The truck bounded down the rutted sandy road. When we talked about hiking, I thought I knew were we were going. But now, I am not so sure. We passed the turn off for the place I was expecting, backed up, and took a road opposite. The path was barely visible in places.
I am excited to hike something new and at the prospect of no others being around. And the farther down this road we travel, the more certain I am that we will be alone.
This is my first hike in years, and Nikki is my children’s age. I worry that I will let her down, that I won’t be able to make it to the caves. But I am here with her and excited about the prospect of being on a mountain again.
The path is not clear at first, but as we begin to pick our way through rocks and low bushes, it becomes clearer. It is not a well work path, but it is visible. It doesn’t take long before I am feeling the effects of the incline. I slow down but don’t stop. My heart is beating fast, my breath has become gaspy, and my calves are aching. I’m going to feel this in the morning.
Sooner than I expect we are at the first cave. I turn around and look out across the valley. It’s wide open; I can see for miles. The truck is as small as a toy truck.
The cave has a big rock at the mouth were we sit for a bit. The shade feels good on our hot skin. Then we start looking around ready for more. It’s not a deep cave, and there is a sand hill just past the entrance. We walk for a short bit. The ceiling is covered in smoke, and there is a dead bat on the sand. Not having flash lights, this is the farthest we go in.
Back out of the cave, we climb up and around it. Moving further up the hill, I am fresh again, and the hike feels good, exhilarating. The climb becomes steeper and rockier. We are climbing over rough ground and large rocks. I can see the cave up a head. I am concerned about whether I can get back down or not knowing that my knee is stiff making me awkward at times, but I continue.
The cave is shallower than the first one, and there are more rocks at the mouth. They are smooth and easy to lie back on. Looking at the ceiling here, the rocks amaze me with how they stick together and remain in place. There is a hole off the side in the roof with rocks leading to it. I am thinking about how they are giving away, but Nikki is climbing through. Following, I can fit, but not easily. There is no obvious trail, but Nikki is climbing again. There is one more cave she wants to show me.
The climb here is easy, and there is not far to go. We hear the buzzing before we see them. Wasps have made a home right at the entrance of the cave in the low hanging rock. They are busy and I am nervous, so we go back to the middle cave that we climbed through. On our return, I look back out over the valley. The Navy base and Rattle Snake Mountain are visible. The green fields and brown fallow grasslands are expansive. The mountains to the west are purple in the setting sun, and the clouds have taken on a sherbet hue.
The setting sun indicates that it is time for us to return to the truck which is now a mini toy. Climbing to the first cave is not as difficult as I had feared, but it is not easy either. My feet keep slipping, the rock wall overhangs the trail, and I slip to sitting. Instead of trying to stand and climb down the trail again, I finish this section sitting and sliding on the rocks. This makes it easier for me to get across the larger rocks with the bigger steps. Then we are back at the first cave and the path, though steep, is much easier than the last part of the trail.
We have done it. The hike is through, and I am excited about hiking again. We talk about hiking every weekend that the weather is good enough. This hike showed me that I can still do this and enjoy myself like I had always had. I am ready for more and longer, even for more vigorous hikes.