The Birthday Hike Through Dante’s Inferno

On a hot sunny day in July, I took my sister into the woods to hike for her birthday. I understood that she probably wouldn’t care for it, but everything was closed due to a global pandemic. I knew she loved seeing beautiful waterfalls and what she referred to as a “crick,” or what the rest of the world called a stream or river. I had chosen a trail well known to have flowing water year-round, and so we packed our hiking bags, grabbed extra water, and headed out in our ball caps and sunglasses. However, the well-intentioned birthday trek went a little different than expected.

About three meters into the hike, we found ourselves surrounded by vibrant poison oak. The leaves from the unwanted sticky oil-covered brush had left us ducking and scooting through the forest like two overzealous participants in a cheap laser maze. Still, we pressed on with our goal set on the beautiful stream–I mean crick that we were promised. I looked back to check on the birthday girl whose expression was contorted into a gnarly game of face Twister. It was then that I knew I was the worst gift giver.

We did get a moment of rest from the unfortunate chlorophyll nightmare when we were able to briefly explore and check out the clay-colored rock formations that curved and beveled to form interesting caves. The undulating natural architecture of the smooth rock provided welcomed shade from the hot summer sun. It was probably the highlight of our trip through the woods because when the smile left my sister’s face as we continued on, I didn’t remember it reappearing until the very end of the hike.

I want to say we made it to the waterfall and found the river, but I realized halfway through that the “trail” we were on was probably just the driest riverbank on earth. Not even a droplet of moisture was found lingering anywhere. Global warming had put the cherry on top of the cake that tasted like bugs and winding vines of itchy torture. 

When we did manage to make it to the “waterfall,” our path was blocked by what seemed to be a family reunion sitting in the middle of the trail with no masks and no regard for anyone wanting to pass by them. They sat there on the collection of dry rocks unbothered and unwilling to move an inch. I turned to my sister, who looked done before we even started and made the call to turn back. I’m sure my parents would have hated it if I caused my sister to contact COVID and rashes from poison oak along with the bug bites and possible sunburn. 

Things obviously didn’t go as planned, and oftentimes, they never do. You can plan all you want, but you end up having to prepare for the worst and hope for the best to keep moving forward. We ended up having a better rest of the day enjoying movies, drinks, and food, but it was only after a tour through Dante’s upper levels of the Inferno that we were able to finally enjoy the day. I did apologize profusely, but my polite sister still claimed to have fun. I mostly take the trek as a cautionary tale portraying the unpredictability of life and all the chaos within it. You will have some not so great times in life, but that doesn’t mean that life is void of the good things. 

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