Wednesday, July 1, 2009

Discovering gravity... re-inventing the wheel... and the relativity of hiking!

Good morning everyone!

I got up this morning savoring the prospects of a day off from work with no (very little) rain forecast for the day. I will take full opportunity of this rare occasion, but thought that I might take a couple of minutes to say "Howdy", and share some thoughts.

I realize that my blog entry title is probably a head-scratcher, seemingly having little to do with hiking. ...But, let's venture a little bit down trail, to take a better look.

There is a lot of discussion among the hiking community concerning the Pros and Cons of Ups and Downs. Is it better to hike uphill or downhill? Hmmm... I think it depends on where you're standing. If it is a wonderfully clear and sunny day, one might find great rewards at the end of a long climb. The view at the top is the prize, with a possible cooling breeze added in as a bonus. However, if it is a particularly stormy day, and you are standing on top of, let's say, Mt. Katahdin, you may be rewarded with your life by simply hiking downhill, off of the exposed summit, to the relative safety found below treeline. So, looking at it from this angle, it's 50/50, better to hike up/better to hike down. What about other considerations? It is generally accepted that a hiker will make more miles in a day when losing altitude than another hiker who is gaining altitude. But, again, there is a trade being made on the hikers' body. Although the uphill hiker is "lifting" his weight (and the weight of his pack) with every step, and slowing his pace, the downhill hiker is "catching" his weight (and the weight of his pack) with every step down. Although he MIGHT be faster, that is pure punishment on the knees! Other factors might include the angle, or "steepness" of the trail, and the type of terrain. Sure, on a smooth, gradually declining trail, one might cruise along rather nicely, but what about a steep, downhill rock scramble? Many times I have chosen to come down these "trails" backwards, just to maintain my stability... I think I am generally faster at climbing these stretches uphill, while facing forward!

So... Discovering gravity... re-inventing the wheel... and the relativity of hiking!

Let me pull it all together for you...

This past week I was out on a simple delivery for the lumberyard, where I work. It was an "easy one", a small load of pressure treated lumber and a few concrete pads. It was small enough that it was loaded into a pickup truck... which meant that I would have to unload it by hand. All in all, that was OK with me... I was going North to Solon, Maine, and getting a good view of the mountains! (the sun actually came out!). As I travelled up busy Route 201, I wished I was going further, to Caratunk, for a quick hike. I arrived at my destination, turning off of Route 201, and up a fairly long, and steep driveway. I began to offload, starting with four 18" ROUND concrete pads... Those little guys are HEAVY, and did I mention... ROUND? I'd be willing to bet that you extremely perceptive folks out there have already realized that I was about to re-invent the wheel... and discover for myself, first-hand, the amazing effects of gravity!

As I rolled the 100 pound "wheel" to the back of the truck, I had to bend down to get under the crossbracing of the trucks rack. As I got to the last brace, I lost control of the pad, and it rolled off the truck, hitting the ground with a thud! It hit the ground with a teetering bounce, and stood itself on edge. The cement pad had, before my eyes, metamorphosed into a very heavy wheel. (much like a caterpillar becoming a butterfly... but not as pretty...). We all know that butterflies do, in fact, fly, and my horrible cement "butterfly" had begun to ROLL, and was heading towards its' maiden flight down the hill! My heart was pounding with the realization that I was about to embark on the fastest, and most exciting hike of my life!...

Yes, I can still move very fast, for a man of 52 years... but not fast enough! As I quickly jumped off of the truck, the re-invented wheel just as quickly moved 20 feet away from me, and gained speed as it moved further downhill. By the time I caught up with it, it was a hundred feet downhill, and we were both moving very fast. I tried to kick at it, from the side, as I ran... it would wobble a bit, then straighten up, to continue its' journey. Now, we could get into other laws of physics, concerning potential and kinetic energy, centripetal and centrifugal forces, bodies in motion, forces acting upon those bodies in motion, and the like... but, nah! Let's suffice to say that I was being severely challenged by gravity acting on my cement wheel.

Downhill we continued! The cement pad had rolled from the lawn to the gravel driveway, going faster and faster, and in turn, I picked up my pace. I kicked at it repeatedly. It was futile. At a distance of about 100 yards, my wheel was going to meet Route 201! My heart was pounding, and I was praying to God that it wouldn't hit anybody driving by. I got slightly ahead of it, running out into the road to warn any oncoming traffic. The wheel flew by me, jumped the ditch on the other side, and entered the woods. The crisis part of my hike was now over! We had safely entered the treeline! I figured that I would not have to go very far now, to retrieve my wheel... after all, it would surely hit a tree in these thick woods. I stood, looking beyond the ditch, at the stupid wheel. It was still moving! It had a great head of steam, was STILL going downhill, and was avoiding every tree in its' way... I figured it might make it all the way to the Kennebec River. I determined that if it DID end up in the Kennebec, then I would jump in myself, just to have a good cool-down!

Another 50 yards in the woods, and I found it! I picked it up, and slowly carried it up the hill, back to Route 201. From there, I went to get the truck, figuring to offer the wheel a ride back to the top of the hill. Once I got back to the summit,(Yay!), I unloaded everything, making sure that I didn't lose another cement pad to gravity.

When I was all done with everything, I had time to reflect on this "hike", and the "ups and downs" of it. I figured to compare two aspects (uphill and downhill) of hiking. Since I had covered the same distance each way, I knew that it was a fair comparison. First, let me say that it was an incredibly fast and tiring hike downhill... and an incredibly slow and tiring hike uphill. On my hike downhill I was carrying less weight, and seemed to be motivated to move quickly. My knees took quite a pounding, yet my heart seemed to be taking a much worse beating! There was danger all the way down the hill, yet I was finally rewarded with a long rest in the quiet and safety of the deep woods! On my uphill journey the hiking was much, much slower! I felt like I was carrying a hundred pounds! My muscles ached with each step uphill, but I felt very much in control of each well-placed step. When I was back to Route 201, a third of the way to the summit, I was able to leave the cement pad at the road, and "slack-packed" my way to the top. I then returned with the truck to retrieve my cement pack... uh, pad.

Once back at the top, I was tired, but happy! There is always a special feeling I get when reaching the top, safely. Today, that was only rivalled by the feeling that I had gotten when I reached the bottom safely!

In summary, in my comparison of hiking up and hiking down, I find that each way has it's ups and downs! In short, hiking is hiking, and there is no comparison! It's all about the forces of gravity, and wheels... relative to hiking, of course!

I have to go now, but, as you all hike along the "ups and downs" of life's trail, I pray that you will see God's Blessing in each step, and that He eases your burdens no matter where you are...

God Bless!