She doesn’t like steep grades. And I don’t care for decline. It drives her mad when I spot a good climb and just take off. “Wonder what’s up top?” But coming down? The tables are turned. Now I’m a jerky, rusted robot playing catch-up, quads trembling with every squat. I’ll try to keep up with her as she scrambles over rocks, humming to herself, homegirl smooth as a Slinky going down the stairs. We are best friends, and hiking partners. But don’t let the selfies fool you. We drive each other crazy.
Recently, we hiked North Cat Mountain. I made it to the very top, touching the Rich Man’s Wall right below his mansion, with my poor man’s walking stick. That was a 96 degree day in the afternoon. The trail blew up dust like drivers on dirt roads under a desert sun. So terribly dry. No wildlife. Just a lone, orange butterfly that floated and followed us around for a spell. Today, we just wanted to hike the other side of the Thurm Venable trail. It’s cooler now, but with the sun setting so early, that meant driving during rush hour. It was a 40 minute drive to get to Bull Creek. I was in that sitting position so long, I almost fell out of the car like some kidnapped man duct-taped to a chair, knocked onto his side. I’m not 25 anymore. I did my joint mobility exercises before the drive, but shoot, that’s just so I can walk.
My wife had to wait patiently while I searched for flat ground to do my hiking warm-up: 30 perfect squats. After that, I was good. I rocked side to side with a little bounce, sporting a Cheshire grin. We prayed, discussed our route, and began our ritual of revealing to each other that we wanted to do exactly the opposite of whatever the other person wanted to do. We hiked on flat ground for a little while and encountered a series of off-map trails. We then came upon a common find in Bull Creek: the scattered, rusted parts of a dumped car. Looked like a door to me. While my wife stopped to take a look at the junkyard pile, I ventured ahead and followed what looked like an overgrown trail. I hiked up that trail all the way up to the top like a cat following a window ledge all the way around a high rise, unable to resist. My wife wasn’t very happy about that. At the the top, I climbed out of the woods and onto the street of an affluent neighborhood. It felt like I was changing movie sets. I watched a resident watering his lawn, and a couple in bougie clothes walking towards me. I felt like Harry Potter passing through a brick wall.
I felt bad. My wife wasn’t feeling great. But I had to do it. I told her, “We’re not getting any younger, babe. When will we back here again?” She grumbled. I laugh, though, because she ignores me all the time, as well. When I suggest hiking poles on certain hikes, she’ll say, “Nah, I’m good. I don’t like carrying them.” But when you check the pictures with the sketchy terrain or the water crossing, she’s using mine, while I stand with ankles that tremble and totter like I’m standing on a slackline. In the fall when I want her to puff her inhaler, she’ll shake her head and whisper with a slight wheeze, “Nah, I’m good,” followed by a cough. Puro “Chale” attitude, as we say in Spanglish. When her face turns purple, she’ll say ‘I’m fine.’ Just like she did in Big Bend. Doesn’t matter. I can’t convince her otherwise.
But, you know, I can’t hike with anyone else. When push comes to shove, this lady has my back. I remember hiking the McKittrick Ridge Trail with her, in the Guads, two years ago. I was so worried about hiking the so-called “hardest trail in Texas,” that I drank water to excess. It was 91 degrees on an 8 mile hike up a mountain with 48lbs on my back. My wife later told me that half-way up, standing atop an overlook, I surveyed the landscape, while peeing the clearest, crystalline stream of urine, like some porcelain fountain cherub. I should have rationed water, but didn’t. I treated my Camelbak like a water tap. Like I was running water for a hot bath. When we got up to the top, I realized I had drunk so much water that we couldn’t cook at camp. We couldn’t use it for anything, for that matter. We wouldn’t have enough water for the way down. We had to stick to packets of tuna that she was smart enough to bring along. I was sucking the juice off of every spoon like a beggar. I ‘borrowed’ her water for the way down. And you know, if the tables were turned, I would have been self-righteously mad. Crazy mad. But thank God she’s not like me. She was as patient as could be. I smiled, like I had donkey teeth with chapped lips, as I unscrewed the cap of HER water and poured it into my canister. She was a trooper. I was a repentant mess confessing my sins all the way down.
We did take a good selfie, though, when we made it to the bottom. Instant facelift. Amazing how you can turn off the agony even when you’re driving each other crazy, when it’s time to strike that selfie pose.
It’s just real life, I guess.