At the agency I work at, several of my younger coworkers are avid hikers and campers. They are also gung-ho about planning social events. Thursday morning, as I strolled into the office, I overheard them discussing a possible hiking and camping excursion as an agency team-building activity.
I hate long hikes into the wilderness. And I hate camping. Nothing good ever comes of it. The Houseguest loves both activities and has, on occasion, managed to drag me along on a short hike, but has failed to get me to go camping.
It was time to rain on this parade, so I began making passive aggressive comments about how hiking as a team-building event would be problematic. But I wasn’t making much headway in blunting their eagerness.
Jadyn, who sits next to me, is an outdoorsy type. She’s low key and was not actively pushing the team building event, but during the discussion, it came out she is an accomplished bowhunter and has a lot of experience shooting with rifles. People were impressed.
(Note to self: 1) Never piss off Jadyn. 2) If a zombie apocalypse breaks out, stick with Jadyn.)
This revelation sparked even more interest and got others involved in the camping discussion (Thanks a lot, Jadyn). It also led to a discussion about which coworker would be a successful survivalist. I didn’t really have much to contribute because I think we all know how long I’d last. But since I refuse to go into the wild, I don’t need survival skills. If civilization collapses, it won’t matter because if there is no Internet or fully-stocked grocery stores available, that’s not a world I want to live in anyway.
Group hikes — My worst nightmare
Turns out, I have one potential ally who had luke-warm interest in this proposed nature quest. Ryan, our assistant creative director, claims he has a bad back and said he didn’t want to sleep on the hard ground. An account manager pointed out that sleeping on the hard ground is actually good for your back. You know what else is good for your back? Not hauling a heavy-ass backpack over hill and dale looking for a camping site.
Let’s face it — we humans are intruders. Nature doesn’t want us out there. Why do you think it’s constantly trying to kill us? We’re like a virus. We show up and throw everything out of whack. I’m a huge fan of the natural world, but my preferred method for exploring its majestic beauty is the Discovery Channel, sitting on the couch with a chilly drink in one hand and a remote in the other. And Nature appreciates that.
Someone in the office said getting away from the city is good for the soul. No, it isn’t. If it was so awesome, we’d all still be out there living the natural life. Honestly, I don’t see what the attraction is — I can just as easily sit around my house and not shower for several days but be a lot more comfortable as I develop a funk. And if I get the urge to poop behind a bush, I can go out into the backyard — the neighbors might not be happy about it, but hey, at least I’m not risking getting chewed up by a bear or a mountain lion.
No, as far as I’m concerned, the best thing my ancestors ever did was leaving the wilderness far behind. It took them thousands of years to accomplish it, and the only way I’m going back is kicking and screaming.
The hike from hell
One of the last times I went on a hike, I made it up a mountain to commune with Nature and Nature said: “Get the fuck out of here.”
I don’t have to be told twice.
That ill-fated excursion happened when my friend and part-time antagonist, Ryan Malone, surprised everyone by forgoing his usual birthday booze fest at a local bar. He’s an accomplished photographer, and instead, he wanted to haul his camera and equipment up to Fremont Saddle near Weaver’s Needle in the Superstition Mountains to take time-lapse photos of the night sky. So, Malone made the dubious decision to invite a bunch of his alcoholic friends to accompany him on the night hike as part of his birthday celebration.
Sounds cool, huh?
Trust me; it wasn’t.
After reluctantly agreeing to go, I went to REI and bought everything I thought I’d need: a collapsible hiking stick, a light I could strap on my head (the Houseguest just informed me that those in the know call them headlamps — whatever), and a Camelbak water pack. My purchases were uninformed (the Houseguest was still working in the MiddleEast at that time), but I felt ready to tackle the wilderness.
Into the Wild
It was around 10 p.m. on a Saturday night in late July when we arrived at the Peralta Trailhead and began our hike. With the sun down, I assumed it would be cool out, but it had been baking the mountains all day and the stone still radiated heat. Plus, the rock formation and narrow trail didn’t let any breeze come through creating stifling conditions. The hot, oppressive air wrapped heavily around me like a straightjacket. After sweating for half-an-hour, I would have killed to feel a cool breeze to provide some relief.
Wheezing my way up the trail like an overweight asthmatic, I sucked water down at a prodigious rate until I’d depleted my supply. It reminded me of the time when I was twelve, and I went on a 12-mile death march with my Boy Scout troop from hell and ran out of water. At the start of the hike, I dropped the glass-lined thermos my mom had packed, inadvertently turning it into a shard-filled maraca. Parched, I ended up being the last miserable straggler into camp. That memory triggered a sense of foreboding in me.
Once we made it up to Fremont Saddle, we finally experienced a cool breeze. It felt glorious. People began drinking beer and relaxing while Malone set up his gear.
We had a spectacular view of Weaver’s Needle along with the lights from the valley’s cities as they sparkled densely across the darkness, stretching out to the horizon.
In the far distance, we could also see towering wind-driven clouds illuminated by lightning blowing our way.
In a prior life, I must have been a dog because when I’m outdoors I have the same reaction to thunder and lightning as your average canine — Mindless terror. The one major difference is I don’t pee on the floor (usually).
We had a five or six-mile hike back, and I could feel my face squinch in apprehension as the muscles around my eyes tightened. I mentioned my concern about being caught outside with lightning approaching, but Malone noted the storm clouds were far away and moving slowly. You can call me a wuss — Malone did, and I won’t dispute his assessment — but the idea of being caught in the open by a storm alarmed me. Every year, lightning injures 240,000 people around the world and kills 6,000, and I didn’t plan on being one of them. (My sister had a former student injured by lightning recently — a sad case but he’s making strides). There’s a reason some of my friends call me Mr. Safety — and it’s not because I hang out on mountains waiting to be zapped by bolts of sky rage.
The perilous descent
As the wind picked up, Malone glanced up at the distant storm and started packing up his gear. The clouds were affecting his photo session and he wasn’t getting what he needed. Plus, he had tired of my Nervous Nellie routine, so the rest of us packed up and we began our descent.
“Huh,” he said. “Those clouds are moving faster than I thought.”
No shit they were. We began hoofing it back to the trailhead.
Of course, on our way down, I was inching sideways down a steeply slanted rockface when my forward boot lost its grip. I barely avoided performing a life-altering case of the splits, but I slid eight feet down the rock and turned my right ankle when I hit the dirt. Intense pain shot through it, and I sat on the ground for a couple minutes, swearing and groaning. It didn’t feel broken, so I left my boot on, afraid I’d be unable to get it back on if I removed it because my ankle had started to swell. Everyone was concerned — not because they were humanitarians or anything; no one wanted to carry me. Using my walking stick as a makeshift crutch, I could hobble, but not fast.
So much for getting off the trail quickly. Despite being highly motivated by distant lightning flashes, my injury reduced me to Ass-end Charlie. I lagged farther and farther behind our posse. In movies, I’d be the guy snatched by a monster.
Once or twice, Malone appeared out of the darkness to make sure I hadn’t given up (probably for liability reasons) and then forged ahead out of sight.
An unwelcome trail partner
The thing about the Arizona desert is it is full of night critters, and we encountered a bunch of them on our excursion. Scorpions, spiders, creepy-crawly insects, and several snakes, all non-venomous, except for the giant rattler camped out in the middle of the trail. Hobbling, I caught up with the group as they debated what to do. Normally, a rattlesnake will slither away, but not this bad boy. He rattled and showed no inclination of moving anytime soon. This necessitated a machete-style journey through the thick bushes above the trail to get around the snake — made more difficult by the fact we didn’t have any machetes. Gritting my teeth, I made it with considerable difficulty, and we continued on our way. Thank God I had my hiking stick, or they would have been helicoptering me off that hill.
Limping badly on my throbbing ankle, with every step I cursed Malone and his stupid birthday. (Under my breath, mind you because he was my ride out of there.) We should have been drunk in a bar in Tempe.
It took a lot longer than it should have, but parched, exhausted, and in pain, I dragged myself back to the parking lot well in advance of the storm.
I lay in bed on Sunday and ended up taking a day off work to rest up. In, hindsight, I probably should have gone to the doctor, but I didn’t. My ankle stopped hurting after two weeks, but even though the swelling went down, it looked fatter than it used to. I’m not exaggerating — it took several years before it appeared normal again.
Much to my relief, from then on, Malone went back to bar celebrations for his birthday.
Now I just have to figure out how to get out of this team-building hike.
New development. My co-workers are discussing going up to Sedona, a popular tourist area and hiking spot. The idea is some can camp out and others (me) can stay in a hotel and then meet up to hike. Another alternative I’m going to pitch is I Facetime them from the hotel while they’re hiking. It would almost be like I was there.