I looked up at the trail with apprehension on a sunny, slightly blustery Saturday afternoon. It was the perfect day for a hike, at 63 degrees. I could see the other people, looking like ants as they scurried up and down.
It looked incredibly steep, and I wasn’t sure it was the right thing to try. It was my first hike in six years.
I grew up with outdoorsy parents, whose idea of fun was snow-shoeing to a yurt, skiing double-black diamond runs, white-water rafting, camping and canoeing in national parks, and hiking up mountains. My first trip was on a Virginia river in a canoe at 3 months with a heart monitor.
In college, I rebelled, refusing to find pleasure in 80-mile bike rides like my dad does. And now, a month before my college graduation, I decided to hike the famous “M” trail for the first time.
As I started up the first switchback, I noticed a caterpillar, inching along on the ground. I smiled, remembering a hike through a redwood forest in California with my family and naming all the banana slugs I found after members of the U.S. women’s soccer team. Today, I named the caterpillar Hercules, knowing that some things from childhood never disappear.
I kept walking, inching up switchback after switchback, being passed by children, people my age running in proper workout clothes, and adults with dogs. Each step made my legs burn and soon I had a healthy stitch in my side. About halfway up, I breathlessly contemplated turning back.
Did I really need to see the M up close? I bet it’s just made of white pebbles, I thought.
I took a deep breath and remembered how triumphant I had felt in the past, setting up a tent properly, clambering to the top of a rock, and seeing a waterfall up close. I needed that feeling again and kept climbing.
As I turned on yet another switchback, glancing up I could see a white rock clinging to the hillside. I was almost there! I switched to ‘I can go the distance’ from Hercules on my iPod, and on shaking legs took the last steps to the M. It was made of white concrete, not pebbles, and graffitied. I looked down at my watch in surprise. It had only taken me 25 minutes to hike the three-quarter-mile trail 620 feet above the valley.
As I took a deep breath at the top, trying to calm my wild heartbeat, I noticed a boy, about 7 years old, in a yellow dinosaur t-shirt and jeans, and tan baseball cap. He was sitting on the M with his parents and two dogs.
“Now that I went on this stupid hike like you asked, can I have a hot fudge sundae? With a cherry on top?” he pleaded.
His parents laughed and said yes, reminding me of the rewards my parents gave me for going on their outdoor excursions. There were little treats, like a new book, or things that were rarely found at home, like Pringles potato chips.
I felt that old, familiar feeling of triumphant on the M, as I asked a mother to take my picture. I smiled a sweaty smile, with my shaky legs and slowing heartbeat. I made it!