Saturday, September 14, 2013

Anatomy Of A Mountain Hike

Whenever I go on a mountain hike, my brain experiences the trip in three distinct and highly emotional phases. Today's outing to Heather Lake with my Boston niece and her vet school buddy was a perfect example.

On the steep ascent, I am miserable. Hiking uphill is hard work; my quads burn, my heart pounds and my lungs ache. I'm forever adjusting my clothing layers, trying to find the right balance between the cool mountain air and my overheating body. My back pack and water bottle shift uncomfortably, reminding me longingly of my ever-present thirst and the delicious picnic lunch that I'm saving for my destination. Roots, stones, stair steps, creek crossings and various other obstacles force me to keep my eyes down on the trail, instead of taking in the glories of the old growth forest that surrounds me. My thoughts focus on two puzzles: Why did I ever think this would be fun, and how much longer till we get to the top?

Finally, eventually, inevitably, I arrive at my destination and a radically different phase kicks in. I made it!! The heavens burst forth, the angels sing, and my fussy little brain is filled with a rush of dopamine and good feelings. 

This hike's destination delivered a one-two punch of goodness. First, after that long, arduous trek through the foggy forest, we found that the trail made a mostly flat, gentle loop around the lake. Easy hiking, gorgeous vistas, and the clouds finally faded away to leave us basking in glorious sunshine. 

Secondly, the lake itself was a dream come true. My eyes could barely soak up enough of its picturesque alpine charm.

And besides being lovely to look at, the waters of Heather Lake invited us in for a dip. We eased ourselves down a steep rocky cliff to drop into the shockingly frigid waters, and then recovered from our brush with hypothermia by sunning on the warm rocks and eating our lunches. It was a YOLO moment that I'll never forget.

Thus rested and refreshed, we began our descent, and my brain immediately kicked into Phase Three: The Mountaintop High. During this period, my memories of the day take on a hazy glow and my internal conversation always goes something like this:

I love hiking!
Climbing up a steep mountainside is fun!
I'm not tired at all!
I should definitely go on more hikes. How about tomorrow?

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More Anatomy Of posts for your dissection pleasure:

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