The Family Edition, Volume One: Tucker Brook Forest, Milford NH.

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It was a damp and dreary Black Friday.

A large portion of America spent the day elbowing their way through crowded stores and sitting in parking lot traffic. To each their own…but I didn’t want to spend the holiday weekend in the company of social anxiety and consumerism. So, despite the cold and the rain, my brother, my sister-in-law, their 1 year old baby, 3 year old border collie and I suited up, packed up, and set out for Tucker Brook Falls, Milford NH.

As we got ready to enter the trailhead, Quenton (the baby) was not thrilled to be bundled into his little bear suit and tucked into his pack. We figured as we got moving he would settle in, so with the grumpiest (but cutest) bear cub in the forest, we made our way into the trees.

Not even 10 minutes in, and Q was fast asleep.

The rain was fairly light and the tree cover kept us dry. The trails were covered in wet leaves, but luckily Cameron (my brother) had taken his mountain bike through the area more than once. So we trooped along, heading for the waterfall along the brook.

Then, my phone did that stupid thing where it dies every time I try to take a picture. Fortunately, Tanya (my sister-in-law) happens to be a successful and talented photographer (check out her page!).

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We passed through the falls and deeper into the forest. Tanya shares my child-like admiration of all things in nature, and we “oohed” at strange trees and  giggled at oddly placed little bridges. We talked travel plans out west, and Cameron spent a fairly decent amount of time trying to convince us to get mountain bikes. Katie (the border collie) happily sniffed along, and Quenton stayed passed out with his face smushed against the rain cover of his pack. The trails were well-marked, and each time we arrived at a map, we opted to hike further, enjoying having the whole place to ourselves. We made our way to the highest point and looped around to a connecting trail.

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As the rain picked up and Q started to stir, we mapped out our route back. Planning to hike in the rain is completely different than getting caught in it, and it was more enjoyable than I expected it to be. With our feet dry and the baby dry, we didn’t really care if we got a little wet. Besides, November is characterized by clouds and raw and damp, and we all agreed that we liked it that way.

Back at the car, we unloaded and blasted the heat. We were all smiles, especially Q, who got to pretend to drive the car for a little bit. Today was a reminder that positivity is something you pack and bring with you, and I’m so grateful to have family that never hikes without it. After my previous hike, I was feeling like a part of me and this experience was lost. Sometimes, even more so than solitude, the right people remind you of exactly who you are.

And how can you possibly frown with these two goobers around? (they were having fun, I promise)

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Final thoughts: Rain-shmain. Two hours in the woods>two hours in a stupid mall. Babies and dogs make everything happier. Always carry a backup professional photographer. 

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Hike On By – Doane Falls, MA.

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I’d like to make honesty the core of this post.  I don’t want to do this if it isn’t going to be authentic. I don’t want to omit or falsify any experiences. I’m writing this with a side of liquid courage (it’s Saturday, so whatever) and I promise to be as truthful to you as I am to myself.

The drive out to this location added to the magic–it was an easy hour of winding backroads through small town centers and sprawling farmland. I typically suffer from unrelenting road rage, but today I genuinely enjoyed being in the car. I placed all of my faith in my GPS and hoped for the best. Luckily, I arrived exactly where I wanted to be.

This entire week felt like a failure. I caved into the emotional dependency that I’ve avidly tried to escape, and I can’t shake the feeling that I’ve let myself down. I intended for this project to be sacred and private, but I willingly let the very person in that I’ve been trying to keep out.

As I write this, I grapple with the idea that even though I’ve permitted him into this mental space, that I still have the ownership of my own experiences and my own solitude. I’ve become primitively protective of my experience, and the thought of anyone taking it from me sends me into this intense mode of mother bear-esque behavior. This is mine.

Doubts aside, I parked my car and followed the sounds of water. The falls were much closer than I expected, and they greeted me as soon as I stepped onto the trail.

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Feeling a bit giddy, I tried to get as close to the water as I could. The trails were lined with “thou shall not pass” (not really, but pretty much) signs and strange roping. Keeping with the theme of honesty…I completely ignored all of the signs.  As soon as I found the right spot, I dipped beneath the roping and carefully made my descent to the bottom. It was slippery, probably dangerous, and abso-fucking-lutely worth it.

I continued along the bank and climbed onto rocks that jutted out onto the water. The sun was lowering into the sky and made the water twinkle.  I went up and down the small slopes that led me to and from the edge of the water, carefully placing my boots and walking stick into each welcoming groove.

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The rest was perfect. The temperature hit 60 and I was able to hike 2.5 more miles. I made my way past the falls and through to the bike trails, taking my time in my race against the setting sun. I never felt lost or unsure, and my trek back to the car was seamless.

So, why the feeling of uncertainty?

The whole point of this was to reclaim a space in my brain, and I guess I’m feeling like I failed at that. As hard as I tried to quiet my mind, I didn’t succeed. I left with the same thoughts I entered with.

However, I did it alone. I drove alone and I walked alone, and I slipped on a mossy rock and panicked alone. I drank in the sunshine alone and I fought with myself alone. I left alone, and I’m alone now. There is some success in that.

These waterfalls don’t give a shit about my romantic life, or any other aspect of my life for that matter. They’re just there and they keep going, regardless of what happens around them (aside from our severe lack of concern for the environment–but I won’t go there right now). They offer beauty and perspective and ask for nothing in return. There is a lesson to be learned in that.

I’m not sure what the week ahead will bring, but I hope it’s lonelier. Thanksgiving will bring family and friends, but I hope it brings peace in independence along too. I miss me and I want to get back to me. I don’t know if that makes much sense, but it’s the only way I know how to say it.

Final thoughts: Sometimes, it’s okay to ignore the signs. Protect what’s yours. Acknowledge the bad days and plan for better ones. DO go chasin’ waterfalls (sorry, TLC). 

 

 

The Meredith Edition, Volume One: Forest Bells, MA.

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Hiking alone is pretty great, but hiking with your soul sister is even better.

Meredith and I have been best friends since age 5. Childhood friends tend to grow apart, but we grew together. We’ve been through everything. Meredith is also a single female. She is fiercely independent, brilliant, and really loves a good hike.

So we threw on our casual weekend dad uniforms and set out to find the Forest Bells– massive wind chimes located in the woods of Groton, MA. The trail directions seemed simple enough, and so we happily crunched along through the leaves in the hazy afternoon sunshine.

When we got to the first “obvious fork” we were looking for, we realized the directions weren’t so simple. What is an obvious fork? Are there subtle forks? All forks should be addressed when giving directions. So, we went right and continued our happy crunching.

After a while, we realized we hadn’t reached our next landmark. We went back to the directions. Did we go the wrong way? We decided to backtrack to the obvious fork and go the other way. “This is right”, we thought, “now we’re on the right path”.

Crunch, crunch, “men suck”, crunch, “work sucks”, crunch, “I should dye my hair purple”, crunch.

Still no landmark. Back to the fork. The other direction. We were looking for a group of fallen trees barring an old road leading uphill to the “right”. We didn’t see any trees, but we decided we had found the old road, so we followed it. We didn’t mind that our trip was a bit of a zigzag. The afternoon was perfect, and we were both in need of a heaping dose of the outdoors. In New England, autumn happens in the snap of a finger if you don’t stop to look at it. We were just happy to be in the company of mother nature and one another.

Still determined to find those damn wind chimes, though.

Pretty soon we found ourselves practically in a marsh, unsure of which move to make next. Then, we heard them. The sound echoed from our right as if we were right there. We couldn’t see anything. We couldn’t see a path to get to them. But, we knew we were close. So we marched backwards, convinced that we would find them if we went back to our original direction.

We began looking for a “grove of hemlocks, quite different from the pines and oaks all around”. We walked along, shouting out our questions to the trees.

“Is this considered and old road?”

“How will I know if I’m in a grove?”

“What’s a hemlock look like? Should we know that?”

Thank god for google. We crunched on, when suddenly we found ourselves beneath massive power lines and heading towards a street with houses on it. Where the hell were these freaking chimes? Why were we so obsessed with finding them, anyway?  We laughed at our situation, seeing as it doesn’t get anymore typical “white girl” than getting lost in the woods trying to find huge wind chimes. We turned around again, determined this time to study the trees. “Hemlock groves”, we thought, “we’ll know it when we see it”.

 

This is where we were when we finally asked for help. We came across an older woman walking her dog. The dog was friendly, so we assumed the human was, too.  “We’re looking for the Forest Bells?” I wondered if it were obvious we were a little lost. “Oh, they’re right over there!” she said, pointing a little further ways in the distance. “There’s six chimes. And there’s tee pees”.

She told us to follow that dirt path and take a left. How had we missed it? We picked up the pace and followed her directions. We took the side trail and before we knew it, there was a tee pee. We saw a chime hanging from a tree. Success.

We walked inside the tee pees and pulled on the chimes. The sound was powerful yet soothing. You’re never too old to look for secret things hidden in the woods. We each added a stick to one of the tee pees to leave our mark and took some time to look around.

In the end, we were thankful we couldn’t find the chimes right away.  It forced us into exploring the area and spending more time in the woods. We got to spend more time together. That’s the whole point, isn’t it?

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Our exit from the woods was smooth and pleasant. I know we both wished the afternoons lasted longer this time of year, but we were thankful to catch the late afternoon sun before it set for the evening. We made our plans to come back in the winter. We’re looking forward to snowfall.

Final thoughts: Everything is better with your best friend–even getting lost. You never really feel “single” when you’ve already found your soulmate at 5 years old.  Love is love is love is love. Never stop searching for the giant-ass wind chimes (real or metaphorical). It’s worth it. 

Just Hike Heaven – The Knob in Woodshole, MA.

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If my last documented hike was purgatory…this was definitely heaven.

The Knob is arguably one of the best hidden gems in all of New England, let alone down the cape.  I hike to the Knob at least once a year (sometimes twice, or even three times). I grew up spending my summers in Falmouth. There is salt water in my soul and it seeps out of my pores.

One of the luxuries of living in New England is being able to hike and go to the beach in the same day. The Knob allows you to do it in a single trip. It’s entry is located in the mouth of Quissett Harbor, tucked behind rural streets of Woodshole, MA.

I’d been looking forward to this hike all week. To call it a week of political unrest would be a severe understatement. Stressors on small and massive scales were only kept at bay with the knowledge that I would soon be by the sea, and everything would be okay.

As I made my way up the path, I was reminded of the magic of having the earthy-crunchy beauty of the woods on my right and the serenity of the ocean on my left. It is a cosmic combination of my two favorite worlds, and each time it leaves me in a state of peaceful wonder.

The smell of salt ocean water mixes with the smell of dead leaves and earth, creating such an intoxicating aromatic cocktail that I felt it even in my knees. It forced me to slow down. The closer you get to the Knob, the louder the sound of the ocean gets, finding you through the trees.

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It’s like crossing through a portal; like falling down the rabbit hole or finding Narnia in the closet. You’re instantly transported from one world to another, and before you lies a path to this unusual peninsula. Instead of going straight to the Knob, I decided to take the staircase of rocks down to the empty beach.

Part of me longed for summer and my bathing suit so I could plunge into the ocean. I walked right up to the shoreline and looked down at my hiking boots, imagining my freshly manicured toes.

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After a quiet few moments among the rocks, I decided to head towards the Knob. A winding dirt path connects you between land and sea, and as you ascend to the top, it feels as if you’re walking on water.

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The wind whipped at my face so hard that my eyes were watering, and there were two teenaged girls at the top that wouldn’t stop giggling and bouncing around…but it still wasn’t enough to degrade the beauty of the view.

I never feel truly alone when I’m down the cape, especially when I am by the ocean.  There is so much love and positive energy from my loved ones, alive and deceased, that surrounds me the second I drive over the Bourne Bridge. The best parts of myself and my life exist there, and taking a moment of solitude to be fully present in that energy truly did feel like heaven. It is heaven.

I took my time walking back along the beach, trying to remain as present as possible. Anxious thoughts and unwelcome people were trying to push their way into my brain, but I fought against them in order to protect my most sacred space. I climbed on top of a large rock right along the shoreline and sat cross-legged with my back straight. I placed both hands on my knees and began focusing on my breathing. I allowed the rise and fall of my chest to sync with the waves and anchored myself. I recognized my thoughts as just noise, my regrets of the past and worries of the future as just passing through. Back to breathing. Just the waves.

When I opened my eyes (after maybe only 5-10 minutes), I felt like I had just woken up from a long nap.  I felt fresh, and I was so thankful to open my eyes to the ocean and the Knob. The sunshine felt warmer and my mind was clear. With that, I said goodbye to the sea as I always do, and headed back towards the trail. I felt the satisfaction I was looking for. The trees welcomed me back to the other side of the portal:

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I always feel a little sad when I have to leave the cape, and this time was no different.  I knew the world I was going back to was uneasy and a little lost, but I felt like this hike gave me the perspective to face it. I was even able to ignore the dreaded and useless “I miss you” text (there is nothing more frustrating) and move on with my day. That’s progress.

Final thoughts: Heaven exists, and you can go there anytime you want. Just don’t let useless mental noise-garbarge ruin it for you. Also, people that tell you they miss you but make zero effort to change or see you are selfish and manipulative–cast them out to sea. 

She Hikes To Angels – Purgatory Falls, NH.

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The idea of purgatory — being stuck in between — is exactly where I find myself these days.  I’m far from where I’ve been, but not quite where I want to go. Uncertainty can be terrifying, but often times, much like Purgatory Falls, can be a place of peaceful stillness.

These trails were the perfect way to celebrate the weekend. My week was long, and even though I had the opportunity to hike Watatic twice and the sculpture park again, I found myself feeling fatigued and frustrated. I needed something new; an experience that I could take single ownership of.  I ventured out alone to find these remote waterfalls–I entered into purgatory alone.

First, my GPS took me to the complete wrong location.  With no cellphone service, I zipped around wooded dirt roads, not even sure what I was looking for.  I almost turned around and gave up, succumbing to the anxiety of feeling lost. I pulled over in front of an abandoned farm house, got some service, did some research, and set out again, determined to find my trail.

The entry was small and deserted–no signs, no maps, no trail information. I hopped out of the jeep, chose a direction, and started walking. With no map and only a brief understanding of my whereabouts, I felt a wave of dis-ease. I turned around and walked back to the road. At that moment, the idea of actually getting in the car and giving up felt like failure. My fellow A-type personalities will understand that this is unacceptable. I marched right back to the trail and tried again.

Crunch, breathe. Crunch breathe. Crunch, breathe. Then,  I could hear the water.

It was like Jurassic Park: giant rocks covered with moss among low hanging trees. The waterfall poured in the background, and smaller rocks sprawled across the river like perfectly placed stepping stones. The late afternoon sun made the water twinkle. Relief.

I climbed around and sat at the top of the waterfall. I hiked further and higher, mentally noting landmarks and making sure I’d know my way back.

I met a secret pool, a blue jay, and the brightest pile of red and orange leaves I’ve ever seen.

Purgatory can leave you feeling paralyzed, but this is just an illusion. I’ve decided to keep moving, and even though it might take a while, whether in short steps or giant strides, I think I’ll eventually come unstuck. We too often believe that taking the next step alone is too risky, and that we should wait for someone to go with us. Don’t wait. You don’t need anyone.

Keep crunching and breathing, babes.

I Hike It Like That -Sunbeams in Slow Motion (Mount Watatic Part II)

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And then it was November.

I went back to Mount Watatic today, and it was my best hike to date.  The sun was warm and the air was fairly still.  I arrived at the mountain shortly before 3pm and practically ran out of the car and onto the trail.  I was hungry for it.

Because it was such a beautiful afternoon, the mountain was busier than just a week ago.  There was a young couple close behind me, and I eventually pulled over to let them pass. The girl was especially chatty, which normally wouldn’t have bothered me, but my mind was already cluttered and I was desperate for the silence.  I needed my hike to be peaceful and serene.

This was my first hike of the week that had any significant sunshine, and it made the leaves glow. I took my time on the way up, pausing to stop and look back at the trail behind me.  I felt like I needed to freeze time. I didn’t want to go back down and return to whatever I was running away from.  I wanted to climb forever.

Each time I tried to take a picture, my phone died. This is why I only have one picture of the half way mark. At first I was frustrated, but then I accepted it as some kind of sign.  I focused on taking as many mental pictures as I could.

If you’re ever in the middle of an existential crisis and unsure of why you’re alive, hike to the top of a mountain on a sunny autumnal afternoon in New England. Let the sublime and picturesque remind you that you are made of the earth and that beauty only serves the purpose of being beautiful. There is nothing else.

These thoughts were put aside when I came across an older couple taking pictures of one another against the back drop. Without hesitation, I offered to take a picture of them together. They were grateful and offered to return the favor. We all chuckled at my solitude. The man made a witty comment. Normally, I would have felt awkward in this situation.

I was not only completely comfortable to be alone, but I was proud. 

Eventually, the other hikers began making their way down leaving me with the mountain to myself. I sat cross legged and with my head like a sprinkler, scanned like a panorama and absorbed every inch of skyline before me. I wanted to take a picture and share it with the world, while simultaneously wanting to keep it a secret just for me. In that moment it was my mountain.

The trek down was the best part. I took the long way down, which features windy trails with trees that overhang like canopies.  As 4pm approached, the sun began to pour through the cracks of foliage like jet streams–I think they call this “god’s light”.  At one point, I actually picked up a handful of leaves, held it up to my face and inhaled deeply. I sang the songs stuck in my head. I grinned at the sky.

Tonight, I feel corny and wonderful. I miss the mountain and wish I were there now, even though it’s cold and dark. I wish I was bundled up and gazing at the stars. I’ve got that feeling like I’ve just gone on a date with the perfect guy. It’s warm and exciting and I’ve even started making big plans in my mind. Instead of an elaborate wedding, I’m mentally planning to shave my head, quit my job, and hike the entire Appalachian trail.