(Re)Discovering Old Trails


Me, all geared up to hike in 1987.

Admitting this could get me in trouble, but the other day I hit the trail by myself without a map, compass, water bottle, or any of the other 10 Essentials. I had just a vague plan to run on a certain trail for a while.

Before we go too far, I'll explain that the trail was in a Connecticut state forest just a few miles from the home I grew up in, not atop some remote peaks or across vast wilderness. I told someone where I was headed (generally) and about how long I'd be gone. And I'd been on parts of the trail many times before, though not recently.

Turns out, it was a lot more fun running around in the woods by myself with no real objective other than to run around, than it sometimes is on a well-planned trail run or hike. I couldn't tune out my surroundings, but had to notice where I was going and how I'd get back (if not for survival, then to spare some embarrassment). I backtracked. I made choices. I tuned in. I wished I hadn't left the the hip belt for my water bottle in Maine, so I could run farther.

While the area was familiar, I didn't know exactly what lay ahead or how far away. It felt more like exploring than simply running or hiking, more fun.

I was surprised by cliffs and boulders (I'd incorrectly assumed I'd nostalgically inflated any ruggedness), had to stay aware of trail intersections and random paths that came and went (I remembered some, discovered others), and I remembered.

I remembered not just the trail and its twists and turns, but the experience. Because this is what I did as a kid on these very trails and in other woods. As a kid, I climbed up the trail I "discovered" and looked for blue blazes and turns till I found the cave that I'd heard about. I scrambled up rocks to an overlook. I'd come back and do it again, going farther or in another direction at an intersection.

As a kid, I played it by ear until it was time to go home. I wore sneakers and cotton (check out the picture above), and I didn't realize that maybe I should have a map, water, a plan.

If I had planned my run the other day with a map, the right gear, a goal in mind, it still would have been a nice run or hike — probably a longer, more impressive run or hike — but it would have lost some of its sense of wonder. I doubt I'd have been quite as tuned in to the here-and-now experience.

I'm not suggesting anyone ditch safety precautions and maps, or be unprepared or irresponsible, especially on more taxing hikes. (In fact, I've been searching for a good trail map of that area since my run, so I can go farther next time.)

But I did emerge from the woods with some extra mud and scratches and a better consciousness of where I'd been, both that day and as a kid.


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Comments

CoyotePacker
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June 8, 2011 at 7:17 a.m. (EDT)

Nice article!  I did something similar this past summer when visiting my parents at the camp grounds that they usually go to every year.  Good times :-).

FromSagetoSnow
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June 8, 2011 at 9:21 a.m. (EDT)

Fun entry Alicia!

When my kids ask how I learned this or that about the outside I always respond that it is the fruit of a mis-spent youth.  Evidently we had similar experiences, and it looks like, at the same period in time. 

The question for me is, how can I give similar opportunities to my kids in this era? How my parents ever let me hike a 68 mi. section of the PCT with a school buddy at 15 yrs old is beyond me. 

gonzan
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June 8, 2011 at 9:23 a.m. (EDT)

Thanks for this post, Alicia. It is a wonderful example of one of the things that make trailspace so great: a down to earth, practical, unpretentious, instantly-relatable and infectious enthusiasm.

Simply exploring and letting curiousity lead you to whatever you may find is one of the most fun and rewarding things for me when I get outside. It is so wonderful, and I don't do that nearly enough! 

It really does make you much more observant, interested, and engaged. It is one of the things I love about caving, but unfortunately the nearly universal issue surrounding WNS make it all but impossible to do that now.

gonzan
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June 8, 2011 at 9:30 a.m. (EDT)

FromSagetoSnow said:

Fun entry Alicia!

When my kids ask how I learned this or that about the outside I always respond that it is the fruit of a mis-spent youth.  Evidently we had similar experiences, and it looks like, at the same period in time. 

The question for me is, how can I give similar opportunities to my kids in this era? How my parents ever let me hike a 68 mi. section of the PCT with a school buddy at 15 yrs old is beyond me. 

 I think about this as well, My two older brothers and I had just about free reign of about 6 square miles of hills and woods to roam growing up. I think that kind of exprerience is invaluable, and want my kids to be able to do that. And I don't even have kids yet :)

Alicia
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June 8, 2011 at 1:53 p.m. (EDT)

Thanks, everyone. I'm glad you enjoyed the article, and that you all identified with it too!

I was thinking about the freedoms of youth while writing it. In hindsight I wonder if my freedom was farther reaching than for kids today, or if it just felt like it was. Probably a mixed bag.

I try to give my kids some similar senses of freedom and exploration too. You want them to be safe and prepared, but you can't be a helicopter parent.

I wonder what we and others would think if we happened upon some pre-teen(s) out in the woods by themselves now. I hope we'd be encouraging. It's sad to think that many kids aren't allowed to just go outside, play, explore, and even be bored at times.

whomeworry
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June 8, 2011 at 8:29 p.m. (EDT)

FromSagetoSnow said:

..The question for me is, how can I give similar opportunities to my kids in this era? How my parents ever let me hike a 68 mi. section of the PCT with a school buddy at 15 yrs old is beyond me. 

Teach them how to conduct themselves without supervision, then stop being a helicopter parent!  Review their plan before they depart, and make sure they have contingency plans too.  Learn to let go, the world is really just as safe (or dangerous) as it was two generations ago, yetwe somehow survived with just a fraction of the oversight.  As Alicia alludes in her reply, our generation are a bunch of control freaks when it comes to parenting.

Ed

gonzan
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June 9, 2011 at 9:01 a.m. (EDT)

I know the question for me revolves more around providing them with constatnt phsysical proximity to nature like I had. It was literally right out my back door, as it appears it was for Alicia and Sage as well. I don't think I will have any trouble giving and encouraging freedom to roam in nature...if it is present. Guessing from the activities Sage introduces his kids to, I figure he's a pretty relaxed yet responsible dad. Unfortunately, most kids these days don't have a forest or even pastural landscape to play in, just endless lines of ticky-tacky houses on ticky-tacky little streets.

Last Sunday our extended family had a birthday party for one of the kids at a park on the lake. It made my day when my Aunt let her 6 year old play in the creek and get soaked and dirty! She's one of those awesome moms that knows dirt, trees, and creeks are meant to be played in.  

FromSagetoSnow
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June 9, 2011 at 9:55 a.m. (EDT)

Thanks for the gentle push Ed.  Being a cop for a few years REALLY tuned me in to the nasty side of people.  I still don't know how I survived my youth but if I did so can my small army of clones. 

 

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