Early on another Saturday morning in January, I made my way to the trailhead for Whiteface and Passaconaway. These two peaks were supposedly the closest to me in terms of the whole 48 peaks. It sure didn’t seem easy to get to them as I was taken through the back dirt roads in New Hampshire. And of course they were not just flat roads. They were hills… With snow. The car almost got stuck, almost didn’t make it up a hill, and almost slid into a snow bank. It was already a hard trip and I had not even arrived yet. I was determined to not have one of those hikes where everything is a struggle. Things in my reality (outside of hiking) were already loaded so, I really wanted to just escape and hike for a while. I was not looking for any profound solutions anymore as I had determined that I held the power to make the changes I needed. Today, I was just looking to connect with Mother Nature and see what she had to offer me in terms of peace.
The man I had been dating was not a hiker although he put up a great front. There was no hope of him ever joining me on the peaks. My heart was heavy with both my issues and his issues and I was not feeling well these days. Pulling my car into the parking area, I attempted to leave it all behind and just take a hike. There was another car in the lot as I was getting my gear ready. The gentleman that was also hiking seemed nice enough. Being a solo female hiker, I seemed to keep my head about others. He and I discussed the sunrise and snow shoes. It was determined that I would not need them so, I placed them in the back of the car and once again waited to use them. The other guy that was hiking that day headed off back down the road we came in on and not in the direction of the trailhead. I found it strange and then again, everyone has their own agenda to their day. So, I did not call after him to tell him the trail was the other way.
The road lead me through some residential homes. With the sunrise and the snow on the ground, the area looked like a postcard. The sky was full of purples and pinks and it gave off an almost eerie romantic vibe.
“Someday, someday, I’ll share this in person with someone.”
As I walked, something told me to look down and what I found was a perfect print from a deer in the fresh snow. It could not have been more than an hour old. I smiled a gentile smile and thanked the air. I kept walking through the houses and found the trail into the wilderness.
“And, she’s off.” Was all I had to say.
There was no cell reception at the moment so, this would be a less distracting hike. I knew that he was worried because I was hiking alone. Lots of people worry when I hike alone now and it’s welcome. I just don’t like to be aware of it since it makes me worry too. I can be super careful and that can also cause me to doubt and get hurt. Sometimes it’s better if you just go and see if you land on your feet. Today’s challenge on the hike would be the ledges on the aptly named Blueberry ledges trail. My mind was focused on getting to them and over them. As I walked the trail, it felt a little like I was getting lost and this can be either a good or a bad sign. Usually at these moments, I look for a trail sign but what caught my eye was a sky that looked like it was on fire. I captured it with both my came and with my phone camera and I was able to post it online. Cell reception had returned briefly. I did get a text out to him stating that I would be safe and talk to him again when I got down.
I kept a good pace and as I walked, I began thinking of him and all his issues. How the anxiety rolled off of him in waves and essentially how raw his life had become. I was his escape from everything and the problem with that was that it was not healthy for either of us. I began to think of what I really wanted and that was companionship and a really wanted a hiker. Not someone that sticks to the flat trails and hills. I wanted someone that could join me on the summits. I wanted someone that could play in the Presidentials. I needed someone that was going to be there with me on Carrigain for the end and beyond. I was doubtful that this man actually existed. So, I continued to walk the trail and I continued to smile because I knew what I wanted and I knew what I needed to do and that was reach my two peaks for the day.
There was a lot of ice building up on the trail and I had put on my microspikes so that I was a little more stable. The trail led me through the woods and into a clearing. Again, something told me to look down once I had made it back into the woods and I saw the perfect print of what I believe was a grouse. Then of course I looked behind me to find that I was the only prints on the trail for today. Continuing on, I was led to another clearing and then back into the woods. I looked down again and found prints to a small animal in perfect shape. Mother Nature was doing her best to get me to focus on the small things. The things that make me smile and focus on the smaller picture.
“It’s not about the grand gestures or how many pretty things I am given. It’s about curling up on the couch in an old sweatshirt. It’s about cooking together. It’s about tender glances and touches and big bear hugs that make me feel safe. It’s about getting down and dirty in the yard and walking through this beautiful world.”
Satisfied, I continued to walk and smile. Songs would drift in and out of my head. The trail began to climb with serious intent now and the ice and snow were building. As I walked, my thoughts gave way to concentration on the trail and getting to the summit. The ledges were approaching. At a particularly icy section, I stopped to evaluate my gear and see if my crampons would be necessary. Being only one person, I had to rely on trees as hands to give me a lift up sometimes and at this particular part of the trail, I could not see any to do just that. Under my breathe I wished for someone to be here with me. As I began taking off my pack to get the crampons out, I heard voices coming up behind me. There was a pack of hikers on the trail behind me in minutes (as if someone was listening to me).
This pack of hikers helped me up over this particular section and I was able to join them as they too were going for the same peaks. This reminded me of what I loved about hiking. You can sometimes go to the trail alone and meet the most amazing people. We came to the ledges that I had been concerned about and I suddenly realized that I would be able to get over them after all. I was thrilled as we all helped one another up and over the ledges. Each of us reached a hand out to help one another and that to me was what it was all about; Team work and the enjoying the reward. Of course, in mountain hiking, the reward was some incredible views on a warm January day. The mountain did not disappoint. I knew that the summit was treed in so, I asked to have my picture taken there on the ledge. No one said no and as I got my number out, I ripped in in half so that it could not be used. I was slightly panicked but decided to revert back to my fingers and smiled a huge smile as I laughed about it. And it all felt good to me. My spirit was lifted. The group of us got ready to move to the actual summit and I was happy for the company and the distraction. As we walked, one of the ladies stopped the group to point of a full grouse print in the snow. A grouse had used a bank as its own personal launch pad and left us a perfect print to capture. The actual summit of whiteface was reached shortly after and it was not only treed in, it was snowed in as well. We took a moment and then were off to Passaconaway.
While we hiked, we all got acquainted and talked freely about what we do and what our lives were about. I told them my story but left out the key part about my disease. It’s not something that I like to tell people I just meet. It tends to make people treat me differently and I can do a lot of things that everyone else can do. I manage it yet; new people don’t always get it. Better to be safe than sorry so, I left it out. This group was full of great energy and I knew that the rest of the trip would be fun. I was not disappointed at all. As we walked, different people pointed out different things that they noticed between some interesting ice to a tree that had been eaten away by a moose. I loved how we all seemed to notice these things and shared them with one another. We made it to a trail junction and waited for others that hiked slower to catch up to us. This group had a general rule that at the trail junctions, you waited for people to catch up and I liked that. It meant that you could hike at your own pace and always catch up.
The climb up to Passaconaway was steep and rocky as well as icy. We all took our time and one member of the group accidentally took a more difficult turn on the trail. We split to look for her and get her on the easier trail. As I climbed, I had to take breaks and I hated it. One of the members of the group reminded me that it was good to take breaks and get perspective. And he smile das he probably saw the look of my face. Finally, we came to a flat trail and then the summit. I was able to capture number 33. Everyone cheered and was happy. I was happy because complete strangers cared enough to congratulate me. It didn’t seem like there were many nice people left in the world some days. Well, until I walked into the woods that is.
After a brief stop to help someone with blisters, and to have the rest of the group join us on a ledge after summiting, we all made our way back down and back to reality. There was light hearted talk about my relationships and even though I referred to the man as my boyfriend, I felt uncomfortable. Again, complete strangers cared enough to listen and give advice. As it turned out, one was a guidance counselor and I finally told her that I was a therapist. There are reasons that people are brought together and I felt welcomed into this group. This hike for me was about, team work, about people who “get it” about winter hiking and hiking in general. It was about challenging myself on the ledges and leaving behind the “I can’t”. I drove away with a renewed sense of belonging and I was ready to face whatever was coming my way.