Hiking as a Metaphor for Life: Learn, Earn, Return

Hiking is the perfect teacher for understanding a life well lived. Each hike begins with enthusiasm and naivete` about what lies ahead. For those first few steps, one is filled with energy and the hope of discovery.

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Trail descriptions never match reality, much like one’s plans for the future. Soon the trail turns rocky and muddy, slick and slippery with gnarly roots grabbing at your feet. As the mountain looms off in the distance, peeking over the tops of impossibly high-trees, the trail now steepens. Legs strain, lungs work to keep up with the higher oxygen demand, and the heart pounds in your chest. One’s thoughts turn to self-recriminations, questioning your decision to follow this desolate, lonely, and painful trail.

After willing oneself onward, a slow, almost imperceptible change takes place. The heart adjusts, the legs find a rhythm, and the trail effort takes a less severe toll. This is the learning time. You come to understand a slow, steady pace, ever forward, with the occasional rest, is the way ahead.

You put trail miles onto your boots and hike on.

On the peaks of New Hampshire’s mountains, the dreaded Whites so infamous to those who hike the Appalachian Trail, it is the last mile that tests a hiker’s mettle. For some peaks, there is a 100, 500, or 1000-yard scramble over boulders as you pull and push yourself, ignoring your screaming leg muscles and pounding chest.

For those who harbor a fear of heights (why are you hiking?) there is the added terror of looking back down over boulders that would hardly notice your tumbling body, should you lose your balance and bounce down the mountain.

But you carry on. Any goal worth pursuing comes with doubt, difficulties, and despair. To succeed on a hike, as in life, you must accept that nothing is easy. Also, understand there are no insurmountable obstacles unless you convince yourself to give up.

Just when it seems you cannot take another step, the trail levels out, the view opens up, and the pain and sweat of the effort fade from your thoughts.

To stand where only your feet can take you. To look down on the immense beauty of the forest, rivers, valleys, and mountains of New Hampshire, Tennessee, Virginia, or any place in the world is to achieve a measure of success.

This is the earning level. Your efforts to climb the mountain, like your efforts to achieve something in life, offer a reward. During the hike, you learn. Summiting the peak, you earn. But, the lesson of the mountain is not over yet.

After enjoying the moment on the peak, you must complete the journey. Hiking down a mountain has its own challenges. You’re tired, aching, and looking forward to a rest. Yet, on the way down an opportunity opens to encourage those you meet on their own way up.

Here is the part where you return to others what you’ve learned and earned.

A simple, “you’re almost there,” “the view is worth it,” “keep going, you’ll make it,” can offer so much to those still making their way on the trail, and through life.

When you reach the end of the trail, you’ll understand, in a microcosm, what a successful life is. Hiking a mountain, as in life, you learn, you earn, and you return. That is as it should be.

At the end of your last trail, if you can say you followed those simple rules, you’ll have lived a full life.

The Best Laid Plans of Ticks and Man

I have returned from a shortened trip on the Long Trail. After breaking a tooth on the second day, getting bitten by a deer tick or spider or both, and hiking for three days with a fever I decided it might be time to come in from the woods.

I mean, how much fun can one expect in one week?

The woods were as I remembered except the muddy paths were muddier, elevation gains higher, steep descents steeper, the flocks of deer flies (sort of a horse fly on steroids with an attitude) were larger, and the black flies missed the memo of being gone by this time of the year.

Waking one morning to the deer tick trying to burrow it’s way in, I was unwilling to serve as a walking blood buffet. This was soon followed by a rather unique configuration of other bites we suspect were spider, it was time.

While I still enjoy the great outdoors, my walk on the Appalachian Trail may have to suffice for now and leave the Long Trail to another time.

Nevertheless I did capture some great images which I now post for your viewing pleasure. Not too many though, we all hate vacation photos.

 

 

I am NOT MIA

Greetings from somewhere in the Green Mountains. Just thought I would send off a quick note to reassure those of you that may have noticed I haven’t been writing much and that I am still alive.

I am on day three of a 19-20 day hike on the Long Trail in Vermont.  I thought I would spare you the inevitable WTH messages that would infect me as I began the hike.

You know, the

What the Hell am I doing this for?
Who the Hell put all these bugs here?
Why the Hell is everything uphill?
When the Hell will we get to the shelter?

And, most important;

Who the Hell’s idea was this?

Thus, I wrote this and scheduled it to go live while I get over the fact that is was my stupid idea to do this to myself.

By the time I get somewhere to update and post pictures, I’ll be back in the “I love this stuff” mode.

You’re welcome. Hope you are all dry, cozy, and well-fed in your nice safe lives.

If it turns out a bear ate me or I fell off a cliff, consider this an attempt at ironic humor.

Into the Woods

It is that time again. Time for me to engage in my own personal form of insanity.

As many if you know, in 2014 I hiked 2184 miles on the Appalachian Trail. If you don’t know, ask me. I’ll be happy to tell you.

Since the memories of the mud, continuous uphill trail, rain, bugs, and the aroma of weeks old unwashed bodies has faded, I have replaced those with memories that I actually enjoyed it.

So, on June 21 I will head off again for a similar, albeit significantly shorter, hike on the Long Trail in Vermont.

The Long Trail, or LT, is the oldest continuous long distance hiking trail in the US. Although at 274 miles it seems to be the runt of the litter.

Nevertheless, it has its challenges. The northern section is reputed to be some of the most rugged climbing in the northeast.

I have managed to convince two friends to join in the fun, the Harrop cousins, Tom and Kent. Both are fellow classmates of mine from the stellar class of Cumberland High School 1974.

Tom is in from the beginning, hoping time permits him to make it the whole way. Kent will join us on July 4 for 5 days of fun in the rain and mud.

Tom has a great deal of experience hiking, Kent will benefit from our experience. He will learn or serve as a decoy should we encounter bears or cougars. Since Kent has chosen a life of serving his fellow man, who are we to deny him this opportunity?

As I did on our trek on the AT, I will post periodically to allow those of you unable to engage in such activity to come along the ridges and hills of the Green Mountains.

Or to post funeral arrangements.

We begin at the Massachusetts/Vermont border and end at the US/Canadian border at a place called Journey’s End.  I hope you follow along and enjoy the tale.

For those of you so inclined, I suspect Clyde Haworth will be running a pool, taking bets on our chances of survival. Odds are 50/50 at this point.

(Author’s note: Many of you followed our AT Journey on my other blog.

There and Back Again

Since there are so many of you that follow me here, I decided to post my thoughts from the Long Tail here.  Big fan of keeping it simple. Hope you enjoy.)

 

 

My Old Friend: Retracing My Footsteps on the Appalachian Trail

My wife and I are in Maine enjoying a short vacation in the small town of Bethel.

We decided to do a short hike on Table Rock Loop in Grafton Notch State Park. It is just a 2.4-mile loop but with a steep elevation gain of almost 2000 feet in 1.2 miles.

I’ve been on a section of this trail before. The trail head begins on the northbound section of the Appalachian Trail, or AT, as it passes through Grafton Notch on its way to Mt. Katahdin.

This section is the beginning of the Mahoosuc mountain range and the much dreaded Mahoosuc Notch part of the AT (look it up, I enjoyed it some do not.)

Seeing the familiar white blazes of the AT brought back memories of one of the most amazing experiences of my life. Hiking the AT leaves an indelible mark.

The weather here was in the high 40’s with strong winds. Soon the mountain reminded us of just how fast things could change. One moment the sun was shining, the next we were hiking in snow showers.

Mid-May, it was snowing, and we were hiking. On purpose no less.

As we climbed to the 2900-foot elevation ridgeline, the trail turned icy. All along the way we saw frozen chunks of ice and snow shadowed by the many rock crevices and trees.

The last section was a bit of a rock scramble. Hands grasping at rocks and roots to lift yourself over the boulders and continue to climb.

Then, the edge of the clearing came into view.

With a few more steps, we were there. Standing on a glacier-carved shoulder of the mountain overlooking Mt. Speck and the notch.

It is why we do these things. To stand where you must push yourself to see these sights. Your own effort takes you there and nothing else. If you want to see it you have to walk there.

It was nice seeing my old friend the AT. It stirs memories of similar emotions like one’s first car, first love, or first look at a newborn child.

For those who have never hiked the AT, it is impossible for me to explain it to you or for you to understand.

For those of us who have hiked the AT, it’s impossible to forget.

Setting a Record: Missing the Point

On the Appalachian Trail it’s not how fast you hike, or how far, or even that you make it from one end to the other that is important. What matters is that you TRY.

Scott Jurek set a record time of 46 days and 8 hours for a thru-hike of the 2,189-mile Appalachian Trail. This is an amazing physical accomplishment.  Having hiked the trail, I find it even more astounding.  I know the trail; much of the terrain is treacherous to walk on, let alone run.

Yet Jurek did it.  But in doing so, he missed the point and perhaps did a disservice to the trail.

The Appalachian trail is a place of splendor and unspoiled nature open to all.  It offers a solitude surrounded by pristine vistas that are rare in this country.

Jurek’s feat, while physically impressive, is meaningless. His speed masked the power of the trail. It was never meant to be a raceway.

The physical challenge is only a part of the daily hike. The willingness to continue despite the challenges of weather and terrain plays a part as well. Yet doing these things as you enjoy the journey is what the Appalachian Trail is all about.

A record always presents a challenge.  Someone will want to break it. Jurek was so motivated, so there will be someone else.

The philosophy of the trail is, “Hike your own hike.” I do not think we should control what someone does to challenge the trail. That would be as destructive to the spirit of the trail as turning it into a raceway.

Yet, the idea of hiking it faster seems counterintuitive. I fear personal egotism will overwhelm and damage the trail.

One of the greatest joys on the trail was to happen upon a view.  Not just those described in the books, but an unanticipated scene.  It could be a bear and her cub, a gnarled and twisted old tree, or a panorama of mountains.

To sit and see these things is to experience the trail.

To run by them, checking your watch, is to miss the whole point.

Joe “Miracle” Broadmeadow NOBO Thru-hike 2014