Hiking to Fish Caves

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.

fish caves

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.

The Spark

Hiking the Pacific Crest Trail hasn’t always been on my list of things to do.  In fact, I didn’t know about it until fairly recently.  I have always wanted to hike many different mountains though.  It was a desire I have had most of my life.  Where ever we drove or flew, I would see interesting landscapes and want to be out in it, wanting to hike or climb.  Usually I would only dream of such a thing; I didn’t have time; it wasn’t the right time; nobody else wanted to…the excuses would pile on.  I have hiked a few places though and knew that I loved to hike and that it was a lot of work.  We hiked when we went camping and hunting, and I even went cliff climbing with a friend, but these outings were rare.  I had just enough experience to keep the desire alive.   I have a few places I would really love to be able to go hiking and they nag at me from time to time.  I want to hike Mt Rainier, Mt Hood, Mt St Helens, a few of the trails around Lake Tahoe, and some in my own neighborhood.

When I read Wild by Cheryl Strayed, that desire flourished.  It nagged at me for several weeks.  I kept thinking about this untrained woman hiking such a long distance by herself.  I knew that I wouldn’t do this alone, but I did want to hike.  I felt I had to hike. I kept mulling this over and trying to figure out what I was going to do.  A lot of the time just coming up with a plan makes me feel better, and life continues on.  I am often self-destructive in the fact that I talk myself out of dreams, or I just don’t take action and one day it is no longer as important. And I move on to other things.  But this desire was different.  I realized that I am tired of dreaming but taking no action.  It is time to do something differently.  I needed to make plans that were actually achievable and set smaller goals and deadlines to be sure that I would do this.  I knew right away that I wanted to hike from Mt Hood to the Cascade Locks and cross the bridge into Washington.  I left things as that for a while.  Then I went to the locks for lunch one day with my son-in-law and grandson.  There were some hikers lunching there too, and they just looked so alive. I wanted to join them on the walk across the bridge.

wild

The story and my desires kept plaguing me.  I couldn’t shake them.  One day, I sat down and decided that I needed to get more serious about getting into shape if I wanted to do this hike.  But I had told myself that I would do something before when I got into shape and that dream slipped away because, as I realized at that moment, the goal didn’t become reality because I had no accountability and no deadline to get things done.  If I wanted to actually do this hike, I had to do things differently.  I questioned what I could do differently and quickly decided to give myself a deadline.  I guessed that by driving past Mt Hood and on to the Colombian River that it could possibly take me and someone else about five days.  So I gave myself five years to get ready to do such a hike; it sounded reasonable.

mthoodandcolumbianriver

That was the starting point.  Now I had to decide how to get into shape and prepared for such a trip.  I also needed accountability.   That was no problem.  If I talked to my family members I would have to do it because they would keep asking until I finally made it or face the humiliation of saying that I didn’t accomplish the trip.  This also helped me decide how to find a hiking partner or two.  I knew that my daughter would hike with me because she likes adventure and hiking.  I also thought of inviting several other female family members to make this a girl’s getaway.  But I also wanted to invite a male cousin.  Just telling friends and family that I wanted to do this, I gained interest and hiking partners. Now I have about six of us planning on going on this hike in five years or less, 2020 or sooner.

Now to become fit enough to be able to master this challenge.  I knew from reading the book that I should be able to hike about 13-15 miles a day for several days in a row.  At that point I was walking 10 minutes a day.  I had been able to do several miles with no problem, but that had been years ago.  I didn’t know about at this point.  So the most logical thing to do was to increase the distance and the frequency that I was walking.  I decided to walk at least one mile a day 3-5 days a week and three miles or an actual hike one day a week pushing for walking five days a week.  I started and haven’t looked back.  All the excitement that I gain from talking about the trip and planning keeps me motivated to walk regularly and trying to lengthen my outdoor hikes.

I have excitement and people checking in on me.  I am on my way training for the big hike, and that is even more motivating than I had thought it would be.  I am very confident that this time things are different and that I will actually get there one day.

The Starting Point

I am having an affair.  Like most affairs, it’s an unhealthy one.  I have been fighting this relationship for a long time, but haven’t gotten anywhere.  I am 208 pounds and in love with food.  Some people have addictions to sugar, salty things, or caffeine, but I just love food in any form it comes to me.  I love to cook and bake, and I love to eat.  I can overindulge on healthy and the not so healthy.  It makes no difference.

When I decided to hike a part of the PCT, I knew that I couldn’t do it in the state that I am in, so I started on a quest to get healthy.  I went to my doctor to determine how unhealthy I had allowed myself to become and to get a starting point to becoming healthy.

I knew I had to do something, but I also had to find a doctor who saw me as a whole person instead of a bag of skin full of symptoms to fill with drugs. Luckily I found such a doctor on the first try. I had heard that this doctor was direct.  That sounded good to me.  I work well with people who tell it to me straight.  For the appointment, I prepared a list of problems I was aware of.  We talked about them and what I wanted from the appointment.  Then she showed me how she really works.  She ordered the blood tests, listened to my list of problems and concerns of what the previous doctors had or hadn’t done, and asked, “Okay, now why are you fat?  Why are you eating so much?”  Wow…It took me aback, but when I gave myself a moment to think, I realized that she w doing exactly what I was looking for.  She was addressing the big problem, the problem that most doctors seem to avoid or skim over.  In the past I had always had to address the problem myself and got answers like, “eat more salads” or “go for more walks.”  Good answers, but not that helpful.  We spent an hour talking about my eating and health.  I left that appointment with a plan I felt good about.

Why am I so fat? Why do I eat so much?  I love food.  Plain and simple.  I eat when I am stressed or emotional.  I eat when I am lonely.  I eat when I am happy.  In general, I eat for whatever reason I can develop.  Well that is not quite true.  I never felt I had to justify my eating.  I was at a point that I just did what I wanted and that, I thought, was eating.  I don’t really stick to any one kind of food.  I could overeat it all, but I do prefer to over indulge on the foods that are quick and easy to grab.  I like exercising but always seemed to find other things that had higher importance.

When I went to the doctor, I had to have a full blood panel to see where I was.  I also asked about things I was aware of.  Somethings have to take a back burner until I address others, but I will get there.  What I found was that my blood pressure was elevated, my cholesterol was high, and my blood sugar was creeping into the danger zone.  I had back and knee problems and major constipation plagued me.  I had recently torn my calf muscle, my allergies were taking over, and I had shortness of breath on exertion.  In general I was a mess and about 80 pounds overweight.   But, I learned through my discussion with my doctor that I may have intolerance to some foods causing some of my problems and making weight loss difficult.  Our plan was to eliminate dairy for two weeks and redo my blood tests.

I spent the next week balking at the idea.  I love dairy and ate it with every meal.  I didn’t know if I could even cook without dairy.  Then realizing that I could give anything up for a short time, I decided to give up dairy on June 1st for the entire month.  That way I could have time to work myself into this and also to work out any problems with my diet. I was only going to do this for a month, but by week two, I noticed so many differences that I have continued for almost a year.

Since giving up dairy, my blood pressure has gone down from 145/80 to 124/80; my blood sugar is below 100; I lost 6 pounds; I feel better; I sleep better; I have less gas; and I am just better.  I don’t feel like I need to snack all the time, and I don’t crave sugar like I used too.  I was even able to give up most chocolates.  It made me feel so well that I rarely cheat.  I don’t eat any lactose free items and goat cheese because they irritate me as well.  So the result is to refrain from all dairy.  I cannot be perfect in this, but I can make those conscious choices.  I have learned to go without casseroles and pizza and to bake things with alternatives.

This is just the beginning, but it is coming along.  And, I didn’t get to this point overnight, so I won’t become slim and fit overnight either. I am on a path to a healthy relationship with food.