as published in Conway Daily Sun
My favorite annual hike is the Moat range, south to north. South Moat is usually pretty well travelled, and you might meet a half dozen people or more who take the relatively short round trip hike up and back to the base on Passaconaway Road. As fellow hikers turn around to head back down, I like to head north on the lonely trail from the summit and continue over to Middle Moat for a lunch break and a good view of my entire playground that is the valley. My favorite section is the saddle that heads forever down the north side of Middle moat and deep into the woods. This section is so seldom travelled that fallen trees often cross the path – an extra challenge we do not really need on such a long hike. “They” should maintain this trail better – when we get home, we should complain to someone. This section is hell – no wonder it is so lightly travelled. Like a restless child on a long road trip, I start asking myself “are we there yet?” I whine and complain that this path will never end and when it does, it is all uphill for the next couple of hours. I hate hiking. When the heck did I become the outdoor type anyway?! I have so much work I could be doing instead of spending an entire day getting bug bites, sore legs, scratches and bruises. At least the long hike down from North Moat will be pleasant, then a dip in Diana’s Baths and our celebratory dinner and beer on May Kelly’s deck afterward, looking back at the range we just conquered. Yes, focus on the beer at the end of the journey and we will muddle and persevere.
Above a hawk appears, soaring on a current high above. I say hello Hawk, what do you want? I ask the hawk how far is it to the summit? Is it steep? Is anyone up there? Will my legs carry me there? What if I slip and fall on those wet spots on the way down as I did last time? Did I bring enough water? How long has it been? How hot is it anyway? Is the view up there worth the climb? Why do you get to ride a current and get to go much higher than the summit with little effort at all? What do you see that I don’t get to see? The hawk quickly tires of all my questions and swoops out of sight to snatch his own lunch. He reappears shortly and joins me on my walk. He hops from tree top to tree top, accompanying me along my hike and now he’s the one doing all the talking. He tells me I worry too much about the future and enjoy too little about the present. My hike is much like my life. Setting goals is great, being attached to the outcome, trying to control the process through which you reach them and living in the future only makes the goals harder to reach and you miss the journey, which was the most beautiful part.
I have heard this message before, but never from a talking hawk. I heed his advice. This section is so seldom travelled that fallen trees often cross the path - it’s fun to decide if we should climb over a large tree or crawl under it. Either way, I will rip my clothing and get covered in mud – this will later serve as evidence that we had fun this day. As I descend into the deep woods on a very narrow path the woods become exceptionally beautiful, the trees exceptionally green, a million greens actually. The forest floor along with every stump, log and rock covered in a thick carpet of moss, convinces me that this is a magical land where fairies and gnomes live in great numbers. You never see them of course and there are a thousand reasons for that as I have explained to my nieces and nephews over the years. I’ve come to believe my own stories. This is the prettiest path of the entire day. It may be the prettiest path of any of my hikes so far throughout the White Mountains. Somewhere in the silence, (gnomes are very quiet), the solitude, the infinite forms of life in every direction, something magical comes alive in me.
The departure from the deep woods is accompanied by the incline representing life’s challenges that are completely attainable and actually fun to tackle when you have the right attitude. Having gone too far to turn back and still having several hours to go, I feel the worry that shows up in business, investment, projects and relationships when we feel we have past the point of no return. Face the fear and forge ahead, suffering is optional. North Moat has a false summit that tricks me every time. When you think you are finally there, you look up to see another summit. Another metaphor for life, but if this were the summit, then we would have reached our peak and have nothing to do but go downhill. I decide to rejoice in the fact that I get to go to another peak before this adventure is over.
Life, work, business, relationships are like a hike in the mountains. There are dark sections, tough sections, flat easy sections you can walk right through. There are highs and lows, an occasional blueberry patch as a sweet surprise and some slippery spots that cause injuries, such is life. In life, it is important that we watch for the gnomes, listen to the hawk, embrace the roadblocks and false summits, so that when we get to our celebration at the end, we know we did it all. We did it well. We earned our beer and our rest.