It’s been a minute since my last hike. Actually, it’s been two months and 5 days. Partly because I swore never to hike in shoulder season again, but also thanks to coronavirus and stay at home orders. So I decided to “hike local”. A mountain I’ve hiked before. Not too long of a hike, not too much elevation, and only 30 minutes from my house.
I practically sprinted (well my version of sprinting anyway) up the mountain. I was annoyed. It was a Thursday, there shouldn’t have been so many people on the trail. Only one person was wearing a mask. (Remember, this is during coronavirus, and while the park was touting social distancing, which most people did, myself and one other hiker were the only people I saw all day that donned a face covering as others approached.) Someone had put GUM on a TREE. (Honestly this may have been the thing that enraged me the most.) There was trash on the ground. People were going off trail to avoid mud. People were noisy. People were in groups. Blah blah blah. I had many mental complaints about all the other hikers. So I was fast (for me) in my attempt to avoid people. Head down, hike hike hike. Get to the summit. Ignore people. Just hike.
I got to the summit, and there were of course, more annoying people. I was also hot, dehydrated, and really needed a break since I hadn’t taken one the entire way up. I found a spot. I drank some water. Had a quick little snack. I was still mad. I forgot to take a summit selfie and thought “just get to the car”.
It was then I noticed I had a “blind spot”. Similar to what I get just before or after a migraine. Crap. This isn’t the time for a migraine. Or a blind spot. I sort of like to see the rocks and roots as I try not to fall. It was also warming up and the bugs were really starting up. It’s black fly season in New Hampshire. And those little f*ckers love to fly in your eyes and ears and nose and any orifice they can get into. So I donned my bug net.
Two important things about this moment. First, I am a prepared hiker. Probably (definitely) more so than the hike requires. People are hiking this trail in jeans with a Poland Spring bottle, while I’ve got my day pack, with hydration bladder, and bug net. I kept thinking about how they were probably judging me as some hiker nutcase. To which I thought, “Hike your own hike”. A lovely little phrase that hikers say, which can mean “fuck off” and also “do you, don’t judge others”. Second, the bug net impairs my vision slightly. Which combined with the blind spot meant I couldn’t see super well. I had a moment where I worried I would somehow walk off the trail and not notice and have to have the world’s most embarrassing hiker rescue. This trail is like six feet wide and could be followed by a child. I think I’d rather die lost in the woods than need rescue from there.
I passed quite a few more hikers on their way up as I was on my way down. I heard one little boy tell his mom that my mask was cool as he walked away (it’s Mario Brothers, so yeah, it’s cool). And lots of people commented on my bug net and what a great idea it is and they wish they had one or brought theirs.
And suddenly I realized something. People weren’t judging me. I was judging them. I was prepared to tell someone else to hike their own hike, but I was not hiking MY own hike. Most importantly, I was ruining my own day. I was stewing on all the things other people were doing wrong, rather than focusing on me, my hike, nature, the woods, the mountain. I have no right to decide what’s right for other people. I don’t have ownership of how they hike, or use this trail, or enjoy nature. I needed to be hiking my own hike.
I had had a great morning. I slept in. I leisurely got my hiking stuff together. I left late, but didn’t care. I stopped at Starbucks and had a lovely conversation with the person in the drive through about hiking (they saw my gear on the seat and asked where I was going). Then I had a terrible first half of a hike all because I was being shitty.
Thankfully, I had the realization in time to knock it off and still enjoy my hike. I stopped. I looked up to the tree tops, and the sun, and the sky, and was happy. I was in my happy place. Doing my happy thing. On the way back to the parking lot, I passed a pond. There was a mom and her kids fishing. I asked if they’d caught anything and she replied that they’d just started. I asked if they’d seen the turtles yet on the far side of the pond. They sit on rocks, sunning themselves. The mom said they hadn’t, but she looked over where I pointed and cried out “Awwwww” when she saw them. I was happy I could share.
Then hike ends with a bit of a road walk. UPhill. As I was beginning it, I thought this is when my brain says “Hey, we should sprint up this!” and my body has a counter offer, “I hear what you’re saying, but how about we lay down on the side of the road and hope someone scoops us up like fresh roadkill.” And it was just as I was having this conversation with myself, that an older couple ahead of me…began SPRINTING UP THE HILL. I couldn’t help myself, I yelled, “WOOHOO! GO GO GO!”. The woman pumped her arm in the air. It was just a great, silly, wonderful moment. I’m very glad I could enjoy it.