The Middle-Aged Hiker


I wasn't middle aged till I'd consummated about a mile's worth of a certain hike into Grand Canyon. That was 1992, October. I was 45. I'd been to a chiropractor the previous day for only the second time in my life and, after he'd folded me up like a Murphy bed in a 4th floor flat and snapped my vertebra back into place, he assured me that a good backpack properly strapped onto my torso would increase my back strength and alleviate any lingering discomfort from my strained sacroiliac. He was right up to a point. The point was about a mile into Grand Canyon. S & I were struggling down the Hermit Trail--not a particularly menacing route, by Canyon standards--when we met some young trekkers heading up. Fast. One of them, who slurred his words as if the steel plate were peeling off his cranium, claimed that this was the second time he'd been up the trail that day. An obvious lie, but it made me feel especially old--or, more precisely, middle-aged.

It was also about this time that S realized her snazzy looking hiking boots, which had stood her in good stead the last time we'd hiked here, were now, oh, about a half size too small. For those of you who've never experienced the nuisance of too-small hiking boots while on a steep and slippery downhill with a kitchen sink's worth of knick knacks on your back--well, I recommend it, especially if you're into self-abuse. Middle-aged self-abuse (say, isn't that redundant?).

As I write this, it's half a year later, and I'm remembering what good fun we had last time, completely ignoring S's bruised toenails, which still haven't fully healed, and my still occasionally sore lower back, and the innards of my 35mm camera, permanently coated with Canyon grit. I'm thinking we'd better make our hiking reservations pretty soon, or we won't get our choice of campsites.

In Bermuda.

Yeah, after a dozen (13? I've lost count) trips into Cañon Grande, never once getting it right, maybe it is time we tried another hiking venue.

But this theme appears frequently throughout my hiking journals. Why change and give up my protestations now?

--David Gunn

Waterbury, Vermont

Okay, you've spent your life making a career or making kids or both, you're middle-aged, and you want to discover the great outdoors, test your self-sufficiency (After all, how many loaves of hippie bread did you bake that made everyone you knew covet the Tip-Top? Do you remember Tip-Top?), or search for serenity at last. Well, for two out of three, this is the book.

Here you have the story of four people like you--people who walk into door jambs while talking, people for whom a hike means going to the mailbox without a car (we are country folk, after all), people who cry over spilt milk, people just like you--who began to stumble through nature, unreasonable but beautiful nature, and lived to enjoy it ... and want to do it again.

If you're a flaming slob, supermacho or fretmatic, maybe you should stay home. If you're an humorless enviro-freak, earth-god bliss ninny or outdoors anal compulsive, put the book back now. And, please, if you don't like fun, this book will self-destruct in ten seconds. And you'll deserve it.

We'll see the rest of you in the desert.

--Dennis Báthory-Kitsz