Wednesday, 6 August 2008

Is This Torture Ever Going to End?

This last weekend was a long one. I am not referring to long in the tedious sense, but long in the extra day off work sense. Monday was British Columbia Day, and B.C. just turned 150 - still a spring chicken in province / country years then. And how do Mr. DBM and I spend our long weekends? To be honest, we like to hunker down in our nice cool basement and avoid sitting in a sweltering car with sweat dripping down our backs for hours on end while we wait to get on a ferry / cross a border / get over a bridge / wait for them to tarmac a road, put in a sewage pipe or otherwise generally disrupt traffic by digging up a major road on a long weekend. But, that really would have been a waste of a glorious day, so we decided to find a hike relatively close to home which did not involve crossing bridges, borders or travelling on roads decorated with bright orange cones. We also had to consider the difficulty of getting to a trail head without a four wheel drive vehicle with a four foot clearance. Hmmmmmm, our choices were somewhat limited, but after much trawling through the hiking guide books and ruling out hike after hike due to access difficulties, we had our winner - Elk Mountain it is!

Now, I love to hike. I love to be in the great outdoors, to immerse myself in nature, to marvel at the flora and the fauna, to smile when I hear the little chirping squirrels and to wonder when the next bear might leap out of the bush and scalp me. Luckily for us, most of the bears are terrorising the urban sprawl that is West and North Vancouver and parts of Coquitlam, scrabbling around in people's garbage and eating food left out for other wildlife - "well, officer, that food was meant for the birds and squirrels, not the bears." Unfortunately, the bears are not aware of this faunal discrimination and many end up getting shot after visiting too many gardens or the local Safeway. But that, dear reader, is an entirely different rant, so let's get back to the hike. Here are a couple of excerpts from the hiking guide:

  • "expect a nice open forest of second growth hemlock which is refreshingly cool in the summer."
  • "friendly uphill grade"
  • "gently gains elevation"
Now, the first quote was accurate. In fact, it was actually cold in the forest. In the middle of summer, with temperatures in the Valley soaring into the high 20s, low 30s Celsius, in the forest you could actually see your breath it was that chilly.

The second and third quotes - not so accurate. In fact, I am very curious as to what the terms "friendly" and "gentle" mean to the author, since the slope was about as friendly as a US immigration officer towards a Middle Eastern man wearing a shalwar, kameez and headscarf at the Canadian border on a long weekend and about as gentle a slope as the men's downhill ski run at the next Winter Olympics (which are being held in Vancouver / Whistler, just in case you are wondering). It is the kind of slope that threatens to tear tendons and rip muscles if you try and place your foot flat while standing up straight. Imagine you are a woman who has worn 4" heels all your adult life and you now have to place your feet flat on the ground - that is the kind of strain that this slope places on your calf muscles and tendons (for all of you that have never worn 4" heels - I said imagine - that is what I am doing, since 4" heels have never graced my feet). Sp up this godforsaken trail I trudge, head down, concentrating on placing one foot in front of the other, time after time after time. As I trudge, the same thoughts keep running through my head:
  • "Bugger, bugger, bugger."
  • "Crap, crap, crap"
  • "F*#k, f*#k, f*#k."
  • "Are we nearly there yet?"
  • "What the hell am I doing, I could be sitting in my garden at home, with a cool drink and a good book."
  • "Why am I doing this?"
  • "This is supposed to be fun - it isn't."
  • "How long have we been hiking for?"
  • "Is this torture ever going to end?"
Time has a funny habit of running at different speeds depending on circumstances. It seems that it almost stands still at times, and hiking up a "gentle and friendly" slope is one of those times. After about an hour of hiking, I ask Mr. DBM how long we have been hiking for. He tells me about 10 minutes. What? You are joking, aren't you? How could it possibly be only 10 minutes? Is your watch broken? Has it stopped completely? Have we gone through a time warp? Are you just playing a cruel joke on me? Are you nuts? Nope, we really have only been hiking 10 minutes..............Repeat the first three phrases above, over and over again...........

Of course, this is the easy part of the trail. The trail guides give the following description for the second half:
  • "After the hour mark you'll hit the good steep stuff."
  • ".............before it starts to steepen. The last few hundred metres are the steepest, about 35 degrees replete with some stairs."
So, there's something to look forward to. I am barely dragging my arse up the easy part, how on earth am I going to survive the good steep stuff - and what is good about it? But survive it I do and we finally break out of the forest and into.........

...........the answer to my question - why am I doing this?

A glorious, magnificent, almost transcendental place. You are bathed in light, a cool breeze embraces you and caresses you as it trips across the mountain top on its way into the wooded valley below. You draw in a lungful of cool, fresh, air and you feel free, alive and at peace. A freedom from all your cares and worries. A freedom from the rat race that is still running down in the Valley. You can see the cars as they hurry along the highway, full of hot, sweating individuals stressing over the traffic of the Long Weekend. But up here, there is no traffic, no fumes, no road rage or stress. Instead, the views grab your attention from every direction. Which way should I look first? The valley as it stretches out towards the sea, with the Mighty Fraser River nearing its journey's end? Or the mountains as they stand to attention, all lined up, right in front of you - there is Mount Baker, right there, you can almost pluck a handful of snow off its glistening flanks and make a snowball. But then the meadows plea for your attention. The colour, the vibrancy, the full frontal assault of all your senses. Instead of the monotonous drone of traffic on the highway, you hear and feel the vibrating splendour of thousands of bees, all intent on their task of collecting pollen and nectar from the flowers that surround you.

Instead of honking horns or police sirens, you hear the cheerful, chirping squeak of the squirrels hiding in the undergrowth. A butterfly rests briefly on a bright yellow flower and time stands still.

See, time is doing funny things again, because the next thing you know, it is time to start on back down that most odious of paths, back down to the traffic, the noise, the grime of everyday life. So, now can you see why I put myself through all that torture? Why, every week, I ask Mr. DBM what hike we are going to do next? Wouldn't you, just for that one moment when time freezes in a moment of true bliss?


Anonymous said...

Ah, if only I were fit enough, yes I would! It sounds blissful at the top and those photos are just wonderful! Gorgeous scenery, and I can feel the peace ...

What's the little fly at the bottom? He's pretty!

Anonymous said...

It's breathtaking isn't it ... so jealous I have never seen Canada like this ... next time I promise to come in the summer !

Anonymous said...

Next time you go, give me the time you plan to reach the top, and maybe I can get a helicopter to take me up. I would bring wine and cheese of course.

MYM said...

Oh my goodness. Those photos are beautiful! Makes me so want to visit. But not climb. I like your bullet-point explanation, LOL.

Anonymous said...

Utterly delightful entry. I'd like to say it reads like I'm there too, because you describe it all so well. But, in fact, it's even better than being there because of the way you express your reaction to the beauty which surrounded you. :)

Geri Atric said...

How wonderful! Your article has filled me with longing to be up a mountain again (I lived in Norway for a couple of years as a child)... Unfortunately the most elevated bit of ground around where I live now, in The Netherlands, is a lone mole hill in the park down the road! (The last one to have escaped being stamped flat by the local kids!).

Don't Bug Me! said...

Jay: If yo go to one of the ski resorts, you can get a gondola up to the alpine - all that bliss, with none of the swearing. The downside is all the other people who have done the same as you..........
Not sure exactly what he is, since he flew off rather smartish- definitely a wasp of somekind.

Moon: I will organise the bears for next time - promise!

Cortes: A good cheddar and some water biscuits would be appreciated. And perhaps a long, cool G and T. Thanks!

DM: Thank you - you can always use a skilift to get to the top, as long as you don't mind all those "tourists".

CA: You are too kind - thank you.

GA: Hello! Not sure I could live in the flatlands - good for bike riding, but that is about it.