Wednesday, February 15, 2012

Best Foot Forward

Best Foot Forward

Yesterday, thanks to the mildest winter I have ever known, Brian and I were able to enjoy some mid-February hiking in Manchester VT, without being bundled up in multiple layers of clothing allowing only small openings for seeing and breathing and shod in pace-slowing monster boots or snowshoes.  We wore light jackets and trail shoes and probably could have gone barefoot without much discomfort. That said, not being familiar with this particular system of trails and not at all good at reading topographical maps, I managed to select one of the most difficult ones, second only to a complete 2840 foot high, 3 mile long ascent of Mount Equinox. Okay, so I still have a lot to learn about the rugged country life! In fact, my following of trails was reminiscent of my approach to urban rail systems, easy to master as long as you know the color of the line that will get you where you want to go and stick with it. My reading of the trail map told me that Blue Summit Trail would proceed up the mountain until it joined up with Red Gate Trail and then provided first the choice of the aqua-colored Trillium Trail, rated as an intermediate trail, and later, the orange Maidenhair Trail, which ran more or less parallel in a level fashion, and had a pretty name, so, could not be much harder, right? 

Map Reading

This all looks easy enough on the page, especially if you ignore those faint radiating lines that indicate elevation.  Not far along the blue trail I realized exactly how vertical it was. This was the trail leading to the summit. I had hoped Blue and I would part ways long before the true uphill climb began, but Blue had other plans.  I plodded on, however, secure in the knowledge that the less vertically demanding Aqua would soon rescue me. But Aqua never showed up, and I soon found myself out of breath at a crossroads where the only choices were more Blue – which would have killed me outright – or the lesser-of-two-evils Orange, which already looked like it meant me no good either.

Nowhere to Run

At this point, I’m sure Brian was wondering why he let me take the lead. Leadership has its disadvantages in that yours is the choice when how and where to forge ahead, taking full responsibility for the experience of your followers.  The one advantage is that you are free to sputter and curse and whinge freely to the air in front of you and feel confident that anyone a few feet behind you or more will only catch part of this ongoing aria of ascending suffering. At one point I exclaimed to a tree: this trail is everything I didn’t want to do today!  If the tree had a refined sense of irony and appreciation for metaphor, it wasn’t telling. More likely it has been witness to so many such scenes it wished it could uproot itself and run away.  

 Try Not to Fall

Meantime, I remained so focused on staying on my marked path and oblivious to good map reading, that when I reached a junction of what I thought would be Orange and Some Other Color leading back around in a loop more or less to where we started, I was in for a surprise. Some Other Color didn’t even bother to announce itself with recognizable sequential blazes on trailside trees, but it didn’t need to, as its most salient features were unmistakable – a sheer descent downward through rocks and roots, in distance perhaps half of our earlier vertical ascent, with equal elevation change. There really was no way to go off this trail – any misstep would probably propel you along via gravitational pull. Perhaps that was how the path was carved out in the first place. Perhaps that is why no one ever stopped long enough to paint a directional mark on a tree. There was just one direction : down, and one optimal strategy for hiking: try not to fall.

Retraced Steps

This afforded me opportunity to gather my breath and a few more metaphors before proceeding. Here I was having begun the day properly attired and lightly packed with bottled water, a granola bar, good intentions and only a few high hopes, only to be met with obstacles perhaps not entirely of my own making, but definitely avoidable had I made a greater effort to foresee them, nevertheless surmounted in good faith. As with so many journeys that don’t go exactly as planned, it remained only for me to stop worrying about how it went wrong and do the only thing left in my power to do – finish it right. So, I took one last vertiginous look at the trail known only as Some Other Color, turned back around on the familiar Orange trail, retraced my steps, attempting not to stumble on the same rocks or slip on the same icy patches as I did the first time, rejoined Blue, and made it back to the trailhead and the parking lot to our waiting car which never looked so welcoming. 

Back the Way you Came

In long distance foot races, courses fall into three categories – point-to-point, loop, and out-and-back. There is something to be said for getting to a destination entirely different from where you started.  There are also benefits to going around in a circle back to where you began, but having covered ground and experienced new things along every step of the way.  Reaching a point of no further progress, turning around, and going back the same way you came may not seem as interesting or as glorious, in fact might appear to some as a defeat. But I can tell you from experience, things do not look or feel the same going back on the road you came forward on. The road has changed you; you have changed the road. As long as you put your best foot forward, nothing will ever be the same again.           


  1. What a wonderful post!
    There's no doubt that nature is the best teacher,
    and all you really had to suffer (besides mental aguish ; ) was a good workout!

    So glad to hear you 2 are taking full advantage of what VT has to offer...!

    All the best from down here...
    : )

  2. Hey Brad! Thanks for stopping by! All in all, once the hike was done I felt refreshed and uttered not one complaint - but for a while the going was rough! Vermont really does have a ridiculously extensive trail system for all seasons, activities and abilities, so I'd be a fool not to take advantage whenever the weather permits - especially since I thought I'd have to wait until May to get out there! All the best to you.

  3. I have always wonder the feelings on hiking in this kind of environment !

  4. I have been the leader on hikes before where it has ended up being a serious pain in the butt, lol! I'm glad everything worked out for the best.

    That shot of the foot is a fantastic one! I love it!

  5. Hi Wong - thanks for your comment! I'm glad you liked this post. I'm sure there will be more hikes in the future to report on.

  6. Hi Tracy - good thing the only person I was leading was my boyfriend! I don't think anyone else would have put up with my erratic leadership, not to mention the accompanying muttering monologue! But like I said, maybe he let me go ahead so he wouldn't have to hear it! And hey - thanks for the kind words about the foot photo. I'm loving it too!

  7. I am so glad to have experienced this trail. Vicariously. I suspect that any other way I would have broken down sobbing loooong before any rational finishing point.
    As it is, I could luxuriate in the photos of the trees and wince at those dreadfully steep steps without even breaking into a sweat.
    Thank you so much for bringing me along with you.

  8. Smile, long as your write wonderful posts like this one, come to lovely conclusions and feel refreshed after your hiking adventures it's more than allright to me.
    You also illustrated your writing delightfully, i wonder..'retraced steps'( which is my favorite)is it stone? there is a beautiful hard/soft contrast in that photo.

  9. I know that foot! I love how you capture the universal experience in a personal way - I have been on hikes like that, I have been an obstinate leader; I have muttered, many mutterings...The photos and their titles are the perfect antidote to the angst and effort. Glad you made it home safe!

  10. EC - I am surprised that no tears were shed during the hiking of this trail - all the right elements of exasperation, frailty of body and spirit, not to mention a sense of personal injustice were present! Maybe Vermont has a calming effect on me. Or an encouraging one. Or some magic combination of both! Speaking of magic, about those steps in the photo...that photo is from the Carving Studio I visited a few weeks ago, a marble sculpture, quite harmless, but absolutely the perfect image to make my point here! Glad you enjoyed.

  11. Renilde - I almost didn't write this post but it did help put the hiking experience in perspective. It was a refreshing experience indeed, but one of those things that feel a lot better and make more sense once they are behind you! Yes, "Retraced Steps" is indeed stone, as I explained to EC. White Vermont marble in fact, from a very weathered outdoor sculpture I photographed weeks ago. It seemed the perfect fit for the feeling of steps that have been traveled again and again and still stand strong and beautiful! Many thanks for your comment!

  12. Fiona! I knew you'd know that foot. My secret is out - the images I use to "support" my writing are not always from the exact places or times I am discussing. Part of the fun is to take images with little or no relationship to the subject matter and make them work in unexpected (to me as well) ways. The foot and the tree photos are the only ones from Manchester - at the Art Center, but the Center seems to have a trail that connects to the system I was on - which was why I went so far on Orange (Maidenhair indeed!) hoping to emerge on their grounds. Perhaps another day. With a different leader and/or more attention to the map! All the best to you and B.

  13. Gabriella et me say that your post are always so well don, with heart and soul, love your last works too

    it's a pleasure to came here, really

    I can see your "passione" in all what you do

  14. Laura dear it makes me so happy to know you enjoyed this post! I can see passion in all your words and works also - we are two of a kind! Much love to you, my friend.

  15. Hey G,
    Once again your words and images weave together perfectly and I felt like i was right there with you and B on those trails..haha!!

    Your last line, though, moved me. "The road has changed you; you have changed the road.... nothing will ever be the same again." Applicable on so many levels.

    All the best my friend!!

  16. TT/G - sounds like a good day - lots of fresh air, exercise and came home safely - not sure what all the muttering was about. You certainly are having quite an unusual winter. And I love the foot photo - so apt for the story. Go well. B

  17. Hey D, thanks for the comment. That last line sort of took me by surprise too - made me open my eyes to the simple fact that everything we do has meaning and has an effect if we only choose to recognize it - or we can just close our eyes and complain that nothing ever changes! It does - every single day. Have a great day!

  18. Barry, didn't you know that a girl's best friend is her mutter?

    It was a good day, for all the reasons you mention, and in spite of the implications for the health of the planet, I am grateful to be able to get these springtime activities happening now instead of waiting another two months! All the best to you.

  19. wow! I loved this adventure! seemed to be along with you!
    [I also would be the one who deciphers the map .... :)]
    you guys knew how to take full advantage, experienced the walk
    and your conclusion could not be wiser!
    Even being the same way, the trip is never equal the return;
    everything changes,
    another vision, another time!
    Great pathfinders!
    a big big hug!!

  20. Denise, I am so happy you enjoyed coming along on this little hike with me! It would have been wonderful if you were there in person - and not just because you are a better reader of maps than I am! Today they have predicted we will finally have some snow, but I am not convinced. Have a wonderful weekend, my dear.