A Hike to Remember

my map

I am out for a nice afternoon hike in the dense forest surrounding the OBC. My plan is to take Trail #9 to #CO, jaunt right, make the hairpin turn onto #8, and then catch the easy left at #7 and be back at camp within and hour or two.

Wildlife is so abundant here it is, in fact, hard to avoid. I have to choose my footing carefully not to step on anyone. Leaf-cutter ants tiptoe next to me, racing along like a superhighway of miniature semis swerving back and forth across the trail. A plump mono colorado (spider monkey) ventures toward me in the canopy overhead, shaking loose leaves that sprinkle down on my shoulders. And spider webs strung taut between boughs keep snapping across my face and tangling in my eyelashes.

A good distance up Trail #9, I discover an enormous trunk lying horizontal—a naturallly fallen tree. Colorful lichens and fungi decorate the crumbling bark. It offers me a decent seat, so I stop for a moment to jot a few words in my little yellow notebook.

Yay! I have finished a new story called Arbol de Vida

Writing comes easy this day. The peaceful atmosphere and vivid scenery sends my pencil dashing across pages until, nearly an hour later, the last word of my outpouring falls neatly on the paper. I lift my head and begrudge the nagging tweak in my spine from sitting so long. I stand, stretch. And, after taking a quick photo of myself sitting on the log to commemorate the completion of a new first draft manuscript, I go off in search of Trail #CO.

After many paces, I come to the next obvious junction and check the markers. But strangely the path I’m on is now labeled #CO and the crossroad is #16—hmmmmm—no such transection exists on my map. I am stumped. I shuffle around rereading the slender orange tags that dangle from eyelevel branches. Obviously I’ve gotten onto #CO, but where is Trail #8????

Since I can’t bear the idea of just going back, I opt to forge forward and see what I find. Not far up the path most of the dirt is washed away, carved to broad deep crevasses and, as I edge my way along the narrow rim of mud, I make a mental note not to pass this way again. The trail moves upward in a slow wide arc to the left, due north. I walk for quite awhile without seeing any trail markings—assurance that I have diverted from my planned route—but I suspect this path will eventually turn west and cut back down to meet the main road. Soon I am gaining significant elevation, moist tall trees giving way to a low rough landscape. I hike a steep, dry, untrodden strip of dirt, which narrows until only the echo of a trail guides me through heavy brush. It’s very different habitat than the lush rainforest below

I am sweating profusely. I am starting to feel overheated, dehydrated, and I’m cursing myself for failing to bring water. Despite the oppressive heat, I button up my long sleeve shirt to conserve body water and resist the mild urge to pee. Higher, higher I climb. I will only go another ten minutes, I promise myself again and again, anticipating a left turn at any time. But every bend brings only more brush, higher altitude. The further I travel, the more reluctant I am to turn back. My leg muscles burn with lactic acid. At one point I hear the happy rush of water to my right. Although it’s nearly a straight drop off through a haze of foliage, I know there’s a river below, fresh and cool, and despite its distance I am comforted. I can clambor and tumble down if necessary—if thirst overtakes me. I am suddenly lost in daydreams about launching an Indian Jones-style slide down this wicked slope. I keep walking.

A fly finds me huffing along and torments me for almost a mile. It never lands yet, taunting me with the tickle of his wings, he buzzes non-stop around my ears. No doubt he is drawn to the perspiration trickling from my temples, tempting him with the promise of salt. I try to ignore his whizzing but irritation swells in my head. At last I rip off my hat and flap it wildly like a mad woman. The fly is undettered but I am better for the release of frustration.

At last the path widens, a hopeful sign. And it makes a sharp left. Even better. I cut around the corner and discover what appears to be a grand passage: the trail slips beneath an arch of green branches that reminds me of soldiers holding criss-crossed swords. I step elegantly under the boughs as though entering a ballroom.

Standing dumbfounded, my immediate disappointment gives way to awe. I am in small open clearing where the path abruptly ends into a cluster of impassable growth. But… I am overlooking the world! Mountains, treetops, sky and shore spread before me like a living map. The ocean sparkles with moist allure at the tip of my outstretched fingers. Physically parched yet visually refreshed, I take photos and revel in the majesty of my high throne. I take some time to rest. Then, turning around, I carefully make my way back the road I came.

I am unsure whether I will easily find the correct transects home. And the challenges of going up are multiplied going down. Deep raincarved trenches and slick mossy slopes threaten every step. Bramble grabs at my feet, clamping my ankles like makeshift hobbles. I fall, once—hard. Sliding into a fallen cross branch, I earn sure bruises to my shins. Nevertheless, I feel quite satisfied that today’s journey has been worthwhile. Levity lightens my footfalls and sooner than expected, I find arrive back at the log where I had been writing.

okay, look again...

I am about to pass the sleeping giant when I notice several long orange tags I hadn’t seen the first time. On inspection, they mark the head of Trail #8. Ha! I chuckle under my labored breath. All that time I was sitting right here at the junction. (Turns out, I had accidentally taken Trail #17 to its end point.) Still laughing, I launch down Trail #8 and twenty-five minutes later I am back in my room guzzling water like a camel and thinking about my day. Funny how the best adventures come when you are willing to try a new trail, suffer a little discomfort and embrace the ups and downs of the experience. As for this hike, a surprise bird’s eye view of the world was a true nature-lover’s reward.

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