September 30, 2010 at 4:59 pm EDT | by Kevin M. Norris
Losing my hiking virginity

Prior to this weekend the only hiking I had ever really done was in the Blue Mountains in Australia, but that was quite easy and I was in much better physical condition. After all, I was in Sydney to compete in the 2002 Gay Games.

Spontaneously, while camping in West Virginia, I went on a hiking excursion with two other people, Greg and Steve (seasoned and in better shape than I).  I left myself open to their lead and was excited for the unexpected. I had a slight inkling that I would be challenged and I was a bit intimidated.

We started out on an easy path that had already been cleared, which was quite easy and not very steep. Soon we went off path and headed toward the direction of the peak.

Steve marked the trail by tying fluorescent ribbon around trees every so often so we could find our way back. As we went off path the terrain got steeper and more challenging. My heart rate increased, I was sweating and I started to feel many muscles in my legs engaged. The muscles were waking up and talking back to me. Going up the mountain, I was using my hamstrings, glutes and lower extremity muscles like the calves and achilles. These muscles began to fatigue quicker than I wanted, but I trudged on.

The grade got steeper and more difficult and I began to wonder what I had gotten myself into. By now there were no paths and we were heading up. Greg and Steve were moving at a challenging pace, but for the most part I was not too far behind.

The real challenge started when the grade became the steepest and we had to use all four limbs and climb up what was clearly no longer a hill but a mountain. And then we began rock climbing up the remainder of the peak.

I took very short rests because I did not want my body to rebel. Greg and Steve were reassuring and kept me posted as to how far we had to go. On more than one occasion, I contemplated going back because I felt as if I had enough and while I had some time constraints, truth be told, I was looking for a way out. I doubted my abilities for a moment or two.

I was so glad I prevailed! We reached the peak and the vista was spectacular. We were at one of the dozens of mountainous peaks of the Shenandoah Valley. It was about 9 a.m., a bit hazy and you could see for miles. I’m not sure what the elevation was, but it was high. We marveled at the beauty of the view and took some pictures. The experience was breathtaking.

I was told the descent would be much quicker, which I thought for a moment may involve rolling. We climbed down the steep rocks first and our pace was much more cautious as we paid particular attention to our footing. At some point I slipped on a rock, twisted my ankle and scraped my knee. There was blood, but I was OK.

Our pace was indeed quicker, and much less challenging but more dangerous. I felt like I had to be more aware of my every step. I was no longer using my hamstrings, but more quadriceps muscles and the pace required more core strength, balance and agility. My heart rate was much less elevated going down the mountain.

We followed the fluorescent tree ties and quickly made our way back to the clear path with much less incline.

The entire hike took almost two hours, which went by quickly, and while I was tired I felt an overwhelming sense of accomplishment. I had just completed my first real hike and, according to Greg and Steve, they rated the hike challenging. It was definitely not for a beginner.

It’s always important to vary your exercise routine to shake things up and get out of your comfort zone. I have discovered a new activity that does all that for me and I am excited to add this to my repertoire of physical activity.

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