My husband and I are in training. No, not some radical fitness mania containing the letter X, nor is there an ex-drill sergeant involved in our new routine. We’re getting ready to hike an eleven-mile trail on the garden island Kauai. My marathoner friends snicker and scoff at such a measly distance. An eleven miler is what you bang out as a recovery run. It’s what happens before breakfast on Sunday. What’s all the fuss about hiking a roundtrip total of 22 miles in Hawaii, for crying out loud? Well, my crying quads are trying to convince me that there’s a deep chasm of difference between running eleven miles and hiking the same distance in undulant terrain.
In preparation for our tropical excursion in October, Glenn and I started small with Poo Poo Point. If you can see your hiking destination while shopping on Front Street, it shouldn’t be that hard, right? Two miles, ascending 1,700 feet. It’ll be a cake walk with a burger awaiting us at Sunset Alehouse.
With seven weeks until our Hawaiian Air flight, our initial training efforts began. We sweated and grunted our way to the paragliders’ launch pad, caught our breath while gazing at the breathtaking view, and then marched back down the trail. At the bottom we toasted our successful inaugural sojourn over a pint, proceeded to polish off more calories than we burned on the four-miler, and then tried to stand up. Let’s just say it wasn’t because of the beers that we looked like giraffes awkwardly hoisting ourselves up off the ground. As a qualified armchair exercise physiologist, I theorize that our soreness was due to a condition called YOOSLAH, a.k.a. You’re-Out-Of-Shape-Lactic-Acid-Hurts. (You’ll hear more about the various honorary doctorates I hold in physiology and other subjects later.)
Rising out of a pub booth and experiencing YOOSLAH paled in comparison to what happened the next morning when I tried to walk downstairs. I diagnosed my debilitating condition as SEMQURTWAM, a.k.a. Someone-Extracted-My-Quads-Unkindly-Replacing-Them-with-a-Meat-Grinder. My efforts to go to the kitchen for coffee resembled an AT-AT walker being taken down by Luke Skywalker. (Don’t deny your vivid memory of that tripwire victory on the planet Hoth!) This highly unpleasant state lasted at least three days, continuously deriding me for my Poo Poo underestimation. Evidently, running the Grand Ridge trails, Klahanie, and downtown Issaquah every other day count for squat when preparing to walk two miles downhill.
Recovery is a funny thing. Amateur physiologist Dr. Curtis here again to declare that five-to-six days of recovery is all that’s required after a traumatizing (and humiliating) hike. That thing called Muscle Memory works opposite the norm when introducing a new painful routine. Muscle Amnesia is actually what prevails within a week, causing you to dimwittedly decide to hike the Tiger Mountain Cable Line trail the next weekend as a follow-up training effort. The brain is a muscle, right? Well, mine actually experienced amnesia and forgot how painful the results were from a short hike just seven days ago.
At this point, my runner friends are saying, “Ahem, Dr. Curtis, you know that prolonged downhill hiking engages and challenges the kinesiology of the quadriceps, yielding divergent results from running, right?” I respond to them in my clinical voice, “Yes, I experienced an anatomic threshold breach when I tripped over a rock and couldn’t arrest my spectacular stumble.”
Tiger Mountain is the silent Issaquah giant that is neither a molehill nor an intimidating craggy peak. It hosts hundreds of visitors on sunny weekends, and can be accessed from various trailheads originating at the north, south, east, and west sides. Recreational hikers can spend hours at the Tradition Plateau base, enjoying foliage-lined, manicured trails. Inspired hikers and runners can mount a steady challenge up the forgiving West Tiger 3 route. But those who have experienced muscle amnesia will ignorantly opt for the 2,042 ft. wall of scree. The Cable Line trail has a reputation for turning able-bodied hikers into lumpy beetles trying to make their way out of a box.
I usually speak quite fondly of the trails around Issaquah, but I can’t say I remember much about the Cable Line trail other than sweating to find an optimal foot plant. One poorly placed step and I would start a mini August avalanche that was expertly dodged by Glenn.
Apart from their serenity and majesty, one of the reasons I speak fondly of Issaquah’s trails is that I don’t usually experience SEMQURTWAM after an outing. Tiger Mountain dominates its Poo Poo cousin by over 700 feet, but our training route was also at a steeper incline. To illustrate the point, just remove the Meat-Grinder portion of Someone-Extracted-My-Quads-Unkindly-Replacing-Them-with-a-Meat-Grinder and insert Serrano-Chili-Sauce in its place. What comes out 24 hours later is something that sounds like SEM-QURT-OWWWWW followed by a whimper.
Five weeks more of training for our tropical eleven-miler. At this point, I’m sending Glenn downstairs to prepare my Hawaiian coffee in the kitchen. If my legs can’t make it to Hawaii just yet, I can at least have a little of Hawaii brought to me…
TALL BACKPACKS, SHORT AGENDA READ ON KOMO
Having experienced the painful alphabet soup of our two initial training hikes (see YOOSLAH and SEMQURTWAM references) one would think I would face our third hike with timidity and reluctance. Glenn was ready to take our training to the next level, adding distance and more elevation gain to the training concoction. Our next experiment in muscle liquefaction? Melakwa Lake following the Denny Creek trail, sporting 2,300 ft. of elevation gain over nine miles roundtrip. Pumped with Muscle Amnesia bravado we decided to double our previous distances and cover additional vertical distance as well. Dragging out the old joke: memory is the second thing to go!
Playing hooky on a weekday usually brings a deluge of guilt to a fellow who has the work ethic of WWII-Britain-meets-Old-Faithful. However, Glenn was willing to turn a blind eye to consulting work and residual guilt, in favor of making strides toward our tropical adventure goal. With a nod of thanks to public education for watching our kids, we dropped off our youngest at school and headed up I-90 to the Denny Creek trailhead.
Not having bothered to check in advance which pass we would need to access these trails I slipped a fiver and a Discover Pass in my car door pocket while leaving the house. The popular hikes off I-90 are divided into two dizzying factions similar to the Windows v. Mac showdown. Ten years ago the question perpetually arose, “Will this software run on Mac or Windows?” Today you will find yourself asking, “Will this pass work at Denny Creek or Twin Falls?” Frustratingly, just one, but never both. In a nutshell, Washington state lands require a Discover Pass while federal lands require a different pass, or cash at most trailheads.
On arrival at the Denny Creek trailhead we unloaded our backpacks containing about three-quarters of what we intend on packing for our Na Pali coast hike. I felt very self-conscious around other hikers in the parking lot who were sporting simple fanny packs to get themselves through the day. I wanted to wear a disclaimer sign saying, “No, I’m not carrying the equipment for an elaborate five-course BBQ plus five pairs of shoes. I am on an Integrative Backpacking Simulation Training Expedition and my full-size backpack is just preparation!” We set off on our IBSTE up to Melakwa Lake and back with a 5-hour budget but enough gear to get us through five days.
Since it was a weekday the number of human-sightings was relatively low. Glenn and I were able to discuss the RNC and the DNC speeches, weighing successes and failures of keynote addresses. The first couple of miles clicked by unnoticeably with political conversations tangling our minds. Just before mile two our conversation ebbed and the huffing and puffing began. Not racing the distance, but unable to squash my competitive spirit, I gave myself a virtual high-five when we overtook a few groups of hikers. Never mind that their average age was twenty-five years my senior, that they had stopped to take a picture, and that it took a long time for their voices to fade behind us. Minor victories are all it takes to propel us simpletons.
After cresting the Hemlock Pass ridge only a half-mile remained until we could stop and eat lunch. Melakwa Lake was magnificent. Snowmelt trapped in a tight bowl of talus-lined peaks was a superb dining setting. Wishing that the five-course BBQ lunch was in my backpack I despondently pulled out the poor-substitute Clif bars, Sahale snacks and apples. While our towering backpacks implied its contents were a gourmet feast, what we pulled out was the practical little step-sister.
The ascent had taken about two hours, lunch and lake-dipping took 20 minutes. It was time to get packing since the Issaquah School District is prone to punctuality in its dismissal times. My hamstrings were just starting to relax by the end of lunch, only to be reengaged back on the trail. The cowboy lyrics “Back in the saddle again, out where a friend is a friend…” started an incessant mental loop.
FROM METAL SPATULAS TO SLOPE GOATS
Back over the HemlockPass I decided to subversively unsheathe my new mortifying hiking companions: trekking poles. I used to ridicule these ski-poles-for-higher-temperatures as a silly accessory whose use added a geriatric element to any hiker. However, hubris brings its own revenge. The passage of time, rendering wear and tear on my knees, has made me see those glorified sticks in a more youthful light.
I grouched about my poles-purchase – ringing up a total that exceeded a full tank of gas. These are twigs, for heaven’s sake, simply intended to help you catch your balance or prevent imbalance. Au contraire! REI says they’re not just twigs. They’re vertical beams with ergonomically cast handgrips of supple foam, anchored to a feather-weight aluminum shaft, punctuated by an impact-resistant, shock-absorbing tips. With these things strapped to my hands I am sure to look like a mountain goat version of Picabo Street, by golly!
I’d never unveiled nor test-driven my trekking poles before. My initial descent on the rocky trail sounded like I was wearing a hula skirt made of metal spatulas. Clang, clack! The poles jostled with the rubble in an effort to get a firm and supportive purchase. I am certain my chipmunk audience thought this was the most entertaining human life form to come down off the hill in eons. My efforts to look as lithe as Legolas resulted in a blundering Gimli impersonation.
Initially, I was so protective of my dignity that when a hiking party approached I gathered the poles in one hand and held them at arm’s distance while we passed each other. I mentally mumbled to myself, “I’m not really using these, I’m just evaluating them.” However, while my dignity was being protected, so were my knees. Once I got into a rhythm a mile into our descent using my Slope Goats, there wasn’t a single instance when I doubted my stability. I was almost ready to publicly admit a friendly alliance.
Glenn and I peeled off at the Super-Secret-Path-Down-to-the-Pools, which NO ONE knows about, and took a refreshing dip. While acting like Adam and Eve would be fun in this clandestine waterfall sanctuary, there’s no guarantee that a pack of college-aged kids won’t come scrambling down the trail and declare, “Some secret, huh?!”
Refreshed and ready to polish off the remainder of this nine-miler, Glenn and I dripped the rest of the way back to the car. The terrain eased and I tucked my new Slope Goat friends back into my pack, but not without whispering to them that they’d be coming with me on the Kalalau Trail of Kauai.
We zipped back into Issaquah in time to greet both our school-aged sons who commented on the streaks of dirt running down our legs. Instead of regaling them with tales of athleticism and brawn we just took a nap.
The next day I fully expected SEMQURTWAM (Someone-Extracted-My-Quads-Unkindly-Replacing-Them-with-a-Meat-Grinder) to raise its ugly head, but instead I was greeted with a neutral status of QURT, (Quads-Undergoing-Resistance-Training) – not groan-inducing, at least. I attribute this improvement partially to my supportive Slope Goats as well as a turn-around in Muscle Memory. My quads finally remembered the foundation we laid. Now I think I’m ready to fetch my own Hawaiian coffee in the kitchen.