Wednesday, August 25, 2010

Oh Knees, Don't Fail Me Now!

Oh knees, don’t fail me now! was my silent plea as Kailyn and I descended the steep switchbacks to view Elowah Falls last Friday morning.  After pouring over the “Take a Hike Portland” book, we had decided to try a less popular, and supposedly less strenuous, hike a few miles past Multnomah Falls just off 84 east. The hike was only 3 miles, with 600’ elevation changes, and was considered “easy”.

The day dawned beautiful, sunny and clear, promising to be a good morning for a hike.  We arrived at the trailhead by 9:30 and after a short, gently sloping trek, came to the crossroads of either going up to Upper McCord Creek Falls or down to Elowah Falls.  We chose the high road first and enjoyed the shady journey to our destination. The trail up was pretty rock strewn and root crossed, so I carefully kept my eyes on the ground to protect myself from falling, something I tend to manage every time I go on a hike! We made frequent stops for photos along the way, as always.

We could hear the falls as we approached, and the excited calls of children reveling in nature’s playground.  Two women and four kids preceded us.  The oldest boy was having the time of his life, scrambling over rocks and fallen logs, exploring skinny pathways around huge boulders that were strewn haphazardly throughout the area. The falls were gorgeous, as was the incredible rock formations, many clothed in thick, green moss.  Kailyn climbed a huge rock, to see what she could see, while I sat, watching the kids, gulping in the beauty close by and fortifying my energy use with a healthy snack! 

After returning to the cross road, we started down to Elowah Falls, and it wasn’t long before my poor old knees were crying out, STOP! But, of course, I didn’t stop, because I didn’t want to miss the falls or the remainder of the hike we had planned.  Once at the bottom, we oohed and aahed the sweet falls and captured the view on film.  I was a bit leery of the trek back up, but worried needlessly, as it was much easier going up than coming down.

Still had some scary moments, when I wasn’t sure I would make it back out of the woods and to the car.  It was the first time this summer that my knees gave me grief and it surprised me.  I felt I was in pretty good shape, especially after the Ramona Falls hike, which was more than twice the distance and more elevation!  I think the problem was the steepness of the grade going down, and fortunately, I found it much easier coming back up to the “Y” trail marker.

As we made the final descent to the car I found that at any point where the trail pointed downhill, I found myself with achy knees.  Kailyn had the good idea of having me descend sideways, and that worked well to protect my knees.  Ironically, once I was on level ground again, my knees didn’t hurt at all, so we enjoyed the rest of the day by stopping at Multnomah Falls to use the restrooms, and purchase a bag of pretty rocks for my students this year. We then continued on old Highway 30 and stopped at Vista House before reconnecting to 84.

I am treasuring these last moments of summer, in the company of my daughter.  It is good to be healthier than I was two years ago, when I couldn’t have attempted a hike of any duration.  However, this hike reminded me forcefully of the wear and tear that excess weight has put on my body over the past several years.  It crept on so insidiously, and became all-encompassing, overtaking every moment of my life.  The weight and inactivity came close to destroying my knees, and this hike was a painful reminder of where I was. It was also a clear reminder of where I want to be.

I want to be healthy, and able to hike and explore this vast and marvelous world.  My goals are pretty simple ~ spend time on this earth appreciating what nature has to offer, on my own power, as long as humanly possible.  Instead of regretting the “lost decades” I want to look forward and make the best of what I have.  And, one step at a time, that is what I intend to do.

Wednesday, August 18, 2010

Let there be Light

These days it seems I spend more of my time browbeating myself for all I'm not doing right, instead of celebrating the good things.  I chose these photos because they invoke  good feeling about myself as a person on so many different levels.  

My youngest and I decided we would attempt to get in a few mother/daughter hikes this summer, while she is home from college.  This is big due to the fact that until recently, whenever we would attempt to hike any distance I would be huffing and puffing and we'd turn around, usually within 10-15 minutes. Over the course of the last couple years, I've managed to lose some of the excess weight I've packed around for the last decade or so, and begun a regular exercise program.  This summer I felt I would be able to hike again, something I relished when I was younger and BC (before children). 

We heard about a trail in the Mt. Hood area called Ramona Falls and after a bit of research decided this was on our "For Sure" list.  About three weeks ago we made the drive, stopping at ZigZag Ranger Station for what we hoped would be an accurate trail map and a chat with them about the trail, which was actually a 7.2 mile loop, with an elevation of 1,100 feet. As the rangers didn't look at me and exclaim that I looked like I was too old or too fat, (a genuine fear of mine) we thanked them and drove to the trailhead.

We had the ten essentials in our backpack, with several frozen bottles of water included.  We were ready for my first serious hike of any elevation since the 1970's!

Somehow we missed the "loop" part of the trail that we planned to take, which would have given a different view and was unprotected from the hot sun on the way up, and ended up going up and back on the same trail that meandered along Ramona Creek.  It was take-your-breath-away stunning much of the way and photos barely do it justice.  Still, we stopped repeatedly to snap photos of the mini falls along this creek. 

I was pleased that although I found it challenging to climb what others consider "gentle" slopes, I only came to a complete stop a few times to catch my breath.  My daughter was a perfect hiking companion, as she kept to a pace that was doable for her mom, and fortunately is a shutter bug, so there were many photo ops which were appreciated for more than just the beauty of our surroundings!

After about three hours of hiking, we arrived at Ramona Falls and it was everything the books and websites said it would be.  We eagerly devoured our PB & J sandwiches and rested briefly before heading back the way we had come.  While it was almost cool at the falls, we knew it was above 90 and decided to hike back the way we came to keep out of the hot sun.  

In the end, it took us about six hours to hike what the books said should be 3.5, and even taking into consideration the multiple photo stops, I don't think I could have done it in less than 4.5, as I'm still packing a good 50 pounds of excess weight more than I would like.  Still, it was exhilarating to complete the hike, and spend time with my daughter.

I loved the fact that I could hike over seven miles and live to tell the story!  The day was a highlight of the summer for me, and a taste of even better things to come.  The struggle with weight is overwhelmingly so much a part of my life that I hang onto these moments of "flying into the light" with a death grip.  Somehow, some way, I dream of flying away from the burden of the weight that keeps me on the ground.  Perhaps I will become "that fat hiker gal" that despite the weight, embraces the challenges of elevation in order to seek the beauty that feeds my soul. Because the beauty of backcountry and all nature truly does feed my soul, and makes me glad to be alive.  Tomorrow, another mother/daughter hike, another opportunity to seek the light.