One of my favorite movies as a kid in the ’60s was The Parent Trap with Hayley Mills playing identical twins separated as infants when their parents divorced, who meet each other years later at summer camp. I loved everything about that movie. Except the awful Vicky.
Vicky was the gold-digging fiancée of the girls’ father, Mitch. A prissy city girl, she’s totally out of her element in the great outdoors, which is made comically evident when she goes camping with Mitch and the girls. Since the twins don’t want her marrying their dad, they sabotage her. The coup de grâce comes when a terrified Vicky awakens to bear cubs licking honey off her feet that the sisters poured on her while she slept. She freaks and storms off, shouting “Get me outta this stinkin’ fresh air!”
What a beyotch. And a wuss. My tween tomboy self laughed and turned up my nose at Vicky-the-wuss. Until nearly five decades later when I realized that now I am Vicky. (The prissy, wussy part, not the beyotch.)
I enjoy the great outdoors—gardening, walking our dog Mellie, and chillin’ on the patio. Camping and hiking? Not so much. I’ve never gotten the appeal of bugs, sleeping on the ground, and wild animals. Possums especially creep me out. They’re big, fat, mentally challenged rats that waddle and hiss and bare their menacing teeth like Jaws’ great white.
I’m a few months shy of 60 and have only hiked about five times in my entire bookworm life—usually on a wheelchair-accessible trail. Two of those times were in my single, evangelical days way back when. Christian singles do everything in a group—camping, hiking, rafting; all manner of outdoorsy things, which is tricky for an indoorsy girl like me. But I sacrificed my natural inclination to fit in with the group. (But mostly to fit in with a guy I was crushing on.) I even went backpacking. Once. Squatting in woods and packing my poop in the ground with a plastic shovel isn’t my idea of a good time.
Recently though, I hiked along the coast with my husband. A FIVE-MILE hike. Cue Gilligan’s Island theme song. I prepared by reading up on the hiking area in advance, but was disconcerted to discover we needed to watch out for poison oak, ticks (Eww) snakes (double-Eww) and bobcats. Bobcats? As in cousin to the mountain lion? Oh. My. God.
The morning of the hike I donned my khakis—a friend advised me to wear light-colored pants to show ticks easily—then pulled up the YouTube video on how to remove a tick. Like the Boy Scouts, I wanted to be prepared. I nearly lost my breakfast. The tick was stuck in the guy’s SCALP! Eww. So excited to begin communing with Mother Nature.
Our guided hike started out well on a wide open trail with great views of the Pacific. I’m feeling confident and in control. I can do this nature thing. (Especially since the only critters we’ve seen are hawks and seagulls.) An hour later, the trail narrowed as we headed into the woods where we’re surrounded by trees and ferns. As we hiked, I said to our guide in an offhand jokey way that I’d read there were bobcats in the area. (Were being the operative word.)
“Yep. They’re like big fat house cats. But they don’t usually approach humans.”
Usually? “You don’t have bears though,” I said in the same jokey tone.
“Sure,” Guide-man said as he led us deeper into the woods. “But they’re rare.”
WTF?? THERE’S FRICKIN’ BEARS IN THESE WOODS? (I only scream it in my head though; I’m no Vicky. I hum “I am woman, hear me roar” and forge ahead, keeping a sharp eye out for Yogi and his housecat pal). Eventually the trail tapers into a narrow path with grasses and greenery brushing against my light-colored pants.
“Watch out for stinging nettles on the left,” Guide-guy warns. “And poison oak on the right.”
My head swivels from left to right. What fresh HELL is this?! Poison oak, stinging nettles, bobcats, bears, and ticks? Oh my. This hiking stuff is DANGEROUS. And people do this for fun? I find it a lot more fun—and safe—reading Bill Bryson’s A Walk in the Woods. But seasoned hiker that I’m fast becoming, I forge on, using the hiking poles my friend loaned me to push aside any poisonous greenery while continually scanning the area for bears and bobcats.
Just keep going, just keep going, says Dory’s voice in my head. Another hour later as my out-of-shape, beyond middle-aged body is huffing and puffing up a steep hill, Guide-Guy cheerfully says, “Almost there.”
At last we reach the end of the trail and kick back with snacks and water. I’m ready to return to the motel, but our car is at the beginning of the trail and the only way back is the same way we came. Past the stinging nettles. Past the poison oak. Through bobcat and bear country.
Two hours later, feet screaming and calves on fire I spy the parking lot. Civilization! I’m tempted to kiss the ground, but don’t want to eat a tick.
Just call me Vicky.