by Cristina T. Lopez
The night that my husband, Tom, and I had our first kiss, it was after four hours of talking. It was a drunken night and most of that conversation has escaped our memories, but I do clearly recall him mentioning his recent return from backpacking through China and Western Europe.
I found this fact about him interesting and surprising because the person who stood before me was working in a major investment bank and seemed like just a local Queens guy. But beneath the surface was this rugged adventurer who had been exposed to new lands and new cultures. I myself was well-traveled but in the more blander sense. I had visited many countries as a mainstream tourist. I had never worn a backpack in my life.
As our courtship extended, so did Tom�s desire that I share in his adventurous spirit. This made me nervous because I was not at all athletic and things like camping and hiking were just not a part of my upbringing. But I wanted so much to share in the things he was passionate about so when he suggested we go hiking with the Appalachian Mountain Club, I reluctantly said yes.
First of all, I needed to buy boots because I did not own anything more than a rundown pair of sneakers. On the way to the register, I found myself picking up hiking pants, special socks and a fleece in hand as well. I sensed somehow that through consumerism I would be able to fake my way into hiker/backpacker society.
I was nervous the morning of the trip but Tom assured me that we were attempting what was classified in his book as a beginners� hike and it would be pretty easy. I was soothed by his confidence that I could do this. If he thought so, it must be true.
When we arrived on the scene and met the other hikers, I was surprised to see them all so well outfitted with camel-back packs and fancy boots and pullovers. As they shared stories about their experiences camping and hiking, I felt my inferiority building. By the time the guide arrived and took a survey of everyone�s experience, I was the only beginner among them and so the decision was made to up the hike difficulty as well as distance. I wanted to say something but was reassured that this would be fine. I mean, I was young and fit. Why wouldn�t I be able to do it?
The hike in total was 11 miles. A large percentage of this distance was covered by the group running on the trails. When we weren�t running, we were climbing rocks. I was terrified of falling, of tripping and, of course, of getting lost. Tom kept telling me how beautiful the nature was. But I couldn�t see anything because I spent the entire time looking down at my feet.
Lunch was a wonderful relief. I was so happy sitting and would easily have curled up on the big rock where we picnicked and gone to sleep but too soon we were back on our feet and the fast-paced hiking continued.
In the end, I completed the 11 mile hike/run. I was achy and tired. But the group had been really nice and supportive, especially Tom who always looked out for me and encouraged me.
It was dark when we found our way to the cars. But it felt good. We took to the road and on the drive down I began to slip through the Mountain Club booklet. Perhaps there were other hikes we could do? I had caught the bug. Now I too was eager for adventure.
Not long after, Tom and I were married and then together we shipped off to the U.S. Peace Corps where I experienced more than my fair share of hiking and backpacking adventures. It turns out that it�s not all about the gear or about the amount of experience. A lot of it has to do with the company you keep. It makes all the difference.
About the Author
Cristina published her first non-fiction book in 2003 called Finding Francis and is currently working on her second book, Letters to Helen. She spent two years in Ukraine as a U.S. Peace Corps volunteer with her husband, Thomas, with whom she now lives in Douglaston, Queens.