When You're in Your Salsa

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I love solo hiking.

Well, not entirely solo hiking, because I love having my dogs along too.

Since becoming a mom, I’ve not been so great about setting aside the time for my solo hikes. Usually it seems better to plan an activity with my daughter and my husband, and make it a family occasion instead. Even though a solo hike in the mountains with my dogs fills me up like nothing else.

Last weekend, I finally managed to get out there.

It took so much activation energy. I worried about taking off the entire Sunday morning; about asking my husband to clean out his work truck so I could pile the dogs in the back; and then about driving the truck along a mountain road so narrow that if I met an oncoming car I’d have to back up. (My driving in tight spaces has hugely improved since moving to Europe but the prospect of reversing a truck on a ledge of a curvy mountain road still puts me into a sweat.)

It was one of those moments where I wondered if all the effort would be worth it.

Then, all that surpassed, and I was out there, on one of my favorite trails tucked far back in the mountains, traversing through forest and rock outcroppings to a remote ranch surrounded by meadow pastures.

Like me, the dogs hadn’t been out in the mountains in months and were racing around, mouths parted in delirious grins. I like being with them outdoors because they always seem to more perfectly express the delight I feel.

I was so taken away that I didn’t notice when I completely missed a turn in the trail.

Soon I was climbing a steep logging road littered with fallen trees. “Isn't it funny how memory invents things,” I thought. “I remembered the trail being narrower, next to a pastureland.”

On cue, I looked far below me and saw a trail, narrow and next to a grassy expanse – and laughed.

And groaned. I was going to have to turn around if I wanted to do the hike I’d intended. I hated wasting even a moment of my precious Sunday morning backtracking. So I continued on. Maybe I’d get lucky and figure out how I could connect back with the trail.

After a while, the logging road petered out, as they often do. I roamed around the end point, looking for possible traces of trails.

Hiking in this part of Spain is different from hiking my native Pacific Northwest in a couple of important ways. One, because this land has been populated for so long, there are a lot more trails in general. Two, it’s easier to go off-trail if needed because the forests aren’t as dense (due to centuries of logging and livestock out at pasture).

If I were with my husband, he would lead us off-trail in the general direction of where we needed to go. But I was alone, and less confident.

I plopped down on the ground to take a drink from my water bottle, and as the dogs rushed over to lick my face, I said aloud (in English), “Well, I guess we’ll have to turn back the way we came.”

Just like that, as if summoned, an old man emerged from the bushes. “Hola! Bon dia,” he called.

He was dressed in grey hiking clothes, carried a drawstring backpack, and in each hand held crooked walking sticks – both clearly foraged that day.

I asked him if he knew if there was a way to link back to my original trail, explaining that I’d accidentally taken this road.

He said there used to be a trail, but now it was pretty faint. He could try to lead me back down to the main trail, if I didn’t mind following him.

I agreed, and soon we were bushwhacking our way down the hill, chatting as we went. Me explaining why I was an American (who spoke Catalan) wandering around this neck of the woods. Him explaining why he was snooping around the bushes on a Sunday morning (he opened up his backpack to show me his treasures: wild moixeró and champignon mushrooms). He had been up since 7AM walking this mountain range, all for this small gourmet pleasure.

My dogs were racing circles around us, delighted by this exciting off-trail adventure and the new company. I was happy too.

In Spanish there’s a phrase to describe a person entirely in her element. You’d say: Está en su salsa – “She’s in her sauce.”

That was me in that moment. My secret sauce: Adventure + outdoors + a little calculated risk + new people and a window into their world.

(Happy dogs + sun + food should probably also be in there too.)

I love this expression because salsa makes me think of saucy (and spicy) tasty food and of a lively beat you can't resist moving to.

In no time at all, my new friend and I arrived at the bottom on the wooded slope and I was back on my path. He told me I ought to have something to remember him by and handed me some of his sought-after moixerò to make a tortilla at home with my husband.

The dogs and I continued our hike and went home at midday completely topped up with joy and energy. The experience so totally changed how I felt and my outlook for the week that it made me pause – and want to tell you about it.

It was such a good reminder of how important it is that:

  1. We know what puts us in our salsa.
  2. We take time out of life – even when things are busy or when it takes effort we don’t feel like we have – to put ourselves in our salsa.

So here’s my challenge to you:

What one small step could you take this week to put yourself in your salsa?  What would spice up your life?