When I was a little girl, my mom used to drop me off during summers at a day camp in north San Antonio. It was held at a place called Lady Bird Johnson Community Park and had no AC, because it had no buildings. The result was that I, a white girl, appeared to change races over a matter of months.
“Look how tan you’ve gotten!” my teachers would remark when I returned to school in August.
“Uh huh,” I’d nod, thinking not of my summer spent on glittering, sandy beaches, but of the many afternoons lying half passed-out on a picnic table, an intravenous drip of Capri Sun by my side.
and there was born one of the defining qualities of my childhood: Tolly Hates Hikes.
During these summers at LBJ, we’d often load a school bus and go on field trips to, say, another park, where the picnic tables and swing sets were arranged differently. But one afternoon, we took a hike through the wild environs of our geographical surroundings, and there was born one of the defining qualities of my childhood: Tolly Hates Hikes.
“This is my daughter, Tolly!” my dad would introduce me proudly during Take Your Daughter to Work Day. “She likes books, pickles, and she HATES hikes!”
His colleagues would chuckle good-naturedly, and promise not to take me on any hikes while I was at the office.
As we struck forth on our wilderness adventure at LBJ, our 20 year-old counselor tried injecting some enthusiasm and high spirits into the whole thing. “I wonder what we’ll find?” he asked meaningfully. “Maybe some interesting leaves? Maybe an arrowhead!”
I was small then, stepping my way over uneven ground as fast as my little legs could carry me. We were on a groomed trail, sort of, albeit one decorated with the detritus of our fellow man: cigarette butts, a couple of crushed Coke cans. My friend Kelly was hanging in the back with me at first, but being taller and more naturally outgoing, Kelly eventually made her way to the middle of the pack where the more invested explorers were clustering.
“Ok, listen up!” our counselor turned and announced, suddenly flush with inspiration.
Thus began the germiest, most unsanitary hike so far recorded.
“Anybody who picks up five pieces of trash during today’s hike will get an extra popsicle during lunch today!”
Heat circumstances being what they were, this was kind of like announcing to a group of small crack addicts that they would be rewarded with their very own crack rocks. Was it 100 degrees? YES. Did we want an extra popsicle? YES WE DID.
Thus began the germiest, most unsanitary hike so far recorded. With my fellow hikers and me picking up half-eaten bags of Cheetos and rotting apple cores, we tromped down the trail, racing each other to empty Camel packs. At one point, I managed to balance my garbage with one hand, so I could use the other to examine one of those interesting-looking leaves my counselor had mentioned. It was growing in a shady spot, and looked quite unique indeed: almost like three little leaves in one.
“Achoo!” I cried. My nose itched, and my eyes watered. I dropped the leaf with my non-trash hand, and rubbed my face.
Exactly one hour later, I had a poison ivy rash going down half of my face, covering my right eye. The next morning, I woke up with conjunctivitis in the left.
I sobbed from my bed, looking like a miniature, red-faced Quasimodo. “I hate hikes!” I hollered to my mom and dad, hoping that they had the powers to rid such scourge from the Earth.
“Tolly hates hikes!” my dad repeated.
“Tolly hates hikes!” my mom echoed.
They couldn’t take all hikes away from humanity, but at least they knew where I stood on the matter.
Years later in college, I fell in with a semi-outdoorsy group of folks. And I’m not sure what attracted me, exactly: what was it about those liberated, makeup-free girls? Their bearded, hand drum-toting boyfriends? All I can say is that for a girl from suburban San Antonio, this breed was highly exotic. While I was used to waking up each morning and “putting on” my face, which took a good half hour, they brushed on some patchouli deodorant and were ready to face the day. Words couldn’t describe my astonishment.
One of these girls convinced me to sign up for a Wilderness Skills class, and it was there, after a 13-year hiking hiatus, I was reintroduced to my old mortal enemy. Only, we’d both softened over time.
Work meant computers, incoming emails… hikes meant breezes, soft earth, and soul-soothing slowness.
I found that I could keep up with the pack this time. I carried my camping gear across fields and streams, pausing every so often to ponder the rush of cool spring water. With no trash in my hands, I could now use my fingers to hoist myself up steep, rocky foothills, and I felt a little bit badass doing it. Most importantly, I was taught what poison ivy looks like.
But it wasn’t until my mid 20s in Austin, working my first desk job and freelance writing on the side, that hiking turned into something different for me. Rather than an excuse to hang out with my cool hippie friends, hiking and I became our own companions. Work meant computers, incoming emails, and relentless text dings, while hikes meant breezes, soft earth, and soul-soothing slowness. I started walking around Town Lake – which OK, is more a scenic walk than a hike proper – and eschewing the gym, and finally I quit the latter altogether. See you never, elliptical machines.
I recently got back from my first silent meditation retreat, and on our first day, I was with-God-as-my-witness sure that I had trekked through some wretched poison ivy near a tree-lined pond. I got back to the yurt where my husband and I were staying, pointed frantically at my feet, and wrote him a cryptic note that said, “I’m not itching yet, but…”
He looked at me, wide-eyed, and helped me get my boots off.
“Do you want to go hiking again tomorrow?” he wrote. He motioned to my spare set of sneakers lying on the floor next to our bed, untainted by poison ivy evilness. I looked at him, grinned, and scribbled a response.
“Yes I do.”
This article originally published in The Wander Issue of Citygram Austin Magazine.
Explore the full issue on your desktop here or download the FREE mobile issue designed specifically for your iPhone or iPad in the App Store today.
Culture & Lifestyle Columnist
Tolly Moseley is a freelance writer and journalist in Austin, TX.
With a focus on arts/culture and life, her work has appeared in Salon, Texas Parks & Wildlife Magazine, on NPR Austin, and more.
She is also the voice behind the popular blog Austin Eavesdropper, and one half of the aerial silks performance duo Vayu Aerials.
Photography: Tolly Moseley