It was Thursday when I decided that Sunday seemed like a good day to hike from Route 103 in Shrewsbury, VT to Route 4 in Killington along the AT/LT. Some research informed me that it was approximately 15 miles. At my typical speed, I imagined it would take me eight hours.
Eight hours, trekking through the woods. It’s peak foliage around here – makes doing anything except taking in the breathtaking world around me difficult. My eyes are literally delighted at all times by the applause of color. I was excited to spend all day melting into the forest that had dyed its leaves to become a redhead like me. I couldn’t think of anything better in the whole world… except swimming.
I got off to a later-than-I-wanted-to start. Mostly because I was just slow that morning. I was sure it would only take me 8 hours, but I packed a head lamp and extra water just in case. If I’ve learned anything from adventure swimming, it’s to be prepared.
The first 4 hours or so were just what I expected – colors and deciduous trees, random rock walls, and dirt road crossings. It was enchanting and breathtaking and hard to keep walking and to not stop to look at or take pictures of EVERYTHING. The best part was that I scarcely saw 6 other humans the entire first half of the hike – it was just the brown dog and I.
At some point though, I began to be aware that I was dawdling a bit more than I should and I tried to be more mindful of where I was going and less enamored of the whole experience. But it was hard not to romanticize the bridges I came to, or the country roads and farms and all the trees and that beautiful blond boy by the river…
I was just entering the Pico portion of the hike- about halfway through – when the landscape gradually changed. Everything got quieter as I got farther from civilization. The last person I saw was at a shelter just before I began my upward trek towards the ski resort. I didn’t see any more people, had no cell phone service and felt myself pulled from enchanting fairy forest to something more wild and more demanding. It might have almost been sinister, if I had stopped to think about the uneasiness I felt as I made my way deeper into a thought provoking silence.
It was so far away from anything human or machine that I found my ears reaching for sound as far as they could. The wind was all I heard. The wind and Guri and all my thoughts.
I thought about the folks I am coaching at swimming for a long, long time. Water and kicking and breathing and strokes and what might work for one person and what might work for another. I thought about school. I thought about my house and the upcoming winter and surviving it all.
I thought about… about never getting married. Ever. I thought about how I’ve always wanted to get married and have children – about how I could not imagine a more noble venture than to be a wife and a mother. But what if… what if some people are just supposed to be single? What if they have to be single, not so that they can do whatever the hell they want, but because they just need to be devoted to something greater? What if I build a business that gives 100 fathers the ability to raise their children? What if that allows 100 mothers to stay at home? Can’t I trust that that is enough? Can’t I trust that my legacy will be carried on through some other means than genetics? I could mentor or something. Nobody and nothing owes me my hopes and dreams. Would it really be bad to be just me – all by myself forever? None of my friends will let me go crazy.
Maybe… maybe it’s just finally time to stop trying. What a relief.
The trees changed. No more leaves crunching under my feet. Pines everywhere. I was thinking about Christmas for over an hour when I realized that it was probably because of the pine scent in the air. The terrain was much harder here, too… narrow and rocky and severe. Many, many trees had been uprooted in some violence and had been tossed to and fro every which way. The forest was denser, stranger. It gave me pause. I did not stop for photos. Something about the aura, I knew, would never translate through an image.
And then suddenly the miles of quiet, dark forest opened to the Killington Shelter and I knew exactly where I was. The familiarity was strange, but welcome. I briefly debated about going a different, shorter route down, but I thought I should have enough time to make all 15 miles. It was only about 3 o’clock and I should have only had about 3 hours left.
I continued on my path. It wasn’t much farther up the trail that I misjudged the step off a wood walkway and violently rolled my ankle. I fell to my knees and gasped. I waited as the pain subsided. My first thought was that that wasn’t good. My next thought was that it’s a good thing I have swimmer ankles – all flexible and limber – and maybe I didn’t hurt myself that bad. But I knew that my ankle was going to hurt. If not now, then later.
I got to my feet and put some weight on it. It hurt, but supported me. I let out a sigh of relief and kept going.
I have always been surprised by the things that do and don’t scare me. I am not afraid of spiders or open water or public speaking or snakes. I am not afraid of heights or flying. I am not all that scared of the dark, anymore, either. I am not afraid of walking miles in the woods by myself with my dog. But this – this ankle hurting in the middle of the woods with night falling in October – had all the components to be a real problem. Every step hurt just enough that I was becoming evermore concerned.
I began to run scenarios. Who did I know who could come and get me if I couldn’t continue? I thought of several strapping young men who could rescue me and quickly checked their calendars to find them all too busy. But if I really, really needed help, they would come. I know people who would come. And what would they do for me when they got here? I’d still have to walk out. I’m a freaking Viking – they aren’t going to carry me out of here.
Somewhere after mile 12, I realized that I wasn’t going to be going the speed I wanted down the mountain. Additionally, based on the map on my app, it was definitely farther than the 3 miles I should have left. I was glad to see that I now had cell service and I quickly texted Apostle Jim and Natalie to let them know where I was and what had happened and my concerns. Just knowing that they knew put my troubled heart at ease.
I guess that was all I needed to do to settle back in for the final few miles. I was already planning a three day hike over the Fourth of July next year. I’d bring my brother. Brothers are good for adventures. We’d camp. On the trail. It would be awesome.
Darkness began to fall. My steps began to be more and more painful. I rolled my ankle a second time, but I didn’t cry. It was obviously becoming more unstable. Micah had arrived at the car parking lot meet up point and texted me. I was glad I still had cell phone service and called him. He started up the trail to find me.
I was never so excited to see anybody ever as when Micah appeared on the trail, calling Guri by name. For her part, she stopped and stared at him, bemused or bewildered or something – as if she didn’t expect to meet anybody she knew out here. It took her a moment to realize that it was Micah and she did her happy dance greeting – wiggling in delight and rubbing her body against his legs.
We continued on down together in as night took over. Just talking with Micah was everything I needed and I walked my way out of the woods without help. I don’t know if it was pride or just that I really didn’t need any help. I am a redhead and we are more pain tolerant – I think. I wondered if it is a bad thing to be so fiercely independent…
But I think, sometimes, you just have to walk your own path out. It doesn’t matter how you got wherever you got, you just have to keep going until you finish. I did the responsible things and informed the right people and had all the right equipment with me. I kept my discomfort from becoming fear. That was the key. Because fear just becomes panic and panic makes you even more stupid than religion does.
It was one of the best days I’ve had. Spending all day in the woods with my dog… it is a beautiful, beautiful life I get to live. I wouldn’t trade it for anything. Honestly.
Rolled ankles and all.