Thursday, March 22, 2007

The Road Less Traveled … Hm

I went hiking this morning by myself. I took the proper precautions and let someone know where I was hiking and about how long I was going to be gone. I wore a bright red windbreaker, and I carried my cell phone. Yep, I approach this hiking thing smartly.

As I started my trek, I saw a small trail veering off the main trail (a fire road that winds up to the top). The small trail went straight up the mountain through the woods. So, I thought to myself, “Self, you could take this itty bitty trail, and probably get to the summit quicker and connect up to the fire road at the top.” As I contemplated my choice, Robert Frost’s poem, the Road Less Traveled popped into my head: “Two roads diverged in a yellow wood, And sorry I could not travel both...” In his poem, he took the road less traveled “And that has made all the difference”.

Recalling his poem appealed to the adventurous part of my nature by taking the path less traveled, AND taking the tiny path appealed to the more practical side of my nature since it would probably get me to the top of the mountain quicker. So, off I started up mountain on the tiny trail; good spirits and optimism led the way.

My optimism and good spirits slowly started fading as the path became steeper, muddier, and narrower. There were times as I crawled (and I don’t mean that figuratively) up the trail that I thought to myself, “Self, you really should turn around.” But alas, I kept climbing up thinking, “It is only a little bit further.” Each time I would stop to take a breath, admire the view, and drink my Gatorade, I would look back down the precarious slope and wonder how I made it up. (Detail-oriented side note: The Gatorade was grape. I bought it at Target right before the hike).

I kept going higher and higher, with the summit always in sight. Often, as I crawled and scrambled up the steep slope, grabbing hold of tree limbs, shrubs, and rock holds, I realized that there was no way I could go back down this ‘path’. I also realized that the ‘path’ must be an animal trail because only animals and a crazy, somewhat demented, 42-year-old-man would ever use this trail.

I remember, right before I crested the summit with a tear in my eye, thinking, “Thank you Lord for letting me finally make it.” Just to be clear, the tear was from a twig that poked me in the eye. Yeah, that’s right, a twig! Anyway, I grabbed hold of the shrub, pulled myself up to the summit, and the view made my jaw drop. Oh sure, it was stunningly beautiful, but my jaw dropped as I looked down over a 300-foot cliff and across a large ravine. I realized this was NOT a short cut to the fire road at the top of the mountain. Instead, it was a ‘false summit.’ It was at this point that a twig or something must have poked me in both eyes.

So, I had a decision to make. I could either go back the way I came, or try to walk along this summit and go down at a different point. I could not go down the cliff as (1) it was very sheer, and (2) I would still have to go up the other side of the canyon (bummer). Given what a struggle it was to come up the trail and how risky it would be going down it, I decided to look for another trail. (Detail-oriented side note: I had now been hiking about an hour).

You readers who have an overly sensitive and caring nature (i.e., a mother-complex), who are worried about me getting lost, should know that I obviously made it out okay because I am typing this blog. Also, you should know that I could see the freeway from where I was at. It is just that there was over a mile of undergrowth, trees, mud, rock, and steep descent between me and freedom.

On a side note, when I was on the top of the mountain, a helicopter flew over and circled me three times, probably wondering what the heck I was doing up there. I have to admit that I even thought about signaling it. However, staying true to my male ego, I just waved and started walking along the summit like I knew what I was doing. I knew that if I got into trouble, I could always call on my cell phone, uh, assuming it had service (I never did check).

Anyway, I slowly made my way along the summit until I found another animal trail that went down. I crawled under thickets, climbed over thickets, and sometimes I just pushed my way through the thickets. I was getting pretty scratched up on my face and hands. Luckily, my body was covered by jeans, shirt, jacket, and stocking cap. There were a few times when I slipped or the ground gave way, and I slid down the hill 5-10 feet until I ran into more thickets. Needless to say, I was looking quite a mess.

I would like to take a moment to highlight a few other thoughts and experiences I had on this hike. First, I heard, but did not see, a rattlesnake at two different locations. When I would hear the rattling, I would not only veer the other direction, but I would start singing loudly to warn off any other rattlers. Second, as I was crawling under the thicket on the trail, I kept thinking, “What kind of animal is big enough to leave this trail, but small enough to go under this thicket?” The ONLY animals that kept coming to mind were bobcats and mountain lions. Hence, I would again start singing loudly to ward off any dangerous cats. As I have had a run-in with a mountain lion in the past, you can imagine my concern.

Believe it or not, I was actually feeling pretty good about my progress until I arrived at the (insert sinister music here) POISON OAK! Specifically, I ended up in a narrow and steep canyon completely surrounded and filled with poison oak. I could either go back the way I came, or I could crawl over and through the poison oak to get out. I know from reading about poison oak that a small percentage of people are not allergic to it. "Hm, am I one of those?" I thought. I guess I was going to find out because I plunged down the canyon, through the poison oak, fighting my way to freedom. I AM MAN, HEAR ME ROAR! ... squeak.

Well, I finally made it out of the ravine, and lo and behold, I could see the fire road. Dang it, twigs must have poked my eyes again!

I practically ran to the road, rejoicing to be free of the evil, dark, forest. By the time I emerged back on the fire road (almost two hours after leaving the fire road), I was covered in mud, twigs, and brambles. I quickly hiked back to the car, and I drove quickly home to take a shower to try and remove the urushiol (Detail-oriented note: Urushiol is a surface oil found on poison oak that generally causes an irritating itchy rash and/or blistering of the skin - what a bonus!).

The people outside my condo and in the elevator must have wondered what happened to me. One friend, on hearing this story, said I should have started mumbling incoherently and they would have just thought I was a vagabond. But instead, I embarrassingly said ‘Hello, uh, beautiful day isn't it’ and proceeded to my condo.

So, now I am waiting to see if the poison oak appears on my hands and face where it repeatedly touched me as I struggled to get out of the gully. I really need to learn to take the road more traveled. I won’t know for sure whether or not I have a reaction to the poison oak until 72 hours past the point of contact. I have a feeling my face and hands are going to be covered in a rash as my face feels hot and irritated. I stocked up on food a little bit ago. This way if the rash and blisters do appear, I won’t have to go out in public with my face covered with pink calamine lotion.

I find myself reflecting back on Robert Frost’s poem, and how it ends, “Two roads diverged in a wood, And I took the one less traveled by. And that has made all the difference.” Yes, I completely agree with him, as I sit here wondering if my face is going to be covered in rash and blisters tomorrow.

I should point out that I have learned my lesson. As a matter of fact, the last time I made this error in judgment, my buddy, Rick, and I ended up less than ten feet away from a mountain lion. Sooooo not good!!!! Also, on that same trip we had to swim across a raging creek, scale a rock cliff, and constantly avoid poison oak. Oh, and the time before that when I took the road less traveled (also with my buddy Rick), I ended up on top of another mountain with no easy way down. This side trip took my friends and I quite a long time to make our way down. I used to blame my buddy Rick for these, uh, side trips. But clearly, the blame has been misplaced. Yep, I have learned my lesson. Anyone care to go hiking?

After thought: Well, three days have passed, and I did NOT emerge with a rash or blisters. I am one of the lucky few. Whew!

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

Wow, you have no idea what you are missing. A friend offered me some willow branches and I thought OH great I can make the beautiful willow furniture or at least a trellis for my garden and it's free! I pulled half a dozen or so out of a big pile and brought it home. The next day poison oak broke out on my arms and the following morning I was a fully in red face with my eyes fuffed shut. I am still iching all over. I guess the willow contacted poison oak at some point. Yes I got a poison oak shot and have a cream but I am still growning reder and itchier by the minute. It is tourcherous. I am going insane and your story boggles the mind how you could get away with not getting this herendous torment with your road less traveled adventure. By the way you are a wonderful writter- keep it up.