old rag

I’d been itching to go on a hike so last week husband said he’d take Friday off. I told him I wanted a 6-8 mile hike, something long enough to make me tired and be worth the drive.

“How about Old Rag?” he said from behind his computer screen where he was scrolling through options. “It’s 9 miles, and they say it takes 6-10 hours.” 


“It’s classified as ‘very strenuous.’”

So I texted a bunch of my hiking friends to see if they thought this was something I could handle. They all said yes, and my older son added, “There’s a bit of a rock scramble near the top but the views are well worth it. Definitely recommend.” 

A bit of a rock scramble, hahaha.

The first hour was uphill. We started off at a brisk pace, leap-frogging a few groups as we went. There were two guys behind us, and at one point I asked if they wanted to pass us. “Not yet,” they said, and then I got weirdly competitive, needing to stay ahead of them even though I was huffing and puffing, dying of thirst, and on the verge of seeing stars. After 45 minutes, we took our first break (and they passed us), but then we happened on a huge group of high schoolers, and once we got passed them, we again had to hustle to put distance between them and us. 

I kept pondering the upcoming rock scramble my son had mentioned. What did “rock scramble” mean, exactly? A field of rocks like what you’d find on a river bed? A trail of small-ish boulders which required leaping from one to the other, like when you were a kid and the floor was lava and you had to get around the house by jumping from sofa to chair to pillow to piano bench? He said there were no cliffs so it couldn’t be that bad.

About one hour in, we hit the rocks, and I was like, Oh, now I get it. Crap. 

I don’t have many pictures — I was too busy not dying — but let’s just say: it’s called a rock scramble, m’dears, because you gotta throw your whole body into it. Forget simple walking — this sort of hiking required scooching along on one’s bum, crawling on all fours, and lots of slide-falling. 

When we got to the rocks that were taller than me and slippery smooth, and that I somehow had to heave myself over, I got sweary. How the heck was I supposed to climb boulders without a hand-hold? (Answer: via a husband who let me use his foot as a prop, and random dudes who pointed out the best stepping ledges and gave me a hand when there were none.)

Him: We gotta get the whole way up there!

Me: [death stare]

Sometimes the trail markers pointed straight up, or straight down, or straight into the rock (and then there’d be a tunnel). Once my hips got stuck. Another time, I braced myself against the rock walls with my elbows, which didn’t hurt but now they’re purple. 

As we climbed higher the trail led across the tops of big boulders with gaps between. My husband basically walked over them (he’s a goat), but I’d get to the crevasse and stop cold. In my head I knew I could do it — Just step across the damn crack, Jennifer — but in my other head, I could clearly see myself slipping, tumbling downdowndown, shattering bones and eventually getting wedged between rocks, and then there’d be the surgeries, obscene medical bills, and tedious months of healing (assuming I lived). 

ALSO, when I was on cross cultural in college (warning: if easily queasy, skip the rest of this paragraph) I watched one of my classmates leap across a stone-sided ravine: her one foot made it but the other one didn’t. Instead, it slammed into the stone wall and — there’s no polite way to say this — the impact knocked her foot off her leg, a bit of skin and tendon the only thing keeping it from falling off completely.

So there I’d be: stuck, and a wee bit whimpery, but then I’d gather my wits about me (what other choice did I have?) and jump across and it’d be fine. 

We arrived at the top two and a half hours after starting the hike. It was spectacular.

We sat on the far side of the mountain in the shade of a giant boulder (of course). At first it felt like a flat location, and it was more or less, but the longer we sat there the more I realized that the rocks just kinda curved down, down, down. If we dropped anything, or stumbled, there’d be no way to stop.

But I tried not to think about that and instead focused on (not dropping) my PB&J and watching the birds soaring at eye level and then swooping so far down below us, yet still above the tree tops.

Eating my lunch high above the birds — now that was incredible. 

And then we hoisted our packs back on our shoulders and took off down the mountain. The decent was much easier (no rock scramble, yessss) but miles of downhill stepping with legs that felt like jelly was its own special kind of pain. 

And then there were several more miles of fire road hiking which were so boring that I took to singing “This is the trail that never ends” at ever-increasing levels of volume until my husband begged me to stop.

And then we were back at the car — the nine-mile loop took us 4 hours and 40 minutes — where I swapped my smelly shirt for a clean one, peeled off my socks and wiggled my toes, dug the iced coffee and mint tea out of the cooler and — ahhhh — relaxed. 

This same time, years previous: the quotidian (6.6.22), mama said, simple lasagna, the quotidian (6.6.16), white icing, of a sun-filled evening, on hold.


Leave a Comment