I hiked with seven friends to seven lakes in the Rocky Mountain National Park today. Cor Asp, A.J. Ozanich, Ben Fetters, Stephen Campbell, Hillary Campbell, Hope Leimbach, Lauren Woolum, and I hiked to Bear Lake, Two Rivers Lake, Lake Helene, Odessa Lake, Fern Lake, Spruce Lake, and Loomis Lake. And it was a much more beautiful hike than I expected, with many miles of trails that I’d never hiked before (which is extra-enjoyable because I really like to color in the dotted lines on my maps). I especially enjoyed the gorge between Lake Helene and Odessa Lake, over Fern Creek, and we generally kept a pretty leisurely pace through the first five lakes, while our group of eight hung together. But for those last two lakes and the hike back out to the Fern Lake trailhead — basically the second half of the hike — we split into two groups so Cor could get back to civilization in time to see the Dutch National Soccer Team play its European Cup quarterfinal match against Türkiye (which he’d asked A.J. to prioritize in the planning for the hike). So it was A.J., Ben, Cor, and me for that part, and it really ended up being a challenge for me.

The trail from Fern Lake to Spruce Lake and Loomis Lake involved a pretty steep incline over “Unimproved Trails” with a lot of downed trees and scrambling over rocks and snowfields, so that was certainly part of the challenge. I also feel like it’s been a slow creep from 90 percent health up to 100 percent health since a mid-week illness, so I’m guessing that was part of the challenge, too (with some gastro-intestinal distress along the way). But mostly, that last half of the hike was challenging because I was hiking with the “Big Boys,” and I’m not so sure that I belong with them any more.

Every summer I’ve been here in Colorado, there’s been an informal sort of stratification of hikers, ranging from the totally uninitiated to the super-stud “Big Boy” hikers (though this upper echelon is not exclusive to men, since I’d certainly place LT greats such as Rachel Mayes and Annie Jenkins in this class). Most years, I’ve been able to hang with the Big Boys. And even this year, I suppose, I’ve technically been able to hang with them (at least I did today). But as I’ve rounded into my late-40s, I’ve noticed some slippage.

Desolation Peaks with Tim Yancy

In 2022, when I was 45 years old, I reached a point where I realized that in spite of whatever mental toughness I might have acquired (which is certainly not nothing), I simply could not physically keep pace with Tim Yancy (though he is perhaps the super-stud of all super-studs). I just did not have that extra gear I’d previously known (on some level) that I’d possessed. My abilities had peaked, and I would never be able to reach such heights again, this side of eternity.

Road Trip to Utah with Jay

This summer, at age 47, I’m noticing it more. I got heat exhaustion in Utah. My feet hurt more and more towards the end of every hike over ten miles. And I felt like crap on that slog from Fern Lake back to the trailhead. I just don’t have the physical capacity that my brother Jay or my son Cor still have; I just cannot match up with the power of A.J. and Ben, as men in their early-30s (though on any given day, I might be able to outperform them if conditions are just right).

I’m not saying that I cannot or will not ever be able to do long hikes or hard hikes again. Still, I think that I might need to start taking my physical limitations into account more meaningfully when planning for these bigger hikes. More time, more rest, more water and calorie replenishment. And I just don’t know if I’ll ever want or need to take on the riskier stuff again. I’m feeling more and more like I’ve got nothing left to prove to myself, or to others, if I ever did in the first place.

I’m a mortal man. I am finite, flimsy and flaky in the face of God’s glorious infinitude. And I think I’m fine with that now. Or at least I am in the process of becoming fine with that.

Fortunately, in the context of our seven lakes hike, I was able to finish without any extra accommodations. Cor and I were able to watch the Dutch beat the Turks, 2-1, getting the crowd at Smokin’ Dave’s to cheer for Oranje along with us. And over the rest of the day, my body has been able to recover from the stresses of the hike. So I’m thankful for that.

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