Two miles into the 17-mile Redwood Creek/Tall Trees Grove loop in Redwood National Park, you cross a stream and the real fun begins. Two miles in is where you leave the hum-drum mountain meadows and start to see some actual redwoods, which is, after all, why you came in the first place. It's easy to think of your hike as actually starting about two miles in.
Which means, 13 miles later, when you cross that stream again on your way back, it can be easy to forget you have about an hours worth of hiking left to do. Which can make for a long hour when your legs have been churning since sunup. It was during this hour that the thought first occurred to me. Ever.
Maybe I should retire from this hiking stuff. Not never set foot on a trail ever again, but the first inkling that maybe the days of the 20-mile all day adventure may be numbered. I've had a personal trainer for awhile now, and the result of all her sadism over the course of the last year, the huffing and puffing and pressing and pulling and the unmentionable stuff she makes me do with those giant balls, is that my performance on the trail is about the same as it was last year. I'm 41 years old now, which means stagnation will soon become retreat, and you don't get back the ground you give up on this side of 40. Ever.
It was just the thoughts that come at the end of a tiring day I'm sure. I'll throw myself back onto the trails a few more times. But for the first time, I thought about stopping, which means there is a last time on the horizon. I wonder if I'll know when it is, or whether it will be like the last time I had Mom's scalloped potatoes. I don't know what it was that made me chow down on them so when I was a kid, but I never will again. Mom is old and frail now, and although I don't doubt she would make every effort to start peeling the spuds if I ever asked, of course I won't.
The last time I ate scalloped potatoes. The last time I heard Joe Nuxhall do the play by play for a Reds game. The last time I climbed the maple tree next to my bedroom window. The last time me and that insane crowd of ADD crazed lunatics I ran with as a teenager loaded into my friend's van and went into town looking for trouble. All occasions that surely would have been noted had I known, but as it is all occasions long forgotten.
I do remember the last time I saw my ex-wife. She came to California before the divorce paperwork was done because she wanted to see this place I had run to. "You picked well for yourself" she said, and the tone of her voice made it worse. The fact there was no yelling or screaming made watching that 737 take off, speed away, and gradually shrink into a tiny dot on the horizon that much harder. I'll never forget that feeling. That the burning down of my life, for better or worse, was now complete. That end was definitely noted.
It's been better for the most part, I'm certainly never going back to Ohioland, but, these trips to the redwoods of mine, the way I almost obsess about seeing no one else, the manic desire to get away in order to get some peace in my head, they feel a lot like mini-burndowns. Except in the end I always end up driving back to that dot on the horizon. Maybe these trips are a good thing, a pressure valve. My legs are awful sore though. And my feet. And my knees. And this year, my hip. This was the first trip where I made sure the ibuprofen was with me at all times. What happens if/when my body can't keep up the pressure release routine?
I suppose the key is to replace the lasts with some firsts. Not sure what they'd be though. I don't think I'd be a very good quilter. Maybe stamp collecting. Of course I could stop running away. Stop fantasizing about destroying the world I built. Again. Or I could keep throwing myself into the woods until my legs fall off.
Being legless has more appeal to me than stamp collecting at this point. I'll ask myself again the next time I pass a 13 mile mark.