Sometimes growing beyond the status-quo means going out of our way to engage with people in new circles, traversing new trails. Rising before sunrise and driving along the Mountain Parkway of Kentucky through fog banks hanging over sleepy farmlands and forests awaiting the forecast of a winter freeze, the soft entry to a perfect Saturday for wilderness hiking was as silent as the odometer on my car turning over its 100,000th mile.
(It had to happen eventually, considering the country had been crossed a few times in the small SUV over the past year and a half!) The only things missing were the wet noses and anxious surveillance of my hiking dogs, who’d been left behind on this particular day. They usually took turns perched on the arm rest next to my driver’s seat, as if to try and guess our next destination. (I’ll make it up to them soon, but in this new group, dogs were not a part of the initial invitation—-a condition I’ll have to weigh in the future, since they are as much a part of my life on the road and adventuring as a companion might have been.)
Even so, I’m thankful for an opportunity to get out and wander in the woods, crossing streams, climbing switchbacks, and pausing to take pictures of flora and fauna before the weather turns inclement. There are also new people to meet and stories to hear–no better combination of recreation and socialization to balance a monastic lifestyle of rural living and contemplation coming to an end, as life takes another transitional turn.
I don’t really want to talk. I don’t want to look behind me…..only forward and away down the path I see ahead. I want to hike quickly, finding the rhythm and rush of adrenaline, but today my steps are tempered by those I am just learning about, whose pace is slower. I resist the temptation to miss the familiar cadence of those with whom I’ve hiked before, including the excitement of my two dogs who are not with me. It is all good, I tell myself, and try to smile and enjoy the varied terrain. Another day I’ll blaze ahead. Today I am learning to listen and match my step to others.
At the end of the hike there is champagne and chocolate to share. I’m not in the mood. I drink water, eat my yogurt and apple and smile. It’s nice to hear people laugh and banter as friends, secure in their group, yet hospitable to a newcomer like me. I am thankful, but I want to move ahead, not stand still.
Another day I’ll hike with the dogs I’m missing. Today was about risking new trails among new friends…..a day of discovery…..and yet, I’m glad to drive back home to the familiar, to warmth and the peaceful routine of brushing my horse, cleaning her stall, refilling her water trough, and then bathing two very muddy dogs (who made up for not hiking by running across saturated fields and digging for voles.)