Friday, August 7, 2015

The Hiker

Colorado has some beautiful scenery, but what most people don't realize is that half the state looks more like Kansas than those stunning pictures we see in travel magazines. I know this well because of my family's vacations when I was a child.

My Dad always loved to travel. I think this wanderlust came from growing up on a small Kansas farm during the depression. About the only adventures his family might undertake would be a shopping trip to a nearby small town.

So as an adult, not only did he become a Navy pilot during WWII, he did a stint as a pilot after the war, then even after getting a family (and degree in engineering) would move from state to state after a number of years. Oh, not every few years but often enough that it was hard to establish strong roots.

Unfortunately, his type of travel for vacations meant putting the family in a car and driving somewhere. Oh, you would see things, but it was from the car. And the majority of the time our vacations were to drive to Colorado. This meant driving the expanse of Kansas (we lived in Topeka) to reach the mountains.

As you are drive through western Kansas you eventually enter Colorado. You have no idea you are in that state except that there is a big green sign you pass saying "Welcome to Colorado" (nowadays they seem to be made of wood). In other words, Colorado looks just like Kansas.
Of course, after about 30 minutes you would begin to see the tops of the distant mountains. After so many miles of flat plains it was really exhilarating to see those peaks, so the rest of the drive, which was pretty long and still in flat country, didn't seem that bad.
Once in the mountains the real adventure began. Oh, not because we did anything special, but because my Dad would always drive on these perilous winding roads—with thousand foot drops off the edge, a small two-foot rock wall the only barrier—and simultaneously stare over the edge of those cliffs.
In other words, we were never sure when we would be plunging over those cliffs to our spectacular deaths as he missed that next bend.  He never did though. Even though it freaked his passengers out his roaming eyes never resulted in an accident.

Oh, sure, there were turnoffs he could have taken to stop and look, but he wanted to keep driving. So the vacation mainly consisted of driving and looking out the window at those majestic mountains as they whizzed by.
However, there was always a little voice coming from the back seat begging to be allowed to get out and explore those mountains. You see, I am completely different than my Dad. I am a hiker. My idea of seeing something is getting out of said car and walking around.
I still vividly remember a time we were driving by some snow (it might have been a glacier) and convincing my brother into whining along with me to be allowed to go "see" that blazing white stuff. Dad relented and we two little boys ran up to the snow to frolic and throw snowballs. It was summer after all, so a snowball fight in July was pretty exciting.
To this day I still love to travel, but after 50 miles I am ready to get out of the car and start hiking. This can make getting somewhere a real challenge because every time I see a turnoff near some great scenery I feel this need to pull over and go see whatever is there. One trip along the Oregon/Washington coast took an inordinate amount of time because just about every 10 miles you would see something breath-taking that required exploration.
So when I plan a vacation these days, the question I always ask myself is "what kind of hiking can I get in?"

Last year, I hiked around Mt. Rainier

The previous year were The Grand Tetons

The year before: Olympic National Park
Even this year, when I decided to just take a short trip and stay in Portland, Oregon (just to escape the Texas summer heat) it was with the idea that I would take at least one day to hike around The Columbia River Gorge plus go often to Washington Park.
All this being said, my vacations have been solo adventures because usually my girlfriends knew of my habit of walking a lot. They knew that even a short trip to a nearby store could result in a stop by a hike-and-bike trail we "accidentally" passed on the way.
I am sure there are females who also have this wandering habit. After all, I have passed a number on the trails. But for now it seems I’ll be hiking along the various paths I come across by my lonesome.
I don’t mind.

(Of course I had to have a James Thurber cartoon about the wild too!)

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