Hiking is a great leveler. Age is immaterial, as the octogenarians in shorts proved to me when I first joined the Southern Arizona Hiking Club. I'd gone to The Summit Hut for a map of the area, and to see if the only real "outdoor store" in Tucson led any hikes. I was brave in California, but the desert intimidated me. There were lots of prickly spiky things which seemed to jump out and attach themselves to my gear in the most awkward places. Signage was minimal, and so was the list of my friends. I needed help, and they directed me to SAHC. Hikes ranged from A through D, where D was strolling the indoor mall and A was leaping like a big horn sheep from boulder to crag to outcropping. I wanted to be a B, but I decided to take a safer first step with the group. No need to be labeled a failure as soon as they met me, I figured. I met Erika and the 7 other intrepid trekkers at Sabino Canyon's Visitor Center and we took off for the hills. Erika, who had no trouble hiking and talking, regaled us with tales of the Swiss Alps, where she honed her skills with her family - infants to grandparents - traipsing over the snow, the flower filled meadows and the rushing rivers. All this as she was setting a serious pace up the side of the mountain.
This was my first hike in the desert, and it was a shocker. The trail clung to the edge with no room for error - and this was a C hike. The leader was taking big strides, quick strides, long loping strides and I was trying to catch my breath, there at 3,000' above sea level. I'd done 20 miles a week of hiking back in Marin; here in Arizona I was an abject failure. Slow, scared, thirsty, out of breath... I barely got down to the bottom after 6 miles and 1000' of elevation change. Clearly, I needed another set of hiking partners.
The Happy Ladies' Club served nicely, in the beginning. The pace was leisurely, with plenty of opportunities for photography and snacking. The leaders were knowledgeable and the company was pleasant. The hikes took me all over Southern Arizona, introducing me to areas I'd never have found on my own. At the end of the first season, when the temperatures heated up and the snakes came out and the leaders retreated to California's Sierra's, I was bereft. With my buddies gone, and no leadership to guide me, I sat and stewed, waiting for the next fall when we'd take off again.
Fall came, and the hikes resumed. The second time I did them, they began to feel familiar. I knew how much water and how many snacks I should pack, and I always remembered my extra batteries for camera and GPS, and there was never a time when someone didn't have the solution to a pricker stuck in a tricep or a broken clasp on a pack. The company remained entertaining, but the pace began to feel sluggish. As I adapted, my group aged. Clearly, something else needed to be done.
Amster and I took her boys to Catalina State Park a few times, but their energy waned and their whining was annoying, so that plan fell by the wayside. The third year dawned, and the Happy Ladies were taking off, once again, on the hikes I knew so well, but this time Miss Marjorie was in the mix. We hiked at the same pace, we stopped at the same times, she was always willing to pose for a picture, and, best of all, she suggested that we hike on our own, independent of the group, the following weekend. I was hooked. I had a new friend, a bonus buddy, a compatriot. Life was good. I was content. My needs were met.
Miss Marjorie, however, needed more. Taking an Elder Hostel trip to Death Valley last Fall, she hiked with The Southern Belle and her husband. All three were surprised to find another Tucsonan in the mix; they bonded and promised to hike together once they got home. Miss Marjorie tried the group first, and found them to be a congenial troop, similar in age and abilities, and she invited me to join them. I was worried about intruding into an established community, but when a man I'd met at the bottom of the hill asked to borrow my extra shirt at the top of the hill, I decided that I'd been vetted and approved.
And now, what to do? The Happy Ladies' Club goes too slowly, but I love their company. SAHC is out of the question - they're too rigid for my tastes. Miss Marjorie's crowd is friendly and fun, but once the weather cools off they take off on 12 mile treks and my limit seems to be about 9 miles. After that, body parts begin to complain. Amster is a good companion, and Miss Marjorie will go with me when she's not otherwise engaged, but I like going with a big group. It's times like these that I miss my buddies in Marin..... but I'm not there and whining about it won't do any good at all. There's been talk of a Happy Ladies' spin-off group, but, for now, I am stuck between an easy and a hard place.
I think I'm going to look at it as a cornucopia of good things - look at all the friends I have! Until a better solution comes my way, that's my plan and I'm sticking to it.
In case you didn't notice, today is 8-9-10.
Thanks to CTVW for noticing!