Every year over a thousand people set out to hike the Appalachian Trail (AT). Every year thousands more set out to hike little sections of the trail that one day they hope will string together and connect all the way from Springer Mountain to Mount Katahdin.
My friend Pat is trying to “section hike” the AT before she dies. I don’t come to our hike with any such lofty ambitions as Pat. It’s my first week away in my three-quarter time work schedule and I can’t think of a better way to spend it than by an immersion in the woods.
It was late September when we hiked some 60 miles from the Vermont/New Hampshire border to the far side of Mount Moosilauke in Kinsman Notch.
All during the week the trees turned from muted gold to brilliant orange, yellow and red. Today, in mid-November as I look out the window of my little apartment, the trees are gray and bare limbed. A scattering of dried brown leaves that hang tenaciously on. A dusting of snow, the first of the season. Three crows and a squirrel poke through the detritus of fallen leaves.
Something happened the week of our hike as something happens every time I set out on a trail with intention. Something that I’ve a hard time describing but something I try to recall in this little trail of stories from the hike now almost two months ago.
Perhaps you know what I mean. Something mysterious happens in and to all of us as we move through the trail of our days. Some days an ease like the start of our hike on a smooth trail with no rocks or roots and you are both delighted and surprised that trails like this even exist around here.
Some days it’s one careful foot in front of another, the trail steep and slick like coming down Beaver Brook Trail off of Moosilauke. That afternoon we both skidded on stones, plunked down hard on wet rocks. One rolling fall for Pat and yes, at the end of the day both of us humbled but okay.
Something happened that week that was so much more than a sore hand and wrist. More than a sharp pain in my right heel that now, weeks later, I am slowly recovering from. I’m not as patient as I aspire to be when it comes to the slow healing of my body that interrupts all I want to be out and doing. I don’t want to give in to the slow work of healing and time, no not yet. I’m still young enough, still hungry for more.
Whatever happened was certainly more than getting something checked off the list, another trail complete. That’s not why I hike and what I seek on the trail. But what is it? What happened? What found me out there? Today I retrace my steps, climb up and down the trail again in my imagination to discern that something that happened that week that’s made all the difference.