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Thursday, 16 October 2008

Solo Hikes

By Brenton "Sandy" Dickson

Fair weather clouds were casting shadows across the vacant parking area. I stopped my Subaru Outback near the trailhead. It was early April, shortly after my 70th birthday. I was still having trouble dealing with that milestone and decided to take a solo hike up New Hampshire’s Mt. Monadnock.

I strapped on my backpack and locked the car. The black flies had not yet made an appearance. Most of the snow had melted. I had made this two-mile climb a number of times with many different people. Friends, my father, my sister and brother-in-law, my sons and even a great aunt when she was 80 years old.

Monadnock was an isolated mountain that could be seen for miles. Most of the surrounding countryside had been carved away by glaciers. Even though it did not rise above the normal New England tree line, there was almost no vegetation on the top third of the mountain because of forest fires over the previous two centuries. As a result, much of the soil had been washed away, leaving an impressive peak of exposed granite.

The first section of the trail rose at a gentle grade. I was moving quickly as I tried to remember the first time I had done this. For some reason I began thinking of my fifth grade headmistress. I could still feel the stinging pain when she whacked the backs of my wrists with her 15-inch ruler in her small, dimly-lit office at the end of a long hall. I strained to hold back my tears. My 10-year-old pride dominated the moment.

I had been punished for a minor transgression, which actually had been committed by an older student. Since he was the son of the chairman of the school's trustees, he was above suspicion. In retrospect, her conclusion that I had been the guilty party, may have been understandable. She had struggled with my naughty older sister several years earlier. However, she was not pleased with my stoic reaction, so she increased my sentence. She ordered me to walk home from school.

I must have been feeling sorry for myself as I began my four-mile walk along the wooded back roads of our small town, which was located just west of Boston. But I quickly succumbed to my surroundings.

It was a warm May afternoon. The leaves had just come out, and a light breeze was carrying the aroma of blossoming trees and flowers. Birds and squirrels were playing everywhere. As I moved forward, I’d forgotten the purpose of my journey and I intentionally passed by several shortcuts. I was still whistling and laughing to myself when I reached home.

As I turned west at a trail junction I realized that it had taken me 60 years to grasp the significance of that pre-teen experience. It was the beginning of my life-long addiction to hiking.

I continued to gain altitude and the terrain was getting rougher. Soon I could see large boulders silhouetted against the sky above me. I scrambled up the final steep rocky trail, through and over ledges to the summit. I was breathing hard. The muscles in my 70-year-old legs were pleading for help. Miles and miles of meadows, trees, and villages unfolded below me. On a clear day, one could see all six New England states, as well as New York. It was a clear day. If I had known the relevant landmarks, I’m sure I could have picked out all of them.

There was a crispness in the air, but also a hint of warmth caused by the heat of the sun reflecting off the surrounding rocks. I stood in awe. I thought back on the numerous times I had been on that mountain.

This time seemed different. I was consumed by a strange combination of joy, sadness and submission. I closed my eyes and drifted off into a peaceful sub-consciousness. I sensed the presence of others who had made this hike with me before, many no longer alive.

I was not alone!

[EDITORIAL NOTE: All elders, 50 and older, are welcome to submit stories for this blog. Instructions are here.]

Posted by Ronni Bennett at 02:30 AM | Permalink | Email this post


I might take up hiking, if I were to have the insights you did.

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