“Hiking” isn’t in an Eastern Nebraskan’s vocabulary. Growing up in Lincoln, the first time I heard the word I thought it was some sort of construction tool, as in, “Hey, bring the hike, and start making some holes here.” Just kidding, but seriously, hiking in Nebraska is just not a thing. Mainly because we don't have any mountains, or hills, or any sort of elevation we can slide from on a snow day. But we do have cornfields all over the place, and sometimes we run into the middle of them and end up with a bunch of ticks on our clothes, but that's beside the point.
This isn't: I moved to Colorado a few weeks ago, and honest to God, I’ve never hiked before, and so on a Saturday morning, I decided to give it a try. I got my backpack ready, packed a big container of peanuts, and some beef jerky because I heard that's what you take with you on hikes. I thought about adding two slices of leftover pizza because, carbs, but then didn’t because I figured it’d just get smashed by my liter of water. Instead I added an extra pair of socks, a knife (just in case I had to go DiCaprio on a bear, a la “The Revenant”) a jacket, and an iPhone charger. I remembered that I left behind that pizza-smashing water just as I headed up the Beaver Lake trail from Beaver Creek Village.
After the first two miles—all uphill!—I was sweating, and never mind the thirst, I was hungry (and really regretted not packing the pizza). But then I considered where I was: in the middle of nature among the aspens, these golden towers of the forest with their whispering leaves and the twigs and branches snapping under my feet. In heaven. And since I was in heaven, a little while later, dying of thirst, I got down on my knees and resurrected myself with gulps of cold, clean water right from the stream. Another first: the most delicious water I’ve ever tasted. I never thought of water in spiritual terms, until I saw my endpoint emerge from behind the pine trees, a miracle/mirage shimmering like an oasis in a desert, only instead of a desert, a wide and glorious glade: Beaver Lake. I stood at the edge of that big lake and the mountains and trees and soaked it all in as I ate my snacks and reflected on the beauty of it all. My first hike was hardly a hike by Coloradan standards, I understand, but still I’ll never forget it. Because now I know what that word really means.