Picture this, if you will.
The scene: A canyon in the vast deserts of the American Southwest. It’s hot, hotter than our heroes expected, and the sun beats down with a brutality understood only by those who have spent a summer in the south… with a broken air conditioner.
The characters: About 20 girls, college-aged. Bright-eyed and eager for a day of hiking, they start up a trail in sunglasses and athletic shorts. They don’t bring enough water. Among them, one is warier than the rest.
The wary one, of course, is me. Mostly because I’m always wary, in the same way some people are always happy or… hang on, I’m not always wary. I’m always sarcastic! (Fun fact of the day: They say that the eyes are the windows to the soul. In light of this, a friend once looked into my eyes. She said my soul looked sarcastic.)
However. On this particular occasion, I was wary. Mostly because any time you get a large group of girls together out in the wilderness, it’s safe to assume that something will go terribly wrong. That’s not an insult to my sex—some of us are very outdoorsy. But for every girl who knows how to skin a bear (and in fact recently won a bear-skinning competition, the anthropology of which she is basing her doctoral thesis around), it’s a safe bet that there’s another whose idea of a trek through the wilderness involves a walk through the park, possibly ending with a picnic.
Hiking is, of course, great exercise. I’ve gone on several longish hikes before the one I’m describing now, and I highly recommend it as a way to spend a day outdoors with a few friends. It was thanks to these hikes that I was rather more prepared than some of my cohorts, mostly as far as knowing how much water to bring.
As these things usually do, the hike started out well enough. We were in high spirits as we headed down the trail, enjoying the lovely desert vistas around us. It was hot, but we had dressed lightly and had the foresight to put on sunscreen, so we weren’t too concerned. However, as we got farther into the hike, water supplies started to dwindle. I was starting to run low on water, so I had no idea how those who had packed less than me still had any left. About two miles in, I came to the conclusion that all my peers were either part camel or descendants of cacti. (In case they’re reading this: very nice cacti, I’m sure!) Then I shrugged and kept going.
It was a six-mile hike, but it was not a loop. That is to say, it was three miles in, about face, three miles out. The last quarter of a mile or so before we turned around was unreasonably steep. As in, we went from level ground to desperately scrambling up a gravelly trail, using our hands to cling to boulders on the sides of the path when necessary. Don’t worry, though—there was only a dangerous fall to one side of us!
At the end of the trail was a very interesting rock formation, which we proceeded to climb and take a combination of adorable/cheesy pictures on. When we turned around and walked back, we had no choice but to slide down the really steep part, crouching down and pushing ourselves along on our shoes like some sort reverse T-Rexes (in that we relied on our arms and had useless legs). It was all very dignified.
Eventually we made it back to the campsite, covered in dust and at varying levels of dehydration. But heck, I think we were the better for it. Anyway, no one died or was seriously injured, so what do you want?
I’m not an expert on the matter, but in my opinion, anyone wanting to take a day hike of five to nine miles (or thereabouts) will need a t-shirt, athletic shorts, and either hiking shoes or a decent pair of tennis shoes. I love my Converse, but sadly they’re not suitable for hiking. If it’s cold, you would be well-advised to wear thermal tights under your shorts to add warmth, as opposed to putting on jeans.
The main problem that faced our group on the hike through the desert was lack of water (go figure—dehydration was a problem in the desert). One water bottle will not do it, people. Two liters isn’t overkill, although it may seem like a lot. Depending on the length of the hike and the environment in which you’ll be hiking, you may require even more. Of course, if you’re planning to go backpacking or anything serious you should consult someone more reputable than a pseudo-outdoorsy college student. (This website, for example. Or a real life hiking-type person. That would be a good idea.)
Be sure to check back next Thursday, by which time I’ll surely have taunted a rhinoceros for the sport of it. Or maybe just tried something new at the gym. Anything could happen!
Are you a hiking aficionado? Got any tips or stories? Share them in the comments!
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