I have long been told, by people too numerous to mention, including members of my own family, to take a hike. But because of the rarefied air between my ears, I waited until a recent trip to the Rocky Mountains to take them up -- way up -- on their suggestion.
My initial ascent of a slope high enough to let me see what flight attendants were serving on passing airplanes was made during a long weekend in Granby, Colorado, a picturesque town that is about 8,000 feet above sea level. Considering I am 6 feet tall and live close to the shore, it is 7,994 feet higher than what I am used to.
Accompanying me on this exhausting excursion were my wife, Sue; our daughters, Katie and Lauren; Katie's husband, Dave; and our niece Ashley. All are in better shape than I am. So are some dead people, but I didn't want to join them by falling off a cliff or being eaten by a mountain lion.
The first hikers we encountered on the trail were three young children, two women who apparently were their mothers and a white-haired lady whose age, I would estimate, was 112. She had a walking stick.
"Good morning!" she chirped as we tramped by. "Are you enjoying your hike?"
"This is my first one," I told her.
The lady looked at my ratty sneakers, worn sweatpants, "I Love Garlic" T-shirt and bloodshot eyes and said, "I hope you don't have trouble with the altitude."
"I'm naturally lightheaded," I replied, "so it doesn't bother me."
What did bother me was the prospect of being attacked by any number of ferocious fauna, including but not limited to Bigfoot.
"What happens if we encounter a bear?" Sue asked.
"It would be pretty grizzly," I said.
To which Ashley responded, "Good one!"
Then there were beavers, which came to my boggled mind when we passed a stream that had been dammed by the industrious rodents.
"Last year," I recalled, "a fisherman in Europe was killed by a berserk beaver."
Dave saw the bright side when he pointed to the sparkling water and said, "Every delicious ounce of Coors Light starts right here."
I could have used a beer because I was hot on the trail (of what, I wasn't sure), but all I had was a bottle of water, and it was warm.
As we made our way up the steep grade (I was expecting my grade to be F, which would have stood for "fainted"), I actually felt invigorated.
"You're doing very well," Katie said with a touch of astonishment.
"I thought you would have keeled over by now," Lauren added optimistically.
Aside from a couple of brief rest stops, we made a beeline (and did not, fortunately, get stung by bees) to the top of the trail, where I beheld two wondrous sights: a waterfall and a lawyer.
The former was not exactly Niagara Falls, though I did approach it step by step, inch by inch, but the latter was exactly what I didn't expect to see.
"You think you can get away from us," said Patrick Fitz-Gerald, an attorney from Denver. "But we're everywhere."
He was hiking with his wife, Katie; their daughter, Larkin, 3; and their golden retriever, Buddy, 7, who Patrick said is on the cover of the paperback edition of the best-selling Garth Stein novel, "Racing in the Rain."
When Patrick told me that he used to be a journalist but quit to become a lawyer, I said, "You finally found honest work."
"If you get hurt on the trail and need representation," Patrick said, "call me."
Except for a scratch on my middle finger, which I was too polite to show him, I didn't get hurt at all. On the way down, which admittedly was a lot easier than going up, I told our merry band that I had a terrific time on my first hike.
"I guess," said Lauren, speaking for everyone, "you're not over the hill after all."