Take a Hike
The trails on the nearby mountains may be alluring, but I’ve found it’s best to resist the temptation
Having grown up in western North Carolina, I’ve spent much of my life enjoying trips to the state’s picturesque mountains. But I’ve made a troublesome discovery. There’s something about the mountains that prompts normal, couch-loving friends to start acting like salespeople at REI. Give a person one whiff of fresh mountain air and suddenly they’re dropping the “back” from “backpack” and talking about hiking to places with names like Hanging Rock as if that sounds like a perfectly safe idea.
Personally, I’ve found that there are plenty of activities to enjoy at high elevations that don’t include purchasing things like bear safety kits—take Blowing Rock, for example, which is a place with its priorities in order: shopping, then restaurants, then spas.
However, I recently succumbed to a bit of the crazy myself. On a Sunday morning, I decided it looked like a nice day for a hike. I blame this uncharacteristic thought on the summer’s Olympics, which could just as easily have been called “The Two Weeks When Annoyingly Fit People Make Things Like Decathlons Look Easy.”
I decided to bring my two dogs along: Pawley, a high-energy Lab mix, and Rosie, a dachshund whose one-inch legs and slightly overweight frame would provide me with plenty of excuses for ambling. As it turns out, fat dachshunds are difficult to pull uphill when they simply stop walking and sit in the middle of a trail. And Pawley was so enthusiastic about all of the state park’s wildlife that I briefly considered letting her off the leash to prevent having my shoulder pulled from its socket. The only reason I didn’t: Pawley’s resemblance to a coyote makes me a little worried that if let off the leash, she’ll go feral in under an hour.
I made my way down a rocky incline while holding a hefty dachshund, ending up at a river’s edge. I basked in the glory of my moment as an outdoorsman while the dogs swam. Walking back to the parking lot, I smiled smugly at passing hikers, just starting their trek. Well, as smugly as one can smile when carrying a panting, wet dachshund.
Approaching my car, I reached for my key. Which was when I realized it wasn’t there. Which was when I realized I had dropped it somewhere along the trail. Which was when I began to wonder if other outdoorsmen before me had ever stretched out across the trail crying, “Why, God? Why?”
Determined to save face in front of the Sunday picnickers at the trailhead, I calmly turned back as if I always like to hike a trail twice. And then I walked the entire trail over again until I came to the farthest point of my walk. There, in the water, squeezed between two rocks, was my car key.
By now I was drenched in river water and mud from carrying Rosie, who was drifting to sleep as I carted her. Meanwhile, between the hike and swim, Pawley’s resemblance to a coyote was at an all-time high. By the time I made it back to the picnic area, I looked like I was returning from weeks in the wilderness. Families gathered for Sunday lunches looked up in alarm as mothers comforted small children, who were anxiously pointing to the bizarre threesome emerging from the woods.
Back in my car and driving down the interstate, I realized two things: first, there was a good chance my car would never stop smelling like wet dog. Second, despite what Olympians and those guys at REI might have you believe, outrageous feats of outdoor athleticism (or, you know, leisurely strolls on family-friendly hiking trails) aren’t for everyone. Especially when there are perfectly good shops and spas just down the road.