May 13 2009

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Hiking Hard

Posted at 9:14 am under Blog Post

Monday morning I headed for the hills.  After crossing over a recently opened mountain pass, I drove through the Stowe Valley to the edge of Mt. Mansfield State Forest where I parked my car.  The sun was shining brightly.  My dog, Matika, grew excited, especially when I shouldered my pack and we started up the well-groomed woods road.  I wanted to stretch my legs.  With the upper reaches of the Long Trail still wet with snowmelt, this was one of the few responsible ways to hike a trail deep into the forest.

The Cotton Brook loop is either 8 or 9 miles long, depending upon where you start.  I made it a 9-miler just to push myself.  It was a stress test of sorts, with an eye towards a trek on the AT I’ve slated for August.  I hiked hard at the outset, averaging 3 mph even while stopping occasionally to check out wildflowers.  Jack-in-the-pulpit greeted me at the outset.  Foamflower, wood anenome, bellwort and bluets bloomed along the side of the trail.  A few early-season bloomers like trillium and trout lily lingered beyond their peak days.  The surrounding forest was a dozen different shades of green.  I reveled in it while breathing heavy and breaking a sweat in the chilly, early morning air.

Matika cavorted off-trail at first but settled into a steady trot once she realized that she was in for the long haul.  Four and a half miles back, we stopped at one of the two main feeder streams tumbling from the head of the Cotton Brook Valley.  There the stream ran clear despite heavy rain a couple days earlier.  I splashed some of it into my face before continuing my hike – a baptism of sorts.  I do not take clear mountain water lightly.

Around six miles, I felt dull nagging aches mounting in my hips, knees and lower back.  The higher-elevation bloom of Dutchman’s breeches and bleeding hearts distracted me somewhat, but the aches persisted even when the trail flattened out.  Suddenly a euphoric rush coursed through my body and I smiled skyward.  The endorphins had just kicked in.

Around seven miles I left the main trail and hiked down to the brook.  There Matika and I took a long break.  A few black flies buzzed us while we ate lunch but weren’t menacing enough to take seriously.  Here the mountain stream was a whitewater torrent loaded with silt, more mesmerizing than calming.  I lost myself in it for a while.

My joints had seized up during the break so it wasn’t easy getting going again.  All the same, I set a steady pace on the way out and enjoyed every minute of it.  Another wave of endorphins helped, as did the ibuprofen when it finally kicked in.  Matika stayed ten yards in front of me.  The warm spring air made it easy to daydream.  I thanked my lucky stars for living in Vermont and being able to slip into the Green Mountains this way pretty much at will.  I’m fully aware the hard hiking through the woods is luxury that few people enjoy.  At my age it isn’t easy, but the dull aches are a small price to pay.  Yeah, I’m a lucky stiff.

One response so far

One Response to “Hiking Hard”

  1. Deedee Burnsideon 15 May 2009 at 8:59 am 1

    Yeah, you are a lucky stiff!!