Crossing the Rubicon, or Denial

posted Jul 5, 2010, 8:12 PM by Paul Wagner   [ updated Jul 5, 2010, 10:22 PM ]
There are few things that bring out the creativity in hikers the way stream crossings do.  It seems that while following one another on a trail is a simple process, crossing a stream suddenly introduces a wild streak of willful derring-do or note of pure caution that challenges each hiker to choose his/her own path.
 
This is true even with the two of us.
 
Now one of us is a gifted dancer, who can waltz or gavotte, and follow any move or rhythm instantly with her clever feet.  The other one of us approaches dancing with all of the finesse of a drunken giraffe...trying mainly to stay on the right foot on the right beat.  Clearly, one of us has the advantage when it comes to the delicate procedures required to cross a mountain stream.
 
 
It's the giraffe. 
 

P grew up hopping on rocks around rivers while he was fishing, and it is absolutely second nature to him.  And when it comes to crossing a stream, he usually votes for whatever is quickest:  log, hopping on stones, leaping across the gap, and even sometimes trying to walk on water.  (The latter not usually working...which is why he reserves it for late in the day on the last day of the trip.)   But hopping across stones is fun for P.  He leaps, he balances, and he cleverly drifts from rock to rock with ease.  With a pack or without one, it's almost automatic. And there's a kind of natural rhythm to it that's a lot like dancing.  At least in his mind. 

 
M, on the other hand, gracefully steps up to the creek...and pauses.  She looks for a better way.  She wants the path that is the easiest, safest, and least likely to get wet.  And she is perfectly willing to look for a few minutes to find it.  Astonishingly, despite her superb balance on the dance floor, she is not all that comfortable hopping from rock to rock.  She doesn't trust their stability.  All that time in the dance studio has made her elegant and graceful, but it doesn't help her leap from stone to stone.
 
It's a source of some amusement for us on every hike.  P leads the way, and shows M that his route certainly works.  And sometimes, once she has considered her options, M follows him.  But just as often she looks over the situation and chooses a different path: something a little calmer, or perhaps something that requires a slighly shorter leap of faith. 
 
And then there is the wading.  Wading is always an issue, because we don't like to get our hiking boots wet.  Hiking in wet boots is miserable business, and so we always carry a pair of Crocs for this purpose.  They work great...but they also take time.  You have to pull off your boots and socks, put on your Crocs, wade the river, take off the Crocs, dry your feet, and then put socks and boots back on. 
That's not the quickest way to cross a stream, and we don't like to do it.  But we do wade across rivers and streams, especially early in the year, when those lovely stones that have been artfully placed by previous hikers are now completely under water.  But it's a last resort. 
 
Recently P's brother joined us for a hike, and we were both just a bit interested to see how he would proceed.  Would he follow in P's footsteps, and hop across the streams?  Or would he follow M's path, and choose the more sedate approach. 
 
Our first big stream crossing brought us our answer.  P decided, rather quickly, that the only way across this stream was to wade it.  Yes, it was icy and surrounded by snowbanks, but there really wasn't another way.  He pulled off his boots, pulled on his Crocs, and waded in.  It was icy, but he got across.  And waited impatiently for the others. 
 
M was not convinced.  She looked carefully for a narrower crossing, or one that was shallower. Or one that offered a few stones to keep her feet dry.  Only after minutes of review did she finally relent, and wade the stream where P had crossed. It was icy, but it worked. 
 
 
 
But where was P's brother?  He finally appeared, after an extensive foray upstream.  He had tried to use a log, but the snow gave way beneath his feet, and he showed up with a large scrape on his head.  Of course he had tried a different approach.   And he remained unconvinced.  But in the end, he waded across with the rest of us.
 
After a few moments of first aid for his head, and a few more to get all of our footwear back on our feet, we were ready to hit the trail again as a team.  We were one. 
 
At least until the next stream, when we could each look for a better way...
 
 
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