Hating the burn

I think I’ve admitted this before, but I’m hardly a fan of exercise.

I just have a hard time wrapping my brain around why anyone would want to subject themselves to torture. Also, why buy special clothes just to sweat in them and make more laundry? It seems like such a waste of good laundry detergent.

But, I keep hearing fitness fans talking about “loving the burn” and a supposed “natural high” that working out causes. And so, every now and again (but obviously not often enough), I decide to do something that requires sneakers and some sort of clothing item made with a percentage of spandex. I have yet to ever love the burn or experience the natural high, but for some reason, I continue trying exercise like it will somehow be different this time. Having grown up a faithful person, I still believe that elusive euphoric feeling that working out is supposed to induce will one day find me – as long as I keep trying.

Last week, on my lunch break, I chose hiking to be the exercise attempt of the day, and my poor lunch companion was coming with me whether he liked it or not. There’s this beautiful natural feature within a short driving distance to the office, and so I drove with my friend out to the half mile trail that leads down to the Fish River Falls.

I parked my SUV at the trailhead and hopped out of the vehicle with an impressive display of ambition – a half mile was easy enough, I had convinced myself. I was ready to go, and this time, I was sure I would come away from the experience hopelessly addicted to the activity.

I stood there at the bottom of the trail watching the roiling water churn below me as it careened through the ravine towards where it would eventually merge with the St. John River on its journey to the Atlantic, and for a moment I was indeed hopelessly addicted to hiking. Surely any activity that rewarded a person with such sights and sounds was worth repeating. Was this the “natural high” about which fitness fanatics spoke? At that moment, I felt certain that it could be.

Then reality hit.

You see, there’s a really bad side to hiking downhill to a destination: in order to make it back to the car, you have to walk the same distance all over again – only this time, it’s all uphill.

I realized rather quickly, as we took our first few steps back onto the trail towards where I had parked my vehicle, that I was in serious trouble. Not only was each step an agonizing reminder of how out-of-shape I actually am, but I had forgotten my water bottle in the car and the black flies had decided to swarm.

So, waving my arms like they were one of those inflatable sock people that you see in front of car dealerships in Saco, I decided the best foot forward was to set tiny goals. Baby steps. I would focus on an odd shaped tree somewhere in the distance and promise myself that when I reached that point on the trail, I could stop and take a break. Then, about six breaks later, I’d finally make it to that spot and stop for an even longer break. Panting, soaked with sweat, and in pain, my frequent breaks became even more numerous the farther up the hill I traveled.

I was absolutely convinced I would not make it back to the top. I texted my office and warned them that they may want to call the National Guard to come rescue me. I might as well have been climbing Katahdin – in the rain and at night on ice-covered rocks and barefoot.

My friend was always 100 feet or so ahead of me on the trail and graciously waited for me each time I stopped. I cursed myself with every step for choosing to hike on this sweltering day. I know many people who could have run up and down the trail several times in the same time it took me to finally break free from the forested slope and into the field where I could see my car waiting for me like an oasis in the desert. Of course, it was still a good 500 feet away.

I never loved the burn that day. In fact, I am certain that I loathed the burn. There was no natural high – only a feeling of thankfulness that I managed to make it back to the car alive. For days after, my legs threatened mutiny if I so much as thought about walking any distance beyond the end of my own driveway.

I’m unsure what the lesson is that I should take away from the experience. Maybe I should try a trail that is more flat? Less long? Certainly something more appropriate for a beginner. Or maybe I’ll just skip hiking and move on to kayaking for my next exercise attempt of the day.