Meet Me In The Woods

View from Chula Vista Overlook, Government Canyon State Natural Area

On Saturday, I visited Government Canyon State Natural Area for the first time. I joined a group hike that covered 6.5 miles over 3 ½ hours. It was by far my longest hike, and most likely, marks the start of a new hobby/pastime.

The Guide

While hiking I met all kinds of cool people. There was the guide, who seemed to know every nook and cranny of the trail (as expected), but also seemed to have an instinct for how to pace a group. She gave us all granola bars that she had made at home. Then she gave us the recipe. She was kind of amazing, if you can’t already tell.

Approaching Old Age

Then there was the “approaching old age” hiker, who had a lot of experience hiking around the world, but was especially concerned that she wouldn’t be able to get many more adventures under her belt before she was physically unable to take on serious hikes. She talked a lot about how she once hiked in this continent or that (I don’t remember the exact details). She spoke wistfully of her adventures, sounding much older than she actually is. Listening to her made me want to look back on my life’s adventures with the same “oh gosh, those were the days, but I’ve still got some livin’ to do!” attitude.

The Sage

Next, there was the super thin, super light, elderly woman who marched all 6.5 miles without hiking shoes, without trekking poles, and with only a small bottle of water. I’ll call her “The Sage”. She told me that she hikes 5 miles a day, 5 days a week, and that she TOO had hiked all over the world. She told  “Approaching Old Age” that she once hiked in the Himalayas, to which “Approaching Old Age” asked, “how did your body acclimatize to the altitude so fast?”. “The Sage” responded simply, “oh I don’t know, I just adjust easily and go!”

I spoke the most with “The Sage”. It turns out she hikes a lot in Friedrich Wilderness Park, where I do a lot of my trail runs. It also happens that she is a member of the same gym that I am. She asked me about my running, about what workouts I do at the gym, and then proceeded to encourage me in the oddly friendly way only a stranger can do.

“Keep moving, keep running, keep hiking. It’s good for body and mind. Look at me!”

“We do this hike every month, and sometimes we go other places. I go every time I can, because it means I stay healthy and strong.”

I mentioned that I was taking a Yoga class the next day, to which she replied,

“Oh good. Yoga is so good for the soul. I take Yoga classes at the gym sometimes, and I really like them. I do the Restorative Yoga because it combines meditation and Yoga”

I replied, “Oooh, I’ve done that one too!”

Her response?

“Meditation? Oh I love meditation. Not very many young people do meditation. You keep your mind healthy that way! Too much stress these days! Need to keep things simple!”

The Runner

Last, was the fellow with a bit of a beer belly who was a few paces behind “Approaching Old Age”, “The Sage”, and I. He heard me talking about running, and worked his way up to the front to ask me a few questions. Now, I’m by no means a great runner. I manage, but normally I’m the one asking for advice, so it was quite the turn to be providing advice on how to start running, where to run and the basic strategy for increasing mileage over time.

“The Runner” listened attentively. He asked follow-up questions about how many races I had run, and if I thought anyone could do it. I told him that if I could do it, ANYONE could do it!

The funny thing about all of this is that when we got back to the entrance of the park we all just sort of packed our things and left. We never even found out one another’s names.

Everyone in the group (there was about 25 of us) either just walked to their cars and left, or gave a quick nod or wave and then went on their way. It was amazing!

Normally I would think this was odd, but I think not doing anything to sully the discussions we had on the hike was an incredible thing. Odds are, we’ll never see each other again, and that’s okay. We all had great conversations along the way, and there’s just something neat about walking away when those conversations are still at their peak.

I checked out the gift shop (because of course there’s a gift shop), then decided to head out. When I stepped back outside, “The Sage” was just finishing taking a little break before leaving. I walked up to her to say bye, and but before I could she thanked me for a great hike.

It was a compliment that in retrospect seems minor, but it made me feel like a million bucks. I returned the compliment, and shook her hand, hoping that I would run into her at Friedrich at some point, on another group hike, or even at the gym.

Something tells me it’s bound to happen.

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