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Sunday, April 16, 2017

HIking the Knobstone Trail

"You must accept that you might fail; then, 
if you do your best and still don't win, at least
you can be satisfied that you have tried. If you
don't accept failure as a possibility, you don't set
high enough goals, you don't branch out, you
don't try, you don't take the risk."
Rosalyn Carter

As I near retirement, I have started listing things that I hope to do after I retire.  You see, while I long for  freedom after my years of servitude, I also am wary.  Luckily for me, many of the people I know who have retired are active and have busy lives with numerous hobbies and can serve as role models and advisors, but then there are those who seem to wilt once the harness comes off, robbed of the purpose given by employment and unable to establish purpose on their own.  Seldom do those people seem to live long enough to enjoy the retirement they earned.   In other words, retirement tells us something about ourselves and our personalities. I also suspect that it will be harder to have a fruitful fulfilling retirement as a single person than it would have been if my husband were still alive because sharing experiences with someone enhances those experiences. 

On my list of things I hope to do, see, experience, etc. is to hike the entire Knobstone trail.  I don't know much about the trail other than it is close by and that it is said to be good preparation for hiking the Appalachian Trail. I mention this to my friend, Diana Cozart, who surprises me by saying she would like to hike the trail as well.  And it is thus that plans begin being madeAnd while I am not yet retired, it will give me a taste of if I like it.  Originally, my plan was to camp while on the trail, but Diana would rather not and it is not that important to me at this point.  Frankly, I feel certain this adventure would not have gotten off of the ground, at least until after I do retire, if it were not for Diana.  I mentioned it and the next thing I knew she had a map and was doing the planning.  Mainly, I followed in her wake.  I also mentioned what we were doing  to Mark, the Director at the office where I work, who says I need to take his phone number in case I need to be rescued.  He talks about how difficult he has heard the trail is and how he has rescued others that have attempted it and decided to quit.  The worry in his face touches me as does his offer of assistance if we should need it. 

Last fall, in preparation, we began  a series of few short hikes doing certain sections of the trail.  Jim, Diana's husband, would drop us off at one trail head and pick us up at another.  During these three or four excursions, we experiment with what works for us and what does not.  One  lesson is painful, rocks and acorns underfoot on the trail cause my foot to slip and my ankle to turn.  I hobble out without Diana realizing just how badly I am hurt, but I learn a valuable lesson.  Every hike from there on out, I have hiking sticks and boots, not running shoes with no pole to balance.  We learn about what we can expect our pace to be, how much water we  need, etc.  I begin carrying an ankle bandage with my other supplies. While I think we can do it, still in my mind there is a speck of doubt.  Some of the climbs are remarkably steep and the descents likewise.  I can ride a long way on a bicycle, but walking is different.  Since my car accident last year, I have occasional back and neck issues that I did not have previously.  Doing twelve miles on foot is quite different than doing over fifty.  "What is the worst that could happen," I ask myself?  Anything new holds the risk of failure. Possible failure is the spice in the stew.

I take a week off in April, and so our adventure begins.  Diana and Jim  pick me  up in the morning at 8:00 and Jim  takes us to Deam Lake and drops us off.  We have successfully hiked a few sections of the trail during our preparation days, but because of the distance to the start, this is not one of them. 

I awaken to the sound of thunder booming loudly, the kind that makes the air feel alive and the house seem to tremble.  And there is rain.  What was a twenty percent chance of rain has become eighty percent.  I am fine with going or waiting a day.  Again, I leave it up to Diana.  We decide to move forward.  By the time we start, the rain is nothing but a gentle misting, quite pleasant actually .  It is warm enough that it is not uncomfortable with a light jacket, and the rain seems to make everything more vivid.

We had intended to do this  hike before earth yawned, stretched her arms, and awakened, but it has been unseasonably warm or our planning was off or a combination of the two.  Regardless, we trade the possibility of snakes and tick bites for a growing sea of greenness, for Red Bud trees, and for wildflowers.  Gone is the monochrome of previous hikes. We see several snakes throughout our four day adventure, but the one on the first day is on the path.  He is small and totally brown, no stripes, and does not seem to have any desire to  yield the path, tongue flickering in and out, so we yield to him and walk on.  This is his home:  we are only guests.  Two others are larger, one at least four feet in length.   I "think" it is a black snake, the kind my brothers used to catch and play with.  The last, the one that slithers into a pile of brush, us smaller and is tan with brown with stripes. Suddenly I am thinking of the movie "Riki Tiki Tavi" from the children's youth.  There is a scene with a snake and the snake tells the boy, "If you move, I strike.  And if you don't move, I strike."  Later that night, I review on line what to do when bitten by a snake.  But it really seems things are rather hopeless if one happens to be bitten by a poisonous snake so deep in the woods.

Reeling in my imagination, we move on.  Our paces are similar and it is nice to have company.  Sometimes we chat and sometimes it is just the affable sound of our footsteps and hiking sticks and breathing.  Birds chatter in the background.  At one point, we see a beautiful bird I am unable to identify, but who sadly appears unable to fly. In my mind I thank him for sharing his beauty with us before continuing his journey on the other side, for to be a bird and unable to fly is, I feel sure, certain death.

At the crest of a climb, we decide to have lunch and we come upon two buzzards, each sitting on the remnants of a tree that was topped by a passing storm at one point.  In fact, in that area, all the trees have been topped.  The buzzards take wing at our approach, but they  settle nearby, this time huddled together, companions and friends. I think how they are useful birds, and there is beauty in their cuddling.  I find that I appreciate things differently now that I am older, that I have come to a realization that there is a beauty in purpose and how the pieces of the world fit together.  A piece may be beautiful is only because of its usefulness to the whole, but it is still beautiful.  I try to get a picture, but as I suspected, the telescoping lens on my camera is not sufficient.

As we eat our sandwiches,  the rain picks up in intensity.  Slightly chilled, we both put back on the jackets we had shed earlier.  Then we move forward.  Diana remarks on how well the path is marked because in this section we are walking sideways around the top of a hill.  Unless you would like to take  a nosedive down a sharp incline and possibly kill yourself, there is no other place to go.  For some reason, this strikes me as particularly amusing and I giggle about this the entire hike, particularly as we reach a few places where the trail is not so clear and yet there is no guiding mark.I briefly wonder about the people who designed and maintain these trails, and I hope they know how much it is appreciated. 

At one point, I slip twisting my bum ankle a bit.  I stop, wrap it, and move on quickly realizing that it is not nearly as bad as the last time I twisted it.  It will swell a bit, but it will not be exceedingly painful.  This is good because the last time I could barely walk the next day and this is not a practice session but the real thing.  Shortly afterward,  Diana also falls, hitting her knees.  But she says she is okay and seems to be. It is hard to decide whether the climbing or the descents are tougher. Climbing challenges the lungs and stamina, but descending challenges the balance and toes. When we reach the end of day one, Jim is waiting and has brought each of us a bottle of water and a granola bar.  I think how nice it is and how thoughtful. I am glad that Diana has someone to do these things for her.  Relationships are a blessing to be treasured.

The second day is quieter as we walk along in silent companionship.  Interestingly, there seem to be fewer bird sounds than yesterday.  Rain or terrain? Blisters and foot issues have started, but not so significantly that they will stop us.  I tell her how friends told me about using duct tape on blisters and areas that are rubbing.  I keep looking for places that I might stop if I decide to do this trip on my own in the future and to camp along the way rather than going home each night to a shower and my own bed.  During the hike, we come across two tents.  One we saw on an earlier hike and has obviously been abandoned for some reason.  I keep teasing Diana that we had better not look under it as there are probably dead bodies.  The other is well maintained though nobody is there. Cooking utensils are hung from trees.  The tent is erect and the entire area, while human-less, appears tended to, almost as if someone is staying there regularly rather than just for a night along the trail.  There is even a stack of magazines. All these things fuel my imagination taking me further along the trail.

Somewhere along the way Diana spots a mushroom and I get to hear her story of how they would look for them as children along with her father when he was still living.  I think of how are lives are enriched by others, the experiences we have of spending time with them, and I realize  yet again how lucky I am to have a reliable companion on this part of my journey.  I think how much we miss those that were part of the fabric of our lives: parents, siblings, spouses, children.  If you live long enough, it seems most of these are taken from you.  It is easy to feel sad and despondent, but I try to be grateful for the rich colors they have added to my journey.  Briefly I wonder if Diana and I will still be friends 10 years from now, 20 years from now?  I think of something Paul said on a recent ride, something that struck me because I heard the same thing from my mother:  "All my friends I grew up with are gone."  Is, I wonder, survival, being the last one standing, a blessing or a curse?  But I am not wise enough to have the answer if there is one.

As we walk, I think about our ancestors that settled this land, and how strong they must have been.  It  is hard enough with a path and without trying to carry seed corn and those things needed to start a homestead.  I think about how lucky we are that they preserved some of the forests for the enjoyment of future generations, but I also mourn the lack of old growth forests and wish that some of this had been preserved for us. What will we leave behind for those that come after us?  We pass through large areas that have been touched by tornado damage or by logging.  At one point, we reach a turn with absolutely no marker.  We pull out the map and Diana uses the compass on her phone to determine our course.  Soon we reach a white mark that assures us the turn was correct.  I also occasionally ask myself why I am doing this, particularly as the heat grows stronger.  Really?  Who expects an eighty degree day in April.

The last day is also traversing areas we have not hiked before so we do not know what to expect.  I ride my bike in that area, but the road is in valley.  Not so the trail.  At one point, we are on a thin, sliver of path that cants down into what would be a terrible if not fatal fall.  I struggle with my fear of heights and remind myself to concentrate on the path and nothing else.   It is not helped by the fact that I am having what I now call "a bad eye day."  Ever since my viscera detached, I have the occasional day when my one eye seems to be covered with a thin veil.  No amount of blinking, looking down, or the other suggestions given by the doctor help. Today not only is there the veil, but there is a line like a hair across my eye, something the brain normally screens out.  It is not painful, but it is annoying and definitely affects my vision.

 There is also a long detour on this section and we find ourselves on a gravel road that seems to last forever. I wonder how long the actual trail will be closed.  As we take the detour, there is a family on a porch who tells us it is not much further.  And it is not.  Again and again on the trail I think about trees and what wonders they are.  The roots often serve as steps or keep the dirt on the hillside from eroding.  We use them to climb out of creek beds that are nearly as deep as we are tall, and to keep from falling downward into them as we descend. The colors of the Dog Wood and Red Bud are stunning against the sea of encroaching greenness.  All shades of green.  There are area where it seems you are on top of the world and can see forever.  And always there is our progress forward toward our goal: completion. 

Each mile marker becomes a source of celebration as we draw nearer and nearer to our goal.  Sore feet and tired bodies yearn for warm, soapy water, filling food, and a soft bed.  For a few days, at least, such things will be more appreciated than they normally are.  And for a few days there will be the satisfaction that comes with something difficult being successfully navigated and completed. Finally I hear Diana say, "There's our truck."  And there Jim is, patiently waiting for us, and it is done.  I know that tomorrow a part of me will be glad of rest, but that a part of me will wish I was heading back out on the trail, the rhythm of our feet and breathing in harmony with the land, the land we came from and will return to.  As the Florida Georgia Line song says, "You know you came from it, someday you'll return to it."  Until then, may there be more adventures and new ventures, and may there always be the risk of failure because without the risk of failure, success would not be so very sweet. In the words of Diana, "We did it!!! Knobstone Trail. 4 days; 27 hours; 55.9 miles; 558 floors; 132,497 steps. We started at Dean lake and went to Delaney Park."

Tuesday, April 11, 2017

Hardinsburg in the Spring

"Just living is not enough...One must
have sunshine, freedom, and a little flower."
Hans Christian Anderson

 While I am disappointed that the day is going to start off so cold, I am so looking forward to the afternoon warmth and the predicted sunshine and an entire day on the bike.  It has been so gray and dreary, day after day it seems, for an extended period of time.  And always there is work and other responsibilities that rob me of my time, staring at me disapprovingly when I go to play.  Yes, there is a beauty in the stark monotones that precede the birth of spring, but mentally I just need  sunshine right now.  I want to bask in it, to feel it begin to hold the warmth that it will bestow in summer when I curse it. And I need to play.  I need to ride my bike.

I wonder who, if anyone, will show.  Matt e-mailed that Jason and he were coming, but I know how Jason dislikes the cold.  And even if they do show, there is no need in fooling myself that I will ever again ride their pace.  Age and laziness have robbed me of their speed if, indeed, I ever had it. 

Sometimes this bothers me, along with other changes wrought by aging, and I vow I will do what I know I could do to improve, not to where I was perhaps but to where I now could be. For me, however,  it is becoming less about the speed now than it is about the journey and the companionship.  Not that there are not still times I enjoy pressing myself, attacking a hill, challenging another, feeling the heave of my lungs, the ache in my thighs, and the blessed  release when a fast pace eases a bit or a hill comes to an end, but it is different somehow.  And that is one of the things that I so love about bicycling:  it is so many different things and there are so many different rides.  As long as I have sight, balance, and strength, I can participate in some form or another.

Last week-end Paul stayed with me.  It was so good to see him after the long winter, but I doubt he will come today if for no other reason that I think he probably passed away from having to listen to me rattle on for an entire century.  Living alone makes the first few group rides problematic for those who ride with me.  I ramble on with my mouth as much as the road rambles on: endlessly. Perhaps duct tape would be a solution;-)  Then again, perhaps I have always jabbered on and I just have some self-realization at this point.  At any rate, I have no doubt I played a role in Paul's passing, if indeed he has passed, by boring him to death.  But sometimes I just cannot help it.

Seven of us roll out into the cold morning with two more to come.  Jason and Matt are still planning on riding, but they intend to start late and will still pass us and finish first.  I bask in the sunshine and in the company. Lise tells me I should feel flattered that her husband wanted to do this ride again because he is very selective about his rides, and she says he said the lunch was so good.  It always is at the Mennonite run lunch stop.  Reasonable and delicious.  Later he himself thanks me and talks about the beauty of the course, of how after a big, steep descent (on this route) you drop into a valley for a long way before reaching the hill that means the approaching third store stop. It is nice to be thanked for putting together a route and sharing it.  Surprisingly, it doesn't happen as often as you might think, and complaints about gravel or road surfaces or dogs happen just as often. 

Sometimes  I wonder about that.  If I asked someone to dinner and they didn't like it, would they feel free to tell me that the meat was too tough or that the carrots were under-cooked?  Yet somehow many people feel free to criticize a route you have put together to your face. 

The day is really quite uneventful.  Most of us are together at the end of the ride, or not too very far apart.  The red buds grace our passage and there is the hint of spring flowers that we have not seen since last spring.  The sun is brilliant and even begins to have some warmth.  The company is good.  Just living, without these things, is not enough.  May there always be "sunshine, freedom, and a flower" in your life.  And may there always be a bicycle to help you enjoy them.