Monday, July 19, 2010

News Flash: Hiking's Hard

Sometimes I love when the weatherman is wrong. (Or should I use the somewhat less old-school and more politically correct term "meteorologist"?)

As someone whose activities rely heavily on being outdoors, I'm a near-constant watcher of the weather. Yay for iPhone apps that allow me to be extra-obsessive about this. Just a slight hint of sarcasm here.

Today is one of those days - a day that I expected to be cloudy and rainy, a day I'd written off in terms of doing a run or a ride after work.

That all changed when I stole a few minutes this afternoon for an errand and was hit with a blast of bright sunshine - and despite that it is probably hotter than ideal for a run or a ride, the possibility that one of the two might be happening tonight.

Possibility. Might. I'd use more definitive terms if I haven't been reminded that my body might not be in tip-top shape for activity tonight. By that, I mean reminded every time I've gotten out of my chair today.

See, somehow I'm still feeling the effects of Saturday's hike. Yes, two full days later, I'm still feeling it.

Saturday's hike, although mentally relaxing, was apparently physically taxing. If I recall correctly, I asked for it to be that way.

After flipping through the AMC guidebook at the campsite Saturday morning, TC had narrowed our trip down to two possible trails - coincidentally, both about 2.5 miles long. Yes, two and a half miles. That's nothing for someone who's somehow managed to squeeze in 100+ miles of running and riding for each of the last three weeks, right?

Wrong. With a capital W.

The first option was a nearby trail - almost literally a stone's throw away from our site - that would lead us up a 2.5-mile trail to a small mountain. Actually, I'm not even sure it was a "mountain."

The second option was to tackle Mt. Jefferson, which I later learned is the third highest peak in New Hampshire. Yep, a 5,700-foot-high mountain in the Northern Presidentials.

By the numbers, it didn't seem like it would be overly difficult. After all, it was 2.5 miles, and the trail started at 3,000+ feet, the highest point of any public highway in the state. That would mean the drive there would give us an edge up, right?

Not quite. A closer read of the AMC book revealed the real story. The guide's description was peppered with words like "strenuous" and "steep" and included the phrase "rock scramble." The writer even bluntly cautioned against underestimating the challenge by looking at the mileage alone.

After all, we'd be gaining 2,700 feet of elevation in those two and a half short miles.

TC left the decision up to me, which he almost always does. Almost without hesitation, I told him we'd take a crack at Mt. Jefferson. If I'm going to work that hard and hike, I'm at least going to get the payoff of a spectacular view at the end, I told him. Plus, I don't really shy away from a challenge - vacation or not.

Properly prepared with all of the essentials in a backpack, TC and I hit the trail by mid-morning. The trail wound upwards through the woods briefly and brought us to a cool look-out point marked by a giant rock. We stopped to appreciate the view and take a few gulps from our bottles (and recruited a passing family to snap the picture at the top of this post).

From there, we were hit with a wall of rocks. I climbed steadily (not quite as steadily as my well-seasoned hiking companion), using my leg muscles and, often, my arm muscles to pull myself up the rocks. This is where I learned exactly what a "rock scramble" was.

We went up and up. And up and up some more.

Sweat was pouring off of me (well documented in some of the photos we took along the way), my breathing got harder and my heart rate climbed. Definite signs that my body was working.

TC led the way most of the way - and I tried to keep up. As we neared the top, which required nothing but climbing on rocks, I fell back slightly and asked for a few breaks. He happily obliged.

We enjoyed some time at the top, including a backpack lunch in a hidden nook that shielded us from the incredible wind at the peak of the mountain. We made sure we hit the exact summit, which was marked with a metal pin of some sort, then headed back down.

Turns out, descending is almost as difficult as going up the mountain. At times, it was harder. I guess it's kind of like cycling. Intuition might tell you that going down would be the simple part, but it's not always easy. It takes concentration and work - especially if you want to do it safely, efficiently and correctly.

Slowly but surely, we stepped our way down the rocky passes - reading the slope and shape of the rocks and deciding which one (and which exact spot) would give us the best footing. We held on branches, roots and part of rocks along the way for extra support when we needed it. Total body workout, for sure.

Almost five hours later, we made it back to the bottom of the trail. Yes, five hours of climbing - "strenuous" and "steep" and "rock scrambling" climbing.

I felt great. And didn't have one ounce of guilt that I'd nixed all plans for riding and running all week and weekend. A post-hike check when I returned home to a computer confirmed that it was a good workout. I burned an estimated 2,600 calories. (That's almost equivalent to a marathon!)

Not surprisingly, my body was a bit stiff when I awoke Sunday morning - but I partly attributed it to the fact that I was sleeping in a tent all night, tossing and turning during a night of thunderstorms.

That morning stiffness didn't dissipate much and, as we wandered the streets of a nearby town on the way home, I realized my body really was feeling that hike - feeling it in my quads and calves and even a bit in my upper body at times.

Even today, I feel a twinge of hurts-so-good in my muscles when I stand up from my chair.

That brings me back to tonight. To ride or not to ride... stay tuned.

Update: Turns out, the meteorologists (yep, I'll use the more scientific word now) were right. A summer storm rolled through just after 7:30 p.m., as TC and I were strolling through the grocery store on the hunt for dinner. It's also the precise time that we'd be about the furthest point from home if we'd gone for a ride. Rain came down heavier than I'd seen it in a while and thunder clapped loudly overhead. As we huddled under the overhang hoping the wind and rain would pass long enough for us to dash to our car, we both acknowledged that ditching plans to ride that evening was a wise decision. Very wise. Just another reason to listen to your body - and those meteorologists. Sometimes.

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