. Those damn quiet New Balance kicks. She then said, “I thought you were one of my kids!”
I replied, “Sorry to scare you.” I rushed past hearing mom and son talking about me with mom slowly recovering from the quickened shallow breaths she was taking. Not quite as harrowing an experience as my earlier one on this hike. Already with the recent memory of that last experience, I was that much more flustered, but it.
Thankfully, I soon was closing the loop and about to be finished with the planned hike. It’s not typical that you go hiking alone, and I’m sure I was the least unexpected thing those two groups I ran into expected. If only I had a quieter hike or didn’t rush as much due to my awkward encounters. Nevertheless, the awkwardness and that hike taught me some things.
That day it taught me:
- Sunscreen application skills are important – Don’t just smother it willy-nilly onto your face
- When hiking alone – take more time for reflection and appreciation
- Brush off the awkwardness – I could have gotten more time to experienced the hike more fully if not for my embarrassment
- Hike more loudly or make your presence known in someway when getting close to other parties so as not to sneak up on folks
- Its always awkward to pass by strangers. Do you look them in the eye? Say something? Why is it that social convention in that situation seems to be lacking?
- Kids love to use hiking poles
- I need to learn how to tell which snakes are poisonous and which are not. O and it would be useful to be able to identify similar things about plants as well.
- Make sure you take safety precautions when hiking. Exploration is thrilling – getting stuck miles from anything except forest in a rainstorm is not
- A plus of being a solo hiker is you get to set your own pace
- You also are much quicker to respond to mountain bikers who appreciate you quickly getting out of the way
- Hiking alone for hours is a worthy experience which far too often is never undertaken
There was always a learning opportunity to be had. I just found that in particular that having such awkward experiences on this particular hike brought them to the forefront of my consciousness.