It wasn't a long hike, but we were all tired. It wasn't a strenuous hike, but we all felt it. It wasn't hot but we were sweaty, it was windy but the little bugs were still hanging around.... it was a weird day.
Though I've lived in Tucson for 45 months, today was the first time I'd ever taken the tram up to the top of Sabino Canyon. My friends were shocked...... yes, as shocked as Claude Rains was shocked..... that I had never shared the experience with visitors, that no one had taken me up the paved road 3.7 miles into southwestern heaven, that they had done it 5 times or every Spring and on and on it went. But this is not a hiking post (I took neither my camera nor my GPS) but a meditation on getting older.....staying fit.....ageism....the rights of the majority....being kind to one's friends.....and, once again, who decides?
There's no one who doesn't like her. We laugh about her, but we laugh about all of us. She has secrets, but so do we all. She's traveled the world and cared for her mother, she plays tennis and goes to church and she always asks about G'ma. She's a friend. She's not young, but she doesn't want us to know how old she is, and that's fine (albeit a little bit odd) (but aren't we all?). She's not asthmatic nor arthritic nor vision impaired.
But is she an intermediate/advanced hiker?
We weren't going to get to Hutch's Pools today, no matter who the participants might be. It's an all day 10 mile-ish hike and that's more than this group ever attempts. There were many stopping places along the way, and photos were taken and ahhhh's were sighed. There were several stop-you-dead-in-your-tracks moments, which was a good thing because she was s-l-o-w. And careful. Very very very careful. She didn't want to fall, and we didn't want her to fall, and when she slid on the loose gravel - a beautiful slow motion fall - all I could think of was we are 2 miles from any cell service . She was fine, and each of us has fallen or tripped or stumbled or plunked a foot down into the freezing cold 2' deep streambed, but, right then, we all shared a level of anxiety which was only there for her.
Those of us at the front of the pack were able to rest in all the shady patches. Even when we weren't tired, we got to rest, because really, how far in front of her could we be without being rude?
And I began to think about G'ma and the Dining Room at the Old Folks Home (her residence before the pod-castle). Walking her down to dinner, I asked her if there were people with whom she usually would sit. She shrugged and said that there had been some women, but once they found out she was Jewish, they didn't want anything to do with her. Questioning the hostess after G'ma found a table with people who were glad to see her face, I discovered a hidden truth about aging. It wasn't her religion that had disturbed her tablemates. It was the fact that she had an aide. They were too independent to associate with someone who needed help to find the Dining Room.
It wasn't long after that that G'ma moved to the pod-castle, where life is good, and she is one of the active, healthy ones. But it's really the same issue. G'ma shares her table with the other residents who are connected to the real world. She's not looking for more companionship than they are able to give her, so it's the perfect solution for her. It may not be perfect for me or for you, but that's not her problem. She's got a smile on her face, and she feels good about herself.
But that need to associate with those who can do what we can do seems to be hard wired. We wanted to go faster than she could safely hike. The terrain was rocky and steep and she is v-e-r-y careful. Which is a good thing. Most of the time. Perhaps, though, not on this particular hike. Maybe it was just too difficult for her. And so we worried. And we rested. And we worried some more.
And my not-really-an-intermediate-hiker friend turned out to be an intermediate hiker after all. She trod the same path we trod and was no more nor less tired nor cranky than any of the rest of us.
So, why were we wondering if she should have gone? It didn't kill her.
She didn't bring up her blister - we did. She didn't complain about the distance or the change in elevation - we asked her if she was ok. And she was annoyed when we worried. And I admired her for it. She was tired, there's no doubt about it. I could see it in her eyes. But she was also quick with her usual witty and snarky retorts. I was glad she was there.
Because I got to share a real accomplishment today. Something that was difficult was undertaken and achieved. Others of our usual group opted for a flat walk through the wash instead of hiking in the Santa Catalinas with us. I know that they are younger and fitter than she is and yet there she was, the first of the 2nd group of us, daring anyone to tell her that she shouldn't be there with us.
Waiting for the tram to take us back down the Canyon, she leaned next to me on the railing and showed me why I love having her in my life. She didn't collapse in a heap. She didn't kvetch or sigh.
She looked me in the eye and said "I did it. I'm proud of myself."
As well she should be.
Yes, she should've gone.