Walk of Life

The 10 mile hike I did Sunday was remarkable reminiscent of my life so far. The Childhood phase; a bouquet of wonder, hope, optimism and adventure. Young adulthood: discovery, boredom, confusion and experimentation. Full on adulthood brings about a “Settling-in” and reaping of the fruits of decisions made. Quite pungent for just a 10 mile hike I know but in these parts, it doesn’t take much for the deep things of life to unravel as you walk.

 

Being December, I would rather be bundled up, strapped to a waxy pair of wood and fiberglass, surrendering myself to the pull of gravity and carving S-turns on a mountain face. However, given that the temperature was 52 degrees with nary a snowflake on the ground, Hotrod and I decided to head out for a hike. 17 mile trail is a popular one in Savage river state forest, straddling the ridge on Big Savage Mountain, one in the chain that runs from Garrett County through Allegheny Maryland. From the trail head, you get a good view of Negro mountain and the adorning windmills. I have a love/ hate relationship with windmills; they provide great compositional contrast at closer range but present an eyesore when you can see more than 5 on a mountain top, pardon the digression.

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The first 3 miles were very enjoyable, we walked and caught up on family and Christmassy stuff, we stopped and tried to evaluate the amount of noise pollution claimed to be created by said windmills. We checked out trees with some sort of tumorous growth and hypothesized on possible etiology. We got off trail a couple times from laughing and not paying attention, we ran to a hunter on his way home after an unsuccessful outing (nice T/C omega stainless steel muzzleloader with camo stock)…Childhood

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By mile 5, it had become apparent to us that this was a “dead-man walk”; the trail had no openings, vistas or overlooks. The timber was small and numerous akin to waking through a bamboo plantation. Why then is this trail so popular I wondered? The only thing I saw besides consecutive selfies of my boots was a mole that swiftly bee-lined for the nearest hole, even all the birds must already be working on their tan down south. The saving grace was the cut out for the Pennsylvania power line that gave respite to our march… Young Adulthood

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We soldiered on for another 300 yards or so and decided to break for lunch and decide our next course of action. We could either keep on going and hope the hike gets a little more interesting or pull the plug and retrace our steps (and hope the hike gets more interesting). Decisions was made, calories had been burnt, wives appeased (temporary exile of 2 grumpy guys who can’t ski or bike due to the weather) now it was time to accept that we probably would have been better served going for a bike ride, albeit a flat and windswept one. We decided to accept the consequence of our actions and salvage the walk as best we could… Adulthood

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At the end of the day, after taking stock, this is chucked into the “oh well” bin. The key is that you go out and do something; this hike could very well have turned out to be an epic one, one to be returned to every year. Alas, such is life.

Often, I mourn childhood, wishing a return to the days of infinite optimism and a vivid short term memory, when failures are quickly forgotten as well as victories, but on days like these, the failures also make triumph that much more precious and the quest for them insatiable. On this day, we were the victors and the vanquished.

Happy New Year to you and yours.

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The Unknown

Sitting on the steps of my driveway, the  Fall chill sipping past my soft shell jacket, my skin and nose bask in the crisp aroma of tired leaves, the atmosphere saturated with the smell of fall, and the sun – missing in action. It was decision time: do I go on this ride or not? You see, every once in a while, especially post riding hiatus comprising of full on absence from the saddle, I decide on some big exploratory ride the theme (slow and long) where I attempt to go off lots of unbeaten paths and explore roads I have never been on before. It so happens that somehow on those rides I end up riding some variation of the rides I already know, I never really get lost, I stay constrained in my curiosity and always stay within the buffer of the familiar.

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What do we fear in the unknown? Is it trepidation of mental and physical anguish we might experience in discovering it, or the effort required in embracing and mastering it, maybe its just the awareness of our nakedness and ignorance made glaringly apparent in a state of not knowing. I think in my case, my fear is that I might not be able to afford the cost of the venture. Due to the significant topographical fluctuations in elevation (climbing) around Cumberland, I would have to climb and/or decend a couple thousand feet before I even reach uncharted territory, when finally on virgin territory the further I go the more worried I become: I worry about how climbing lies ahead, am I going to get lost and have to backtrack, what about getting back home? I am going to have to do all that climbing to get back home (this conversation set to the Banjo ridden soundtrack of Deliverance as I go deep into Appalachia). The fear of running out of energy is so immense I inevitably end up doing a variation of the ride I already know.

On Saturday though, I mounted and headed towards the limits of my familiarity, I got to the cross road of decision where I could turn left and head towards Centerville and back home or I could head towards Everitt, towards more struggles with gravity, towards adventure. I chose the latter. I rode all the way to Bedford PA, through a cathedral of changing colors and Fall foliage, the scrubs signaled their welcome to old man winter with bright shades or green, yellow and amber, the maple trees displayed every shade of orange occasionally liberating a confetti of spent leaves as the wind demanded, I coasted on the downhills ignoring my Garmin, I drank of the beauty and searched for a deeper meaning of all this. I dug deep looking for a palpable connection between this awe and my inadequate comprehension of God’s magnificence, constantly failing, my attention wrestled away by a vibrant shrub or a cammo-clad youngster stretching his bow.

Thanks to inadequate planning, I ran out of food was cold, worried and my butt and legs hurt. There comes a point in ever Century ride when it is no longer as much fun, you just turn the cranks in order to get to that 100mile marker. In many aspects of my life I feel that’s where I am: like I just rode past the 75mile marker and the views are beginning to look the same, the company the same since mile 1 and conversation is running thin, in my ride of life, change is imperative but I remain clueless as to its initiation. I was tired but I somehow knew I was going to make it, the hardest part had been done, I had gotten on and started riding, I had made that turn and had been rewarded for it.

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I recently heard “Fear is the fruit of forgetfulness” when we forget all the other times we have taken the leap of faith and God has brought us through it builds our faith and debunks fear. Another I heard is “Faith is not the opposite of Fear…Love is” when we finally comprehend the love God has for us, and how much he has done and is willing to do for us, we gain perspective and faith and loose fear. You know, I think even those we think are brave like the Nomad and Vagabond need to ask themselves if deep down they are actually afraid of stability, assurance and calling a place home. In the Bible my favorite passage about fear is 1John 4:18 “There is no fear in love. But perfect love drives out fear, because fear has to do with punishment. The one who fears is not made perfect in love”.

After 70 miles and 6k ft of climbing, I arrive home, toes numb, shoulders locked, ears and face numb but a smile frozen in place. It was difficult, it was lonely, it was hard ….. But it was New!