I am a hiker, which for me, means hiking at least once a week. When time permits, I plan a longer hike on the weekend — 10+ miles — but I almost always hike at least once on a weeknight. During my three weeks in Paris, I did a lot of walking, but no hiking. Tonight was my first time back out on the trails since returning to California a week ago.
I’ve led a hike on Wednesday night for almost two years now. During the summer when the days are longer, we usually head for the local hills between San Clemente and San Juan Capistrano on a modified 4.6 mile loop we’ve dubbed Roller Coaster Ridge for its up-and-down inclines. It’s a great mid-week stress-buster, and with over 1,000 feet of total vertical gain, a pretty decent workout, too.
But one of my favorite parts of leading this hike is sharing it with others and the social aspect of the hike. There are The Regulars: the people who will usually be there hiking with me 4 out of 5 times. The Newbies, who are curious about the trail, the area or just getting into hiking. And The Out-of-Towners, usually devout hikers here on vacation, and looking for a chance to stretch their legs on our coastal trails.
The size of the group really doesn’t matter. Sometimes there are just two of us, as it was the first time I hiked with my fiancée, Joan. Other times the group swells to 15 or more. But usually there are five to seven of us on any given Wednesday night. We gather at the trailhead shortly before 6pm, break a sweat on the climb, soak in the views of the coastline to the southwest and the mountains to the northeast. And we talk.
Last year when Joan and I hiked the John Muir Trail, she observed that the people we met were — simply put — wonderful. It didn’t matter what they looked like, their social status or age — they were friendly, warm and polite. There was a kinship among backpackers and hikers that is special. In sharing the outdoor experience, the sweat and the patient plodding up long, unforgiving hills, we become brothers and sisters.
And for me, those Wednesday night hikes is a communion of kindred souls. A chance to take in the fresh, sea air. To watch the sun melt into the ocean. To catch up with friends, old and new. And to recharge my body, mind and soul.
After our hike, we sit around the table at Wahoo’s and share a well-earned taco and a cold beer, swapping stories about our weeks and plans for the weekend ahead. Yes, life is good.
If you’d like to join me on any Wednesday night hike, just let me know.