"I want to do some hiking, camping, and I want to go to the beach and surf even. I just want to experience everything.” I had told someone whom I believed would accompany me on this journey. What I came quickly to realize is that I would sometimes be my best company and that I didn’t need anyone except myself to have these experiences. A companion is nice; just not as necessary as I had built them up to be. When the relationship I had considered to accompany me ended, I simply said… “I’m going for a hike.” And off to Pillsbury State Park in Washington New Hampshire I went.
Early one Saturday morning in July 2011, I set out with a small pack containing things that I thought were important (cloths, bathing suit, change of shoes, towel, food, my journal, and a book that I was given and carried symbolically). I would learn this was nowhere near appropriate equipment for a hike. I set out to find the state park (recommended to me by someone no longer fully in my life). Once beyond the gate, I can recall being overwhelmed by the scenery and in awe of the blue sky in contrast with the green leaves. I had hoped to maybe see any kind of wildlife. What actually happened opened up a new set of experiences for me.
Beginning at the Ranger’s station, I proudly announced that I was hiking for the day and paid my fee. I had a map to follow (I didn’t know how to follow a map). The ranger asked me if I knew where to park. “Sure I do. I’m all set.” And in truth, I had no clue since I had never been to the park. We were once going to check out the park together (my chosen partner and I) however, as I was there alone, that never happened. I found what I believed to be an appropriate place to park and I set out. Pack on my back in the hot July sun and at least I had remembered sun block. I set out down the first trail I could find. Maybe it was appropriate that it was the Mad Road Trail? After all, this reflected my state of mind at the time.
As I walked, I began discussing my life with whoever was listening. I began making plans for myself and trying to correct some pretty negative thoughts that I was having. This conversation was not loud, it was often in my head, and served as the only noise I heard. The woods were deathly quiet. With the exception of the loon I heard in the morning and later in the day the grouse I scared who later expressed to me how angry he was that I had disturbed him. Walking on the trail was relatively easy. It was for the most part a flat trail that seemed over grown in places. It was wet in others for which I had a pair of Teva sandals. Essentially, I was able to walk the trail in those sandals regardless of the conditions.
Continuing down the trail and continuing the conversation with myself, I had determined that I was going to do this more often. That it didn’t matter to me that anyone was going to hike with me. I‘d just assume do it on my own. I came to a clearing where the trail became wide and I could view the sky instead of being in the canopy of the forest. I stood in the middle of this clearing, and said to myself. “I’m going to hike mountains too.” And as I continued, I resolved to not wait for anyone to join me. To just get out there and experience as much as I could since I really didn’t know how long I was going to be able to have these experiences. I came to a tree across the trail and I determined that it would not stop me. I guess I could consider this act of going off the trail, my first Bushwhack. Getting around the tree, the trail continued down a hill and then… Stopped. I had reached the highway that I drove in on. I stood at the road and thought that I could continue if I could see the trail opening and after some deliberation, decided to turn myself around.
As I hiked back to the start, the conversation continued. I had resolved to walk in the woods as often as I could and see as much of this great state that I had missed over the years for being so busy or unable. I had happened upon a grassy area that was filled with dragon flies (a sign of good luck). I saw one that was completely black with one white spot on his wing just sitting on a leaf. I tried to take his picture but my hand was shaking. So, I kept trying. I must have taken about fifteen pictures before I got the shot I wanted and the dragon fly just sat patiently through the whole thing. I thanked him and moved on. I was filled with a new sense of wellbeing and knew that I was on to something. When I got back to the car, my feet were black from wearing only my sandals and I didn’t care. I found a kind stranger to take my picture by the water and my adventures in the woods had begun.
The following week, I attempted another state park that I had been told would be experienced as a couple. I was determined to complete the things that I had been promised. Not because I wanted to spite anyone. Not because I wanted to rehash a relationship gone bad. Not even because I wanted him back. I just simply wanted to see these places now for myself. I was told that the reservoir at the top of the park, was absolutely the most beautiful thing anyone could experience. Again, I packed my pack with things I deemed to be important and set out. This time remembering not only sunscreen and bug spray but also extra socks too. I was learning what was important and what needed to be left at home. Yet, I was nowhere near having the knowledge of an experienced hiker.
Again, I parked the car by the side of the road over in Alstead New Hampshire. I set out up a steep incline and into the woods I went. This was really not so bad as it leveled out after that first incline. I crossed some ATV/Snowmobile roads and walked along a waterway. I watched my first great blue heron just sitting patiently looking for fish. He didn’t even stir as I settled to watch him for a bit. I had the recollection of something from my past that reminded me of this bird. I spoke into the air that it was nice to see him again and that I would not disturb him. That I would just sit and watch and see what happened. Content with the sight, I took a few pictures and moved on after I thanked him. Back into the woods, I came to a cross section of ATV roads and a gate. I found it odd that the gate was closed and that the “trail” was paved. Since these gates were easy to get around, I just kept going. The “trail” began to climb and wind around. I guess I could consider this my first switchback too. This was also the first trail that I really felt as though I was getting a work out. My legs were beginning to wonder what exactly I had in mind and would I continue to do this every weekend? As I rounded a corner near the top, I began to see what I had been told about and what I really wanted to see… Water. I followed the trail around to an opening and it truly was amazing. I can remember gasping at the sight of the water, the blue sky, and the green trees. I felt the breeze on my face and it made the grueling climb up hill worth it. I stuck my feet in the reservoir and remember that we were going to try and get a canoe or the kayaks up here. “No way would that have happened. You need an ATV to get them up here.” I spoke to the wind. I knew that again, I was in the presence of something truly amazing. I sat and had something to eat, and I emailed a few pictures of my new found peace, and then continued to explore the old stone walls and foundations that were just off the trail. As the heat of the day set in, so too did the crowd. This was apparently a popular spot for fishing and ATVing. I was content with what I could hold in my mind and with my camera. I began to make my way back to the car and discovered my love of descending a trail over ascending. I stopped again to see my great blue heron and found a duck had joined him. I giggled and moved on. It was not long before I was back at the car. I had a smile on my face and began to wonder where else could I go? What else could I see?
What I found was Miller State Park which brought me my first “peak” called Pack Monadnock (2,290 feet and no view unless you climbed the tower), Rhododendron State park which was full of flowers and a small peak called little Monadnock (1,900 feet with views of the larger Monadnock), Picture mountain (2,163 ft.), Bald Mountain Preserve (1650 ft.), and Northfield Mountain in Massachusetts (1100 ft. and also with a reservoir at the top but not nearly as beautiful as Pisgah State Park). I had already begun climbing mountains and I knew that I was bound for great heights but what next? How could I keep my interest going since there seemed to be limited amounts of mountains in southern New Hampshire? I was already moving on from the flat grounds of the state parks and as I looked through the pages of New Hampshire State park information on line, I came across one that appeared to call to me…
That mountain was Mount Cardigan on the Appalachian range of The White Mountains and also would mark my jump into peaks above three thousand feet.