Hike, heal, recharge

The view at Yosemite National Park is a lot cheaper than therapy.

The view at Yosemite National Park is a lot cheaper than therapy.

I wasn’t always fat and bald. In fact it was only six years ago, when, in my early 40s, I carried a buff 180 pounds on my 6-foot frame. Throughout my 30s, I worked as a bike messenger in Seattle, and for five years I averaged 90 miles a day on a bicycle. A series of injuries slowed me down, and finally, when my knees started sounding like bubble wrap, I knew that it was time to stop riding. Although my riding days were over, I ate like I was still riding. This often happens to active people, as I like to remind my friend and fellow SN&R contributor, the very fit Josh Fernandez—you are only an injury away from becoming me.

Still, every summer, I take three days off and go off to a national park with a rotating group of friends and relatives. I like the challenging trails, off the beaten path, and away from the pack, but the main reason that I go to national parks is to heal and recharge.

That’s what brought me to Yosemite National Park last weekend. It couldn’t have come soon enough.

This has not been a good year for me. In February, I caught pneumonia and, physically, I haven’t been the same since. Then, right as I got better, one of my dogs bit me on the leg, hitting a vein. A tetanus shot and more antibiotics. Three weeks later, as I was driving, the wound opened up, spilling blood into my shoe. More antibiotics.

I was not in the greatest shape to hike in Yosemite.

I am 53 and know my limitations. I knew that hiking the Mist and Muir trails would test my strength and stamina. Would I have a heart attack? A stroke? Am I going to be a drag on my much younger hiking buddies? These thoughts and the knowledge that my brother Carl died of a heart attack at 56 after a bout with pneumonia bounced around in my head.

We hit the Mist Trail with its slimy, broken steps with hundreds of people ascending and descending to and from Vernal Fall. Most seemed oblivious to the danger. The day before our hike, a teenager from Fresno tripped and cracked his head on this trail. He was taken off life support a few days later. On that same day, park rangers recovered the body of one of the three young adults who fell off the falls three weeks before.

And yet, despite these tragedies, Yosemite gave me peace.

After resting at Vernal Fall, we climbed up to the Muir Trail to loop back above the Mist Trail and back to where the trails meet. This was the toughest and most scenic part of the hike. My legs were getting wobbly, but my heart pounded steadily, and my breathing came so easy, I felt as though I was 16 again. There, I stood with nature. Sheer granite cliffs embraced me. I felt great. I felt alive. I was healed.