For the past five years, the cover of our Christmas card is a photo my husband takes of an 18” stuffed Santa visiting area landmarks. We’ve posed the jolly little fellow in a tree near the Jefferson Memorial, on a wall overlooking the Washington Monument, and atop cannon at Manassas Battlefield. Santa has sat at the foot of the lion statue at the National Zoo and on a fence overlooking the U.S. Capital before the last inauguration. This year I suggested we take the photo on the Appalachian Trail, in part because my husband is an avid hiker.
Anyone who knows me is aware of how profoundly, uncharacteristically kind I was to make that offer. I am a hike hater. As far as I’m concerned, hiking = walking – incentive + bears (I am also a bear fearer). Some folks ask why I’m not lured by the breathtaking views. My response:
A) I’m lured by naps and food, not landscapes. If someone was fishing for me using a hike for bait, I wouldn’t nibble. If the hook had a Sleep Number Bed and a box of Thin Mints, I’d leap into the boat.
B) Every hike is breath-taking, especially uphill.
The spirit of the season must have heightened my generosity, weakened my resolve, and blurred my horrific memories of hikes past. Nevertheless, when my husband suggested going to Sky Meadows last Sunday, I grabbed Santa and my purse and got in the car.
Me: “Are we there yet?”
Me: “Because you said it would be a 45 minute drive and we should almost be there.”
Husband: “We’ve been in the car for 15 minutes.”
As the gap between sitting and hiking closed, I felt myself shift into what my husband calls my “hiking mood.” Somewhere around exit 30, the transformation was complete: I was a misery.
We got there mid-afternoon and the sun was already fading. The chill in the air (and every other thing related to this outing) prompted me to complain. “Oh, you won’t be cold once you start moving!” my husband said cheerfully. I was about to throw my cell phone at him, but I decided to text my college-aged daughter behind his back.
Me: “I m hiking”
Daughter (fellow hike hater): “WHY????”
Me: “4 the *#& card”
Daughter: “What is *#&”
Me: “*#& = [actual word]”
For the first thirty minutes of our walk ... excuse me, hike ... I gave my husband the silent treatment (a gift he always appreciates). The only sound came from the large jingle bell sewn into Santa’s left palm, which I prayed would keep bears at bay. Finally my husband admitted he got “turned around” (also known as “lost”), so we stopped at the park’s overlook to check the map. Nearby, a well-geared couple sat on a bench. Apparently they just finished shooting the “Liking Hiking” issue of L.L. Bean. Not only did their comfortably soft yet surprisingly durable outfits separate us, so did our conversations: we sounded like a duet between Mozart and Ozzy Osborne.
L.L. Bean woman: “Vermont also has wonderful cheeses.”
Me: “What do you mean you got turned around?”
L.L. Bean man: “Is that so?”
Husband: “We’re never going to make it to the Trail by sunset at this rate.”
L.L. Bean woman: “Yes, I read it in Martha Stewart’s Living.”
Me: “Are you blaming me? As much as I would like to think the sun rises and sets for me, it doesn’t.”
L.L. Bean man: “How interesting.”
Husband: “Jean, I’m not blaming you.”
L.L. Bean woman: “Evidently, the area has an abundance of nutrient-rich grasses that makes the cheese so rich.”
Me: “You want to blame someone, blame the sun!”
To my (and the L.L Beaner’s) relief, my husband surrendered and suggested we head back to the car. I noticed my mood was raised as the elevation lowered: downhill is a wonderful anti-depressant. Before long, we entered a clearing, where the remaining light mixed with the view—it was, well, breathtaking. I excitedly posed Santa while my husband shot dozens of fabulous photos. I said smugly, “See? I told you this would be a good idea.” Just then, Santa’s bell rang – my husband got his wings.