Reality?... Just a Smidge, Please
A Morning On The Trail
Sometimes I need a dose of true perspective. It usually comes at a point when I'm starting to feel pretty good about myself. My pride has a grip on my imagination, and I'm due for an awakening. This weekend I was granted such an awakening. Nothing earthshaking, just a reminder of my physical condition as it really is, and as I have recently imagined it to be.
As Mrs. Smith and I began our usual Friday morning hike, the overcast skies inspired hopes of a cool morning. The haze and the hopes burned off quickly, however. Since starting this hiking habit we've only rarely participated more than once per week. With sunset showing earlier these days, the after-work hike has become impossible, and weekends are our only option. The parking lot at the trail head was unusually crowded this Friday morning, and we would discover why at about a quarter of the way into this hike.
At about the third pause for water and a deep breath, sweat was flowing pretty freely. This is about the point where I normally feel the sunscreen I had so carefully rubbed into my forehead and scalp start to burn my eyes. The bandanna I keep in my pocket is damp with sweat, but it feels good to wipe away some of the burning sensation. Later in the hike I would use that same bandanna to clear my congestion. Same thing every time. Well, there was one time... a particularly cool morning... Mrs. Smith's ears were cold before my eyes started burning. I sacrificed my bandanna to the more immediate need, and used my shirt later to clear my eyes and my congestion.
In the distance and around a turn, we heard the pounding of running shoes. Voices of a group of girls grew closer, and in the lifting haze we soon saw the swinging pony tails of at least two dozen cross-country runners. I followed Mrs. Smith to a trail side turn-out and watched as the group of girls passed. She made the comment as we stood and watched, "Good, gets them away from the video games for a while". We smiled and replied continuously as many of them bade us "good morning".
As we continued on I thought about how my perspective of what just happened differed from Mrs. Smith's. She saw a bunch of kids reluctantly fulfilling a physical education requirement in the very early morning hours when they'd rather be playing or watching television. I saw youth in control, not under control. I imagined those young runners on their second lap on the trail. I imagined some of them were thinking, "isn't it cute when old people take walks"... or "should old people be allowed to use this trail? It's a little dangerous".
The trail narrows and steepens at a point where a map stand is visible at the end of the loop. We reached this point just in time to step aside for another group of young runners... boys this time. Louder, less polite. Very much in control. One at the back yelling to another who had already passed us, "wait up!" As their conversation bounced off the hillside rocks, I fully expected to see the one in front running backwards past us again to join his friend in the back. I was glad when the end of the pack came.
The Rest of the Way
The hike became less satisfying for me after seeing these young people toy with the trail that for a few months has worn me out every time. No matter the time of day or the day of the week I struggle to reach the top, and thoroughly enjoy a break at halfway. Today's break just gave me more time to think. Mrs. Smith had the right perspective. These were trail users like us. Better for them to be running than doing a lot of other things young people could be doing these days. The end.
Their physical condition is only relevant to them. They have their reasons and their goals. They have nothing to do with mine, and can't be compared to mine. As a character in one of my favorite Louis L'Amour stories said, "...he ain't out to win no medals". Well, that may have to be engraved on my headstone.
I hope that it's more the conditioning that limits me than the advanced age. That's something I can deal with. That's acceptable because there's hope. I'll just keep doing it... stretching the distance and pushing my internal speed limit. I'll probably never be able to crack walnuts the way these kids are surely capable of, but that's not what this hiking endeavor is all about. It's about getting fit for the rest of my life; and doing it alongside my best friend.