There are plenty of reasons why my 15-mile hike last Monday morning should’ve been ranked five stars.

For starters, you read that correctly: I hiked on Monday morning. Taking advantage of a flexible work schedule, I worked Sunday, and then “commuted” to Evergreen on Monday morning. Not surprisingly, Colorado trails on weekdays are sparsely populated; no need to dodge mountain bikers as they hurl themselves around switchbacks, as I often do on the weekends. I had a full pack of vittles: two tablets of Kona Cola nuun and plenty of ice in my hydration bladder, two water bottles with pure H20, two GU Stroopwafels, one sleeve of Gu Chews, one Nature’s Bakery Fig Bar. Plus, I had scoped out a new route—12.4 miles, 2,100 feet of climbing—on AllTrails. “A great training hike,” wrote one reviewer. Sold.

thoughts from a hike

God bless the little blue dot. (My navigation skills have a little room for improvement.)

Despite my searching for the perfect route extensively on AllTrails, I don’t take the time to actually figure out where I’d actually be going. In more remote areas, this would’ve been an issue. When I arrive at the parking spot (deftly directed by my phone, natch), I hop out and head towards what looks like the most obvious trail and open up the app. Thankfully, the route is close enough to Evergreen to have wifi. Within a few steps, I realize I can simply orient my phone so my blue dot can trace the designated route. Sweet.

I start out excited and feeling strong, much as one does at the beginning of a long endurance day. Leaving my long sleeve in the car, I love that the cold air gives me goosebumps as I start downhill–a good sign that it will take hours for the August heat to feel oppressive. I bounce along, holding my hiking poles, not yet expanded to full length, in one hand. My legs are fresh and the sun is twinkling on Evergreen Lake below.

After about 3 miles, I see there’s a 2.5 mile loop I can add that brings me back to the main loop. I want to get around 15 miles today. We’re going to be hiking 21 miles on the Grand Traverse, so going at least 70% of that distance as preparation is important, especially because the trails of Superior are going to be much more technical than the ones I’m training on. (Read: more time on the feet.) It feels like a no-brainer, so I take it. Not much of that bonus loop is shaded though. At 7,500 feet elevation, the potent sun infiltrates my skin and my spirit.

Although I have mentally adjusted, as much as one can, to hiking—not running—the trails, there are still bittersweet moments. It’s like I used to be able to drive 65, and now my car, more traveled and rusty than it was years ago, can only handle 45 before it starts to shake. Even when the pavement is smooth and the tank is full, I have to stay in the metaphorical right lane. Yes, I’ll still arrive at the same destination and travel the same route, but along the way I feel more restless and less capable than I’d like. One time, when the trail feels as smooth as an ironing board, I get a little greedy, push on the gas pedal, and open my stride. Before I can even get up to speed, my knees, seeming to have absorbed my mood, plaintively tell me to cease the impact.

thoughts from a hike

Most of the trails are like this. Fairly smooth, and a combo of sun and shade, albeit more of the former.

Going uphill is when I feel most like my former running self; forehead sweat soaks through my hat, my glutes clinch and fire with each step, each step feels purposeful and important. Getting up the hill as fast as possible is my only focus. On the final climb before the halfway point, I notice two women ahead of me. They seem young-ish and fit, and I challenge myself to catch them. I pick up my pace and within a few minutes, I pass them. As my pole tips click on the rocks, one of them says, “You get it, girl!” I smile widely and say, “Thanks so much.” I am grateful for the acknowledgement.

That glow gets me up and mostly down Evergreen Mountain, until, somewhere around mile 11, I trip on my right foot and fall. Hard. The kind of fall where, after you realize you’re on the ground, you’re not sure you want to move because something could easily be broken. “Owwww, owww, owww,” I say loudly, before I start to inventory the damage. Thankfully, no bones have cracked. My right side has taken the brunt of it. I’ve got trail rash and blood dotting my palm and hip and shin, and, within a few minutes, my wrist is swollen and the padding below my thumb is badly bruised. I slowly rise to stand, wipe the tears away, and look back to sight what I’m sure is a large rock that brought me down.

Thoughts from a hike

What I wish I tripped on. (Picture taken miles after the fall, after I’d regained my sense of humor.)

I see nothing. No rock. No branch. No caterpillar. I just fell because…I’m tired from today’s effort? I wasn’t paying attention? I’m getting older? I’m in perimenopause and my muscle tone and hormones are both plummeting? I have no idea.

All I know is that I feel stung. My skin is ripped up and bloody, the sun is relentless, I can’t move like I used to, I don’t even know what I’m doing out here anymore.

Just stung.

Perhaps as a joke from a higher power, a fit female runner comes up bouncing up the trail. She’s wearing a hydration pack and climbing with ease. I’m sure she’s training for her seventeenth ultra, and today just an easy jaunt up the mountain for her. I’m also sure she’s a very nice, loving person and would’ve quickly helped me, had I not been upright by that point. But I am stung, and I am resentful of her energy, her fitness, her youth. I keep my head down and barely mutter, “Hi,” as she greets me kindly with a smile.

I hike for a few more minutes before I find a shady spot to regroup. I squirt clean water over my hands, and apply band aids so my pole handles won’t sting when the raw skin touches them. I suck down a huge swig of Kona Cola, now lukewarm from 3.5 hours on the trail. I stick my final Stroop in my side pocket so I can easily grab it in about 20 minutes, a little motivation to get me through the final 3 miles.

“Three miles,” I say to myself without really processing the words, “Three more miles, Dimity. You can do this.”

When I pull out the ole third person, I know two things for sure: first, I care. I am so invested in the outcome, I’ve taken to cheering for myself so I can achieve it. Second, I am an endurance athlete. I never go third person in the grocery store or at the keyboard or while walking the four-leggeds. It’s always when I’m pushing against a physical limit: lapping the track for 800-meter repeats; finishing up an 80-mile bike ride; getting into a pool at 5:30 am.

And endurance workouts, despite being repetitive by nature, always contain the highs, lows, and falls, be them physical or mental. World-class marathoners know this, Olympic swimmers know this, and I—a Monday morning hiker—also know this. Thanks, Dimity, for the reminder.