A couple goes for a hike.
We began at dawn. I pretended to feel refreshed by the chilling wind, but it made my nose runny. The path was smooth and flat. He carried the backpack first. “If you get tired, I’ll carry the load,” I said.
“I’ll be fine.” I couldn’t hear him very well.
As we meandered through the sparse pine trees, I looked up at the mountain. Because I wasn’t concentrating on the path, I stumbled over a rock half-buried under the dirt.
“What happened,” he said dutifully.
“I almost tripped.” He didn’t say anything, so I laughed a little. “I’m even having trouble with the easy part.”
By the time we reached the first port-a-potty, I needed to use it. When I came out, he was gone. The backpack lay on a rock nearby. I took a tissue from it and blew my nose, then stuffed the mucus-wet tissue into my pocket. I drank from our water bottle, knowing we needed to save water for the rest of the trip. We wouldn’t reach the top for about two hours. It wasn’t a long hike, but neither of us was acclimated, or fit. I pulled out one of the sandwiches to see if it was smashed. It was.
He came stomping through the large rocks and trees. I heard him before I saw him and turned my head. “There you are. The sandwiches are completely smashed. We should have put them in the front pocket.”
“Drop it back in there.” He pulled the backpack open and straightened his arms out towards me. I dropped the sandwich in. “It’ll taste the same,” he said.
I watched him pull out a water bottle and take large gulps. His jaw-line was strong and angular, and his Adam’s apple moved up and down with each swallow. I watched him put the water bottle away and zip the backpack. The definition of his muscles were visible through the thin, grey shirt. I wanted to squeeze his arms. I wanted him to grip me on either side of my ribs, draw me close to him, and kiss me on my face.
“Let’s keep going,” he said. We began walking again. This time I was in front. I tried to continue the same pace we set when he was leading, but the path was getting steeper, and the rocks beneath us were bigger and becoming difficult to navigate. I moved quickly. My feet slipped several times, but I refused to slow.
The pine trees that surrounded us were replaced by aspens. Each leaf wiggled with the breeze, sparkling like jewels. Aspens were my father’s favorite kind of tree. When I was two years old, he carried me on his back in a kid-carrier when we hiked. I don’t really remember it, but I remember seeing pictures of it in our family photo albums. He looked so young and handsome and blonde in those pictures. Always smiling. I started crying a little, quietly, thinking about my dad.
When we reached the lake, the breeze warmed, so I tied my sweatshirt around my waist. Hiking was the only circumstance during which I was willing to commit such a fashion faux pas. He looked at me. “You look cute in those shorts.”
“That’s not really the point of hiking. To look cute.” I pulled the dirty tissue out of my butt-pocket. It was damp and crumpled in a ball. I wiped my nose with it. He was still watching me. His eyebrows were scrunched down towards his nose.
“It was a compliment,” he didn’t move his eyebrows.
“Thank you.” I held the tissue between my thumb and forefinger to show him how disgusting it looked.
“Do you want to eat lunch here or wait until we get to top?”
“How long until we get to the top?”
“I don’t know.” He said it with disdain. I felt like a child who had asked too many questions.
I turned my back to him and walked towards the lake. It was a small lake and the water was murky. It occurred to me that there weren’t any insects. I bent down, grabbed a small rock, and threw it into the lake. It created ripples in the water. “Whatever you want to do. It doesn’t matter,” I said. I threw in another rock. I wished I was alone and I could throw rocks in the lake for an hour. The ripples were perfect. I thought about how I was changing nature forever, simply by throwing these rocks into the lake. I was moving rocks that could potentially have been in the same place for thousands of years before I came along and moved them. I thought about the dinosaurs walking on the exact same ground on which I stood. Maybe the dinosaurs walked on the very rock I was holding in my hand.
“What are you doing?” He wasn’t thinking about dinosaurs.
“Do you want to keep going?”
“Is that a yes?”
“Yes! Let me take the backpack.”
“I’ve got it.” He slipped it on and turned towards the trail. Once he realized I wasn’t following him, he turned around to face me. He looked into my eyes. I decided not to smile at him. He wasn’t smiling either.
“You need to let me carry that thing. I know it’s getting heavy,” I said.
“Let’s go.” He moved away.
“Don’t be an ass.” I felt nervous.
“What are you talking about?”
“I want to carry the backpack. I want the extra work out. Get over yourself, and let me take it.” I looked down at my hiking boots. Even though they were both tied, I bent down to retie one.
“I’m capable of carrying it. Thank you for your concern.”
“I know you’re capable of carrying it. This isn’t an attack on your masculinity. I’m not a weak little flower.” I stood up and walked towards him until we were close. “The only reason you don’t want me to carry it is because it was my suggestion and not yours.”
“This is insane.” He took off the backpack. I stretched my hand out to take it. He held it a couple feet over my hand and dropped it. It hit my hand and kept falling. I was able to grab one of the shoulder straps before the backpack hit the ground.
When we reached the top of the mountain, I took out my camera and approached the edge of the cliff. I felt relaxed and free, looking down at the earth from two-thousand feet above it. I gathered my hair in a pony-tail. The breeze dried the sweat on the back of my neck. The sky was pure blue with thin, wispy clouds. The landscape below was a vibrant, almost neon green – the kind of color that seems manmade, but really can occur in nature. I asked him if he wanted to take a picture together. I had to capture these colors.
I set the camera on a boulder and placed him in a spot that could be seen through the viewfinder. I set the timer on the camera and stepped beside him. I put my hand flat against the middle of his back. When the 5-seconds light began to flash, he slid his hand across my lower back and rested his left hand on my left hip bone. After the picture was taken, we held there for a little while.