Friday, January 30, 2015

24. The Actual Act of Hiking Itself

Everything on this list is about the in between. In between moments of movement, in between actually hiking. Yes, I've written about building the muscles and strengthening the lungs and loving the sweating and standing on top of a mountain. All of those things are happening as a result of this movement. That is, putting one foot in front of another. What differentiates "hiking" from "walking"? Nothing really, just location and degree of difficulty. Although technically you could be "hiking" somewhere with a low degree of difficulty (along a nicely groomed path around a flat lake), and "walking" somewhere with a high degree of difficulty (through the subway tunnels to try and get on the 6 train at rush hour).

I did a lot of dance in college... that is to say, I took a lot of dance classes and performed in several stage showcases. I also did a lot of other dancing; I danced when I got an A on a test, I subtly danced in my seat when I had 10 minutes left of class and really had to pee, and I danced at every party, whether or not it was technically a dance party. I even choreographed an entire 10 dancer performance to Europe's "The Final Countdown," and I'd never been more proud of anything I'd accomplished in my life up until that moment.

In dance we talk about something called "movement vocabulary." It basically means the set of physical expressions being used to demonstrate a story, or a feeling, or just the beauty of the human body. It's not a direct translation; doing a pirouette doesn't mean only one thing (e.g., "I'm dizzy"). Movement vocabulary is simply a fancy way of talking about the set of moves that work in harmony to create a coherent whole. Sometimes it's complicated, and sometimes it's simple. We all know the movement vocabulary for Cotton Eye Joe, but not all of us could do the entire Dance of the Sugar Plum Fairy from the Nutcracker. Well, maybe you could, but it's not really a trick that is usually pulled out at parties.

From an outside perspective, the movement vocabulary for hiking is pretty simple: one foot in front of the other. But in fact it is far more complex than that. There are thousands of constant microadjustments happening in order to keep a hiker upright. Most hikers use poles, to turn our bodies from biped bodies to quadruped bodies.  The ground is never consistent, and our feet are doing a complex little dance of balance to keep us from falling over at any given moment. There are lumps and bumps and tiny holes and valleys and mud and sticks and little critters that we have to avoid squashing. We have to have that perfect balance of looking up and looking down, or we'll trip into things or run into low-hanging branches.

Hiking really is like learning a dance, because at the start of the trail, we're all pretty terrible at it. People are falling over at least once a day. Usually it's tripping over a root or a rock, but more often than not it's making the mistake of stepping on a wet log. When we're new hikers, it's hard to differentiate between a dry log and a wet log, but once you've Charlie Brown-ed hilariously onto your butt enough times, you get pretty good at recognizing the slippery little jerks.

Whistle fell over a LOT with her hiking poles. The addition of two extra legs was just not good for her. It got to the point that whenever our hiking party came upon a log, we would holler back through the ranks "LOG!" to get the message to Whistle, so she wouldn't trip over it and faceplant gloriously, as she had done so many times before. This happened with such regularity that one time when Whistle and Grim were right behind DT, Grim slipped and fell in some mud, which never happened. Without turning around, Dumptruck asked,

"Yo Whistle, you alright?"

This sent all of us into such hysterics that we had to stop hiking or else suffocate via laughter.

Hiking itself can be pretty easily taken for granted, because we get good at it, then we forget that we were ever bad at it. But we were bad, and it's okay. This is a good thing to know if you're a new hiker. It gets better, I promise.

Clever Girl

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