In the light of day, the New Hampshire outdoors was much less scary. To put it precisely, it was spectacular.
We got dressed and packed some snacks in preparation to hike Mount Monadnock. My friend good-naturedly laughed when she saw me standing in the living room (not touching the wood stove) with my red purse tucked under my arm. You should probably leave your purse, she told me, offering to put anything I needed in her light drawstring backpack. I handed her my water bottle and stuffed some tissues in my pocket, feeling quite exposed and yet free without my phone, camera, wallet, and other daily accoutrements. Later, when scrambling up a boulder, I mentally thanked her for making me leave behind my shoulder bag. I might not have come back with it.
Are you sure you’ll be warm enough? she asked, looking down at my jeans. I have leggings underneath, I assured her, wanting to show that I wasn’t completely helpless.
The young man in the booth at the entrance to Monadnock State Park handed us a map of the hiking trails and advised us that some of the paths might be a bit icy. When we were actually on the mountain, slipping and sliding on portions of the trails, we laughed at his understatement. I’m sure it had seemed like no big deal to him from his booth.
The mountain’s landscape was varied and quite beautiful. It was at times rocky, sloping, steep, sunny, icy, melting, and surrounded by trees. There were few people hiking, as it was the end of winter, and well, parts of the trail were iced!
At one point, as we entered an area that we heard someone ahead of us exclaim as very icy (I believe his exact words were “ice dungeon”), a group of boy scouts coming in the opposite direction told us which was the best way to take in order to avoid the slipperiest part. There was something truly reassuring about being guided by boy scouts, no matter that they were children less than half our age.
Two hours later, we breathed in the sight at the top of Mount Monadnock.
During the descent, we took a slightly different path, and I looked back multiple times to take in the still cascade of rocks that we had hiked down. I borrowed my friend’s phone to snap a couple of photos. It wasn’t a sight I was going to see tomorrow.
We completed the hike in four hours. Up until now I’ve only been a sporadic hiker; I have nothing against it, I’ve just only done it when the opportunity comes up. I haven’t incorporated it into my lifestyle, which more often includes attending French events, visiting museums, running through the library and pulling books off the shelves to devour, walking and biking through the city and suburbs, and eating. That doesn’t mean they’re activities incompatible with hiking.
I felt good that I didn’t fall behind the group, more than half of whom had hiked many more times than me, and that I wasn’t the only one whose body ached the next day. “That was more intense that I thought it’d be,” one girl said, and I was glad to agree, otherwise not being sure if this was all normal for them. A couple of them were wearing hiking boots, after all.
I now see the appeal of hiking—the nature is beautiful, and though there are marked trails, it still demands that you make strategic decisions to move yourself forward. A steep set of boulders has multiple notches, and depending on which you choose, your ascent will be easier or harder. The weather and the state of the trails that day change how you need to tread on them. Making your way down a semi-icy incline, it may be helpful to grab onto the adjacent tree trunks, but you have to keep in mind that a tree may not be firmly rooted. The activity is really an exercise in body and mind.
I can’t promise that I will be organizing a hiking outing anytime soon, but the next time someone invites me, I will enthusiastically say yes. I might even toss around pro vocabulary, like “CamelBak” and “trail mix.”
Have you been hiking? What about it appeals or doesn’t to you?