Mine Falls Park, NH.

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I hadn’t initially planned on hiking today, but when the sun started peeking through the trees and the temperature climbed to almost 60, I knew I had to get out.

You could hardly consider this trip a hike, but I set out to make the most of the park and challenge myself wherever I could. Most of it felt like a leisurely walk, but I veered off onto as many side trails as possible.

I’d never done this hike before, so I didn’t know what to expect. I entered near a boat ramp and an old mill building.  For the first few minutes I just walked around and looked, getting my bearings/sense of direction.  I had a map in my pack just incase, but decided to go with a path that looked the most popular.

The trails were wide and ran along a pond which turned into a narrow canal.  There were other hikers, walkers, runners and mountain bikers. I saw young couples, older couples, and even some dogs (the superior species).  My first venture off the path brought me closer to the pond. As I neared the bank, I saw a massive great blue heron about 50ft ahead. I tried to make as little noise as possible, but it heard me and flew over to other side of the pond. I was the only one that saw it.

I continued on the main path along the water, keeping my eyes peeled for more side trails. I found one that took me deeper into the woods. The smell of the leaves was potent and intoxicating. It smelled like Halloween–like childhood. At this point I’d been hiking for about an hour. I came back to the bridge on the main trail and crossed, deciding I would make my way back. This trail was narrow and slightly more challenging. It brought me to a deck that crossed over the pond. I had this trail to myself, and was thankful for the solitude. It’s not that I dislike seeing people, especially happy faces of those enjoying the outdoors, but there is something about being alone in nature that I just cannot get enough of lately. I would have started skipping, if I didn’t think I’d trip over a tree root and ruin the whole experience.

Today, I went somewhere new by myself.  I’m finding it difficult to capture in words how empowering this feels.  All I can do is urge you to try it, especially if you’re single and looking for fulfillment in your independence. I know it’s scary to do things alone–maybe you even just feel awkward or silly. It doesn’t have to be a hike, either. Go to the movies alone, or even to your favorite restaurant. Your relationship with yourself deserves to be nurtured just as much as your relationships with family, friends, and significant others.

Also–it’s fucking awesome doing whatever the hell you want on your own god damn terms.

P.s. Here’s my best “blue steel” on the trail today —

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What an idiot.

Love Hikes In – Art Part II

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This time, I brought a map.

The weather had been rainy and raw all morning, and I was worried that I’d end up trapped inside all weekend.  I moped around, periodically checking out the window, growing more and more restless in my legs and mind.

Finally, around 3pm, the skies had dried enough for me. I printed out a map of the sculpture park and decided to go back, destined to find the mosaic panels I’d missed on my last hike. The air was still damp and foggy, but felt fitting for the weekend before Halloween.

When I stepped out of the car and felt the familiar crunch beneath my boots, I felt like I could finally take my first breath of the day.  With a long exhale, I released all of the negative energy from the morning. I decided that my thoughts of one particular individual were not allowed here. He wasn’t allowed here. I’d already made the mistake of sharing too much with him. This was mine.

I began making my way to the summit with my map in hand, carefully checking each trail for the art I was looking for.  With the name of the piece and it’s corresponding number on the map, I knew I couldn’t miss it. I wasn’t going to leave until I found it. When I reached the top, the view was limited with a low layer of clouds and mist covering the mountains. Even still, my mind was clear, and that was all that mattered.

I was once again faced with the decision of which path to take. According to the map, there were multiple trails I could take that would lead me to my desired destination. I chose the trail my gut had steered me from last time, and pushed forward.

Within seconds, I could see the panels. I couldn’t believe I had missed it.  It was right there. I broke into an awkward little jog. I let out a sound that was a combination of a laugh and a sigh of relief (that’s one perk of hiking alone — no one had to see how stupid I looked in that moment). I came up behind the sculpture and slowly made my way around the ground beneath it. I’m not sure why I was building this moment up so much for myself, but I felt like I had to. I turned and faced it.

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I followed the familiar directions and sat on the stone stool, gazing at the panels.  The only sound around me was that of a few rain droplets dripping from leaf to leaf on their way to the ground.  I picked up some of the paper notes other visitors had left behind.  Some were sad, some were encouraging, some religiously-charged.  Fragile and soggy from the rain, I carefully placed them back under the rocks where I found them.  For a moment, I’d wished I’d brought paper and something to write with. Instead, I told the panels my problem(s). My voice sounded foreign as it broke the silence.  “I’m leaving you here”, I said, “it’s all done now”.

Feeling a little awkward, I stood up and looked around.  I’m in no way a religious individual, but I had faith in “Windows into Big Bear Mountain”. I needed to believe that I had somehow absolved myself of the toxic relationship I was letting go of. I put him out of my mind and started making my way back.  I stopped at a few more sculptures, running my hands over the smooth chunks of granite.  All of my senses felt heightened. The high eased in slowly.

Finally feeling at peace with my mind and body, I’d realized how seldom I had felt that way over the past few months.  When you allow yourself to be consumed by another person, sometimes you don’t realize the overwhelming effect they can have on your general well-being.

Maybe I’m just replacing an old addiction with a new one, but this one sure feels a hell of a lot better.

Lessons learned: Maps are cool. Have faith in whatever you choose. Nigerian panel sculptures make great therapists.

Hike, Hike Baby – Andres Institute of Art Brookline, NH.

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When art coexists with nature, the results are surreal and whimsical.  A sculpture park was an intensely satisfying fix for my craving.

This hike was physically simpler than my first, but provided more of a mental challenge. There is a larger amount of trail options, and, if one chooses to take part, the element of art appreciation and analysis. Although I had done this hike before, I was eager to do it with a different purpose.

I decided on the summit loop with the intention of seeing as much of the park as I could. There were also a few pieces that I remembered from previous trips and wanted to see again, and tried my best from just memory to find them.  There was one sculpture in particular that I had my heart set on: a set of mosaic panes that you’re supposed to sit and meditate in front of, like a secret church in the woods.

I made my way to the summit and admired the view. The 3 o’clock sun was just peeking through the clouds, spilling shadow and texture into every leaf.  Clarity. A cleansing.

Unsure of which path to take back, I was faced with the decision between multiple trails. I took advantage of the metaphor and I went with my gut. Of course, I did not come across the sculpture panes I was looking for. Fighting back the thoughts of self-doubt, I enjoyed the rest of the hike and vowed to go back again soon to find it. I came across more sculptures I hadn’t seen before. These strange carvings of stone scattered about the woods create what feels like a different world altogether. It’s as if the art was supposed to be there, as organic and natural as a maple tree. That was enough to be thankful for.

The afterglow of this hike was slow and dreamy; like a day after the beach. Food and wine and sleep felt well-deserved.

The happiness felt well-deserved.

Hike It Out – Mount Watatic Ashburnham, MA.

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Well, we’ve all got to start somewhere.

At 9:30 on a Monday night, the idea planted itself in my thoughts with an unwavering certainty.

You’re going on a hike tomorrow.

At 6:30 on Tuesday morning as I got my things together for work, I grabbed my hiking boots, my hiking stick, packed a quick pack, and threw it all into the back hatch of my jeep. My plan was to change at work and hit the mountain before I went home.

A handful of my loved ones expressed their concern about me hiking alone – after all, the news hasn’t been encouraging as of late (especially for young females engaging in outdoor recreational activities). I understood their hesitations, but told them that I didn’t want to let fear keep me from doing things alone. As a single female, there is a heightened level of risk involved in all activities.

On my drive over to the mountain, the self-doubt set in. What if something goes wrong? Is this really safe? Maybe I should just turn around. An unknown source of determination tuned it out. When I parked my jeep and took a final deep breath, I noticed an elderly woman making her way towards the trail alone. That was all I needed.

The crunch of the leaves beneath my boots and the bite of the afternoon autumn air jolted my senses like a shot of caffeine. With clarity and awareness I moved forward, fighting frequent feelings to turn back.

I recognized the halfway mark from previous hikes and stopped to take a drink of water. The self-doubt was replaced with heavy breaths and an open view of the trees and skyline. Even on a cloudy afternoon, the colors were spectacular.

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Within a few minutes of the summit, I picked up the pace.  This was my first physical mountain of the day, and I was still reeling from the metaphorical mountain I had climbed earlier (heart break is exhausting).  I dug my heels into the earth and put my thighs to work. It burned like a shot of whiskey.

My arrival at the summit was quiet and demure. I had expected to feel an intense rush of confidence and adrenaline, but instead felt humbled by my own solitude. I gingerly sat on a rock formation and closed my eyes. When I opened them, I realized a few snow flurries dancing in the air around me. The gusts of wind were sporadic and brisk. I stood up, put both of my middle fingers in the air, announced “fuck you” in an even tone, and began my descent to the base.

The high didn’t set in, oddly enough, until I reached the bottom of the mountain. I marched back to my car with my head tilted back toward the sky. I wished for no company other than my own.  An addiction was born. It’s first words:

Let’s do it again tomorrow.