Finishing the 48 & Leaving Isolation Behind
Down a boreen green came a sweet colleen
and she smiled as she passed me by
She looked so sweet from her two white feet
to the sheen of her nut-brown hair
Such a coaxing elf, I'd to shake myself
To make sure I was standing there...
(Star of the County Down)
This one may be a rambler folks. I just thought I should warn you. The beauty of a day like this lies in the fact that there will never be another that dares to be its equal.
Perhaps you can't imagine hiking alone. Are you the type who always enjoys a companion? For many their partner is four-legged. And why not?, they count as partners too. Maybe you're an on/off partner-hiker. Sometimes you hike alone,sometimes you don't. Or, perhaps your companionship is of the spontaneous type.You plan to be alone, then all of a sudden, you're not, and you're OK with that. The opposite end of the spectrum brings us to those who hike in, or for, complete solitude. Thus enters the lone hiker. To which I must say, and you will no doubt agree as having the same opinion, you have the best companionship possible, that being yourself. Whether you hike alone or not, its up to you. There's no need to be judgemental about it. Guided as I am by the principle that I'm for, and against, everything. We're all members of a hiking family.
I count myself among the initial former.I hiked by myself years ago and just didn't care much for it. I am glad I did it when I did. I think its because only in the singular state does one achieve the complete consumation with the elements that beckon us, those that we so lustfully desire. Some of the best building blocks of life come from hiking. It provides healthy self-esteem,feelings of success,pride,and happiness.To those who enjoy companionship on the trail those things tend to be found not in oneself, but, in their partner. However, as to finding the right one, well, that's not always easy is it? Its not easy indeed to find someone to accompany you in this form of "savage amusement", as I've heard it referenced.
As I've made known prior, I was raised in a hiking family. For my folks it was cheap,active, and the best possible guarantee that my brother and I would zonk out on the ride home, or shortly thereafter,and thus they would have some time with their tired bodies, alone. Problem with that is, when raised in a hiking family, your companions are chosen for you. Pity the youngest. Of the many set-ups my brother pulled on me, one was on Crawford Path. I'm not sure where, but it was some point after our night at Mizpah Hut. Our folks would let us race ahead as long as we stopped and waited at trail intersections. My brother thought it would be fun to loop and outflank them, then come up from behind my parents. At some point in the process of this plan, I looked about and found myself alone. Apparently I was the only one actually engaged in executing this bold endeavour. Oblivious to the potential backlash that could arise, I backtracked, laid low, let them pass, then came trotting up from behind, making a wisecrack about how slow they were and that they had to get a move on. At this point I found out that my definition of "fun" differed vastly from that of my father and mother. Quite assuredly any other hiker who passed by at that pivotal moment also caught snippets centering on my folks idea of "fun". I thought that the yellow safety whistle, given to us by my parents with the intent to help us survive, would likely be the instrument of my demise as my folks would strangle me with it. So.. that's what can happen when your hiking companions are chosen for you. I still hike with my brother.We've been hiking for years. We hike for fitness,fun,bragging rights, and the "family discussions", heavy stuff,with humor thrown in of course.Certainly good times with good memories.
As I got older, with more freedom, I gained the ability to choose my hiking companions.I had a great hiking friend in the late 80's. We went on all types of hikes.Sometimes I felt like I was dragging them along.Over time their interest faded and they stopped coming. Still I was searching. It would take time, more time than I thought actually.
The one who turned out to be my hiking partner did not come from a hiking family,though the desire was there,and eventually came to full bloom.The first hike we did together was Mt Willard.Without knowing aforehand my mother had "lovingly" packed cold meatloaf sandwiches for us.If there was a decline in the crow/raven population at that time I am not to blame. Though I believe that's where my sandwich was eventually processed, I declare it the fault of the sandwich, not me. As a matter of fact, perhaps the best touchstone of a prospective hiking partner may just be a cold meatloaf sandwich.If that doesn't scare them off likely nothing will. I will say that I had no complaints about the company.Over the years we did many waterfall hikes, and others of that sort. Then came the Big One. I convinced my partner that if you ever only take one shot at the Big W you should do it through the Great Gulf. Up the Great Gulf we went,summited,exited via Nelson Crag and Wamsutta and out.What a trip. What a trooper. Sixteen some-odd miles and not a word or whisper of complaint.Confirming then what I already believed,I had found my true hiking partner.Our relationship was strengthening and now I saw them being taken in by the passion we know as hiking.
Now with the passing of time we have built a heritage of sorts.Constructing for the future,while having the ability to look back.If you already love hiking it is likely only trumped by the love of your true, trusted partner.Think of the experiences.The once new,now familiar sights,smells,sounds, and the ones yet to be discovered.The time spent planning hikes and the endless recaps.The one who walks besides,behind,or in front of you.The endless conversation or the sacred silence carried high and aloft from a fir scented forest,the ground dry,the wind alive.Watching their feats in a quiet sort of wonder.The one whose boots sound oh-so familiar.The one whose pack you tighten and reach the area they can't with bug dope.The one you help through difficult terrain and who,in turn, washes your week old (or more) hiking clothes.Who helps clear waterbars,remove blowdowns,trim and brush.Yea, that's them alright. The one for whom you will, while descending, even grasp the trees to ensure that the rain from earlier falls upon you, and not them. How great to have someone to warn about the incoming branch-smack you're about to release.The one who suggested that crackers,cheese,and pepperoni are a step up from your own former "barbaric cuisine".The one whose face is across from the fire yet captures and projects a far greater and riveting glow than any flame.Watching their shadow cast upon the rocks high above, then skirt like a whisper through the trees as we descend. The one who makes EVERY hike, no matter how short,long,easy or hard, an enjoyment beyond compare.A thought superceded only by the next hike to come.That's a hiking partner.
If you've read this far not only am I amazed, I applaud you.For in this relating I have no particular point. Its a lone tribute to that which I have gained. Yet,I hope we've all found some common ground.Perhaps its fitting,or a bit ironic.An enlightening study of contrasts.To cast out these words of contemplation.Of reflection and appreciation.Though the name of this place where my thoughts have come together (and its been like corraling a windstorm) may fit geographically,it holds not a candle to the companionship of just one other.For here I am able to defeat,if nothing more,the state and meaning, the very concept of being alone.Triumphant in that sense,here upon a mountain called,of all things - Isolation. At the end of this hike, that is, at the end of this quest for the 48, I do not stand a conqueror of mountains, nor a master of the forces, nor a cavalier of adversity. But I can say this, I am not standing alone. Of all the aspects I have come to appreciate from the 48, that of a true companion has been, and always will be, the most valuable.
You see, its all because my hiking partner also happens to be my wife.When my father-in-law once caught sight of her standing upon the cusp of Huntington Ravine,hair in a bandana,hiking clothes and tools upon her, he said "There's something I never thought I'd see. What did you do to her?" Honestly, I must admit, it was the most beautiful sight I'd seen. More beautiful to me than any wedding gown. I realized I'd done nothing, actually. It wasn't me.Because when the feelings you have for one another are only strengthened by a common love,that of the Whites and hiking,well,let's admit it-you got a real good thing. And when you see that smile on your partner, that hiking smile, its an exhilaration. One not borne from natural ability or supposed pedigree but borne from persistance,resolve,even past or feared failure. Or of struggle, resolve, the incessant physical and mental anguish, and of course, its unrivaled happiness and reward. I have always felt the most important connection is that which exists between people and mountains, whether they are life-long partners, or the friends that you have gained through hiking. Such feelings have been proven true.Its nice to know that of all the darts we throw, once in awhile, one hits the board.
And to you Michele, I give thanks.For without you hiking, even life itself, would amount to nothing at all.I won't walk this trail, or the Greater Trail of Life, without you.
So, let's get moving, we have endless miles to go...........
"LIVE FREE OR DIE...DEATH IS NOT THE WORST OF ALL EVILS." Gen. John Stark. "by reason of much foule weather and Extreme Bad Woods to travel in..." From the letter of my Great Uncle, Samuel Willard (accompanied by my grandfather Henry), to Governor Dummer on August 16, 1725, explaining the reason for his return, being instructed to "range all the country", of the Wawobadenik (White Mountains) July 19-August 16, 1725. I am a 13th generation New Englander and proud of it.