It was my first real hike ever with a pack. I wanted to hike so badly, and had wanted to for such a long time. I dreamed of it, I breathed it in, I ate it, and then we were there. He said we needed three days of water at eight pounds a gallon, a tent, a sleeping bag, a pad, cook ware, food, coffee, clothing, hat, sunglasses, sunscreen, mosquito spray, flashlight, extra batteries, first aid, second aid, third aid. I couldn't lift the pack. At five foot three and a hundred and ten pounds, the pack was a monster. My six foot three companion generously lifted it up and placed the seventy pounds of survival on my back. I could barely walk. I looked up high into the sky to see the trail we were to take. Straight up for six miles. I was worried.

We began hiking up Dog Canyon. His shoulders were broad and strong, and his pack seemed to fit to his body as though born with it. His shoes were size thirteen and his legs were long and lanky, perfect for a wide stride. His steps were wider apart than my height. Straggling downhill behind him, I became intimate with his knee pits. After what seemed an eternity of a pace impossible for me to keep up with, I asked him, “Do you think we’ve gone a mile yet?” He stopped, turned towards me, and pointed to the Jeep in the parking lot eighty feet below us. We’d gone barely an eighth of a mile. My companion, Mr. Bunyan continued uphill until he was out of sight. Only twenty three hundred more feet up. Yes, it was a dog of a canyon. 

I eventually caught up with him, not because my pace quickened or that I learned to endure the pain, but because I found him perched on a rock waiting for me taking a few puffs from a joint. He was actually smiling. I had no more than just come to a stop when he stood up. He was well rested and ready to go. He saved what was left of his weed and continued marching on. I took a big breath and followed. After a while, we came to a narrow stream with timber laid across as a bridge. He was far ahead of me again by that point, so I hesitantly crossed on my own. The first step went fine, followed by a successful second step. But the third was not so lucky. The timber cracked in two and my boot went into the icy water, twisting my ankle as I fell. Now I was angry. I’m OK with cold, and I’m OK with wet. But I’m not OK with cold and wet at the same time. And I wasn’t sure I could get up. I crawled to the other side and kept my eye on a thick woody vine coming down from a tree at the edge of the water. I grabbed it and gradually pulled myself out. My foot was throbbing and soon went numb. I had no choice but to hike on. And as before, I came upon him sitting on a ledge, smoking. Again, he smiled as he saw me arrive. I glared at him. 

“I fell in the steam,” I said, hoping to get a little sympathy and aid of some sort. “I twisted my ankle.”

He looked at my shoe and gave me his medical advice, “Well don’t take your boot off. If it’s broken, it will swell, and you’ll never get your boot back on. You won’t be able to go anywhere.” There was nothing more he could do or say, and so he turned about and continued on the hike up. I was now enraged. But what could I say? I had wanted to go hiking. And he, a seasoned and oversized crowd-losing thrill-seeking hiker, had allowed me to come with him. So on I went, breathing the dust he kicked up. 

The next time I found him resting, I told him, “I have to take my pack off. I need to rest.”

He asked, “Have you had much of your water?”

“Water?” I asked. “I haven’t had any. I’m too exhausted to drink.” I fell to my knees and loosened the straps on my pack, allowing it to crash onto the earth. My shoulders were sore, I couldn’t feel most of the other parts of my body. I stretched my legs out. They felt puffy. I drank some water. We rested about fifteen minutes. 

“We’ve only got another mile to go to get to the campground where we can set up for the night,” he told me. 

“I can’t do it,” I said. “I’m staying here. I can’t get that thing back on, and even if I could, I’m too tired.”

He looked disappointed. “We can’t camp here,” he said. It’s forbidden to sleep on the trail.”

“Well I can’t move,” I said. “You’ll have to go without me. If a ranger catches me, he can haul me back in to the ranger station and scold me or fine me or put me in hiker’s prison. But I can’t make it, not now.”

“We’re close to a benchmark,” he said as he looked at his map. “I think it’s up there.” He pointed perpendicular to the trail up another climb that had promises of a view. “Can you make it up there if I take your pack?”

“I think so,” I said. He picked up my pack with on large hand and began looking for the marker that would tell us our elevation and pinpoint us on the map. I did my best to limp after him. After a while of meandering, he said, “Here it is.” He looked around a bit for a level tent spot, and began making it cozy. I leaned up against a tree. There was a nice view of the valley we’d left behind. I could no longer see the Jeep.

“Can I take my boots off now?” I asked. 

“Yes,” he said. As I did so, he took an elastic bandage out of his pack and wrapped my still cold and wet foot tightly with compression. It had not swollen yet. He moved it back and forth to see if it was broken. He shook his head. “It’s not broken I don’t think,” he said. “Might be sprained, but probably just sore.” 

“Can’t you just once say, “Oh you poor thing!”?” I asked him. “It would really do me a world of good.”

He smiled, almost laughed, and said, “You’ve got to be tough out here. No weenie talk. You’re tough, tougher than you look. You’ll make it. But you could use some medicinal Wild Turkey.”

I didn’t normally drink, but I was in a mood. I wasn’t sure if I wanted to shout, laugh, or cry. I was still angry that he hadn’t tried to stay closer to me, let me rest longer, and give me just a bit of you poor old girl talk, show me that he cared. And the pack was so much heavier than I’d expected. And the hill was so much steeper than it appeared on the map. And the icy water was so much colder than it should have been in April in west Texas. He handed me a cup of the golden make me forget liquid and I drank it in one gulp as I didn’t like the flavor. It made me cough and breathe heavily and nearly choke. I wasn’t sure what to expect from it, but he refilled my cup and handed it back to me. I drank it down quickly. He was smiling again. He filled his own cup as well. We drank together for a while. My mood began to soften. The liquid was helping me to relax and feel no pain. As the night came on, I began to think his stories were funny. He was a geochemist. His stories weren’t funny. He didn’t tell jokes. He was Pennsylvania Dutch, that is, German. And as I understand it, German jokes don’t have to be funny. But his were. And they got funnier as the night went on, and as the Wild Turkey bottle was emptied of its contents. In fact, I began laughing out loud, quite a bit. The more pathetic the story, the more I laughed. I think I even slapped my leg once or twice. And then, I couldn’t stop laughing. He was hilarious. I’d never realized it before. He was a stand up comic sitting down. He was delighted I was so enamored with his discourse. I was having a great time. I felt absolutely no pain. I wasn’t even cold. I laughed so hard I fell over backwards. I thought that was funny too. That made me laugh. And I laughed so hard at that, I began rolling down the hill. And if nothing else had been funny, that was funny. I was laughing as I rolled down the hill. Mr. First Aid suddenly realized he was losing his audience, as I was not trying to stop myself. I thought the roll was fun. He shot up and ran after me as quickly as he could. Fortunately, I rolled into a bush. That was funny too. Everything was funny. 

He picked me up and helped me, walked my legs as if he were a puppet master, up the hill back to the camp site. He set me down as I told him how much fun he was. We began to get a little lovey-dovey there laughing together in each other’s arms and I believe we were going to make love. But then I threw up and promptly went to sleep. 

That was my first hiking experience. I felt duly hazed into the brother-sisterhood of extreme hikers. I eventually became a seasoned hiker and the ravens who called to me in the great canyons of the southwest became the calls that made me feel at home. I would become a maiden of the canyon, the mountains upside down, and there I would be happy.