DON’T LET HIM IN, I’M HIKING DOWN
Is it acceptable to hike in jeans? in cowboy boots? What if you have a beer gut like me, hmm? And old injuries that make you hobble, limp, and seize up with Charley-Horses like arrows shot into the back of your legs? What about after a fat plate of Cooper’s BBQ that rolls around your tumtum like tennis shoes in a dryer? Is that frowned upon? And ‘urban hiking’? Is that really hiking? Of course it is! Go hike and throw out doing it ‘right.’ Our most hallowed saying in the hiking community is “Hike your own hike.” Damn straight. The stories will come if you go, if you answer the call to hike in or down, or wherever you go. The most awe-filled, slack-jawed thrills in my hiking life happened when I was a newbie. Improperly dressed. Inadequately prepared. But I was drawn to the woods, nonetheless, one cautious step at a time, often in cowboy boots, stepping behind the treeline like a house cat pawing at stalks of grass before he commits to setting his foot down. Many of those times, I had a five-year-old boy behind me, begging for permission to jump in the water, scale a wall, or to go home. I remember one time in Juneau, Alaska, unable to afford the glitzy cruise ship excursions like helicopter rides to glaciers or speedboat rides out on the bay, I asked a man at the Imperial Saloon, a smoky, rundown bar with red neon and a Moose head inside, what I should do. He said, “Roberts, man. Mt. Roberts Trail.” I had to walk across town, in my boots and jeans, behind a mountain range (for me) to get to the trailhead. The streets were so steep I could touch them with my nose. When I made it to the trailhead, my flip phone died. Then I saw the MISSING HIKER sign asking for information on the whereabouts of an experienced hiker last seen on Mt. Roberts Trail. Then it started to drizzle in 50 degree weather. It really was one foot in front of the other until I was so far up the trail there was no turning back. That hike up Mt. Roberts Trail in Juneau changed my life. Making it to the top overlooking Gastineau Bay, watching the red trams go up and down, knowing I was scared shitless and did it anyways, shed a little light on what was possible for me.
Now, I wasn’t in boots and jeans today like when I started hiking all those years ago, but I did have a gut-rocket of Cooper’s BBQ stretching out my skin like a third trimester belly, blowing little depth charges inside of my tumtum. My knees were toyin’ with swellin’, and after the drive home, I was pretty sure they were going to pop like Pillsbury biscuit cans. But I had to hike. But where? After we finished meeting my wife’s family for an early dinner in Llano, we decided to park and walk across the Roy Inks Bridge on the pedestrian walkway. We were right on time. The sand glittered below and the granite, grey with pink stripes like smoke rings, appeared to bubble from the earth like cooled lava as the Llano River cascaded over the dam and the jagged rocks below. A glowing sun, suspended over the river, lit up all the stone.
Now, driving here to Llano was fun. We stopped at two historical markers and found a little history to dream about, some oddities, and some really pretty roadsides. The State of Texas is quite beautiful in the month of May. We stopped by Packsaddle ranch and found a marker commemorating Indian fighters. One of the men’s names was ‘Pink.’ The inscription also used the word ‘Thrice.’ Old-school, anyone? Eerily, an Indian doll was lying at the base of the marker. Packsaddle mountain loomed behind. We drove off but had to stop at the next marker, set beside two boulders of white granite, and a strange object dashed on the ground. It was chipped and cracked, revealing an ivory pillar of some kind, engraved with elephants in single-file, holding each others’ tails with their trunks. The marker was for a Spanish Texas expedition for silver in the area, and the discovery of Honey Creek. While reading, I saw steers running across the pasture, behind the barbed wire fence in the distance, trampling wildflowers and cacti, and I knew they were headed for that creek. We decided to walk down to the overpass and see that sweet water for ourselves. Along the way, the Indian blanket wildflowers just rocked back-and-forth in the wind like a church choir singing up to the skies. My wife ran her fingers over the petals as she walked by the guard rail. Swallows, no doubt nesting under the bridge, flew around us like flying dorsal fins cutting left and right, up and down, with utter ease. I stopped, entranced, and gazed at the water running over the rocks, shallow as it was, and pure, running east into country I only wish I could see. I tell you the truth, I would not paw at the grass if this rancher were to let me in.
Well, I was really full after we ate. I hadn’t stretched. I wasn’t hydrated. And I knew I’d pay the price later, but I crossed the Roy Inks bridge and hiked down to the water. I hopped from rock to rock, hiked bend after bend, and both sides of the bridge. I stopped. The water swirled around stones, the orange haze of the sun haloed the white struts and lattice-work, and the fishermen cast their lines into the river from the dam. I stood there listening, watching, feeling the tingling of the wind. I was glad I hiked down, glad I didn’t let the old man in.