Wednesday, June 19, 2013

67 in 67, Hike #1: Killington

Hike #1: Killington
Elevation: 4,235 feet
Date: October 6, 2012
Location: Killington, VT
Distance: 8.1 miles
Time: 3:46 (27:53/mile)

Aaah, this stinks. It’s Columbus Weekend, the first weekend in October. Fall foliage season, and we’re in Vermont. I haven’t been able to downhill mountain bike in a long while and love-love-love Killington for this. The mountain is the best one I’ve run across for downhill biking, but it’s shaping up to be a crappy day.

I didn’t have a goal of starting my “67 in 67” this weekend – hiking all sixty-seven of New England’s 4,000-foot mountains over sixty-seven months. But biking down a ski mountain on narrow side trails with rocks and trees rarely is easier when everything’s wet. Given my history of going over the handlebars, ping-ponging off of boulders, damaging both my bike and my body, I’m thinking I should look for something else to do today.

As Sara and I explore our options we find that we can hike Killington, which is five minutes away. Or we can… umm… sit and talk about the lack of other ideas. Killington it is! Game on, let’s start the hiking.

Killington Trailhead, 10/6/12

We geared up, dressed up, and headed out to hike. Standing at the trailhead, taking the obligatory picture, I felt like a newbie. Sure, I’ve hiked before. I’ve done some of the 4,000-footers. But given the goal of 67 in 67, I’m starting the count over. 0 down, 67 to go. Like a mountain, there’s a long way to go. But, as they say, every journey begins with a single step.

Actually, who are “they”? People refer to things “they” say all the time. Is there some secret clan of wise cliché-makers, occasionally pushing out new sayings for inspiration or maybe Hallmark’s benefit? Are we the “they”, but we sound more credible if we aren’t saying “as I, the insightful one, always say…”? Dunno, this’ll be something to ponder as I start walking for hours.

We started off on a pretty flat trail and the weather was only cloudy, so it was easy to be chipper. But as we made the turn onto a trail that would begin ascending Killington, it began to drizzle, which began to cool me off. I knew it would only get worse.

Killington, 10/6/12. Beautiful view.
Foliage ain’t bad, either!

By hiking standards, I knew this wasn’t too bad of a hike. I only had a day pack, not a 30-plus pound backpack. And it was 8.1 miles up and down, which seemed pretty legit. Sara was bee-bopping along, loving it. I think I even heard her humming the Brady Bunch’s “It’s a Sunshine Day”. I was starting to breathe heavier, not wanting to look at my watch to realize we had hours left for today, and years left for this goal. Buyer’s remorse can exist on furniture, cars, and buying into goals, too.

We stopped at a stone hut pretty far up the trail, and had a bite to eat. Fog was rolling in, it was getting colder and windy, and I was getting the bone-deep chill. But after a bite to eat we soldiered on. It was closer to the summit than I’d expected, so there was the happy surprise of finding ourselves topping out fairly quickly. No gratuitous panoramic view, though. Fog was really heavy, and my glasses were instantly unusable, no matter how frequently I wiped them off. Without them, it could’ve been an epic day, but I still would have had trouble. Oh well, the wind’s ferocious, the fog and rain are soaking and chilling me; let’s get the photo op and get off this rock!

Killington Summit, 10/6/12
After snapping the token summit picture, me with a single finger extended to represent my summit count to date, we got back under the trees, where the wind slacked off a bit. It was replaced with an increasingly heavy rain, but at least we were headed downhill, where gravity can do some of the work.  Too bad I couldn’t use one of those inflatable balls you climb inside – now that would make hiking interesting!

Allegedly thrilled after completing Killington (summit #1), 10/6/13
When we took the left turn at the bottom of Killington and were walking out on the flat terrain, I could at least feel some pride. My challenge was officially underway. With one under my belt, I could contemplate feeling good about choosing to create some of life’s adventures. Or I could ponder where the expression “under your belt” came from. Was it about food, back in the times of great famines? Was it about warriors and trappers hanging scalps? Was it a variation on “in your pocket?” Dunno; I’m cold and tired and want to go have a drink and some hot food. I’ll ponder the imponderables later. Bottom line here is I’ve officially started my 67 in 67!

That evening, Sara and I celebrated with a great fire, Santa Rita cabernet, and music. The storm clouds were clearing and I hoped that this was a chance for a mix of things: hiking one day, mountain biking the next, and leaf peeping all the while.

See you on the trail,
Jay, AKA Rock Hopper

Why Am I Doing The “67 in 67”?

A lot of times in life, things aren’t planned, they just happen. You get in an accident, you meet someone, you get a raise you didn’t expect, you do something because you’ve always done things that way, you fall down and pray no one saw. Plenty of aspects of your life aren’t, and can’t be, deliberately orchestrated. But this is different.

I didn’t start out with the goal of being an expert hiker or backpacker, and may never get there. I’ve always loved the outdoors, and have done some occasional hiking, but there’s something too slow, too monotonous about hiking. Mountain biking and skiing have the adrenaline rush that hiking can’t offer, and force you to lose yourself in focusing on what you’re doing. I saw hiking a mountain as an incredibly long and scenic staircase. And, as studies have shown, people who overdo it with the Stairmaster develop a weird bum, with too much muscle development and bulge on the top part. I’ve got goals in life, but a weird heiney isn’t one of them. And yet, I found myself sitting there, 40 years old, setting out on an ambitious hiking goal.

I’m at a point in my life where I’d like to think I still have a lot of years in front of me. But I’ve also got a lot of years in the rearview mirror, and it’s hard not to get a little introspective and philosophical at times. I’ve had my share of bumps and bruises in life, as well as some great moments. And I’ve come to learn that great moments don’t have to rely on fate; they can be manufactured. Or, at least the odds of experiencing them can be manipulated. So, over the last few years I’ve worked harder than ever to create memories.

Mount Monadnock, July, 2011, with Sara

I love my girlfriend Sara, and she loves hiking. We’ve bonded over mountain biking, cross-country skiing, downhill skiing, and snowshoeing. And intermittent hiking and backpacking. But she really loves hiking, and has aspirations of through-hiking the Appalachian Trail. My predisposition about that is to have aspirations of sending her supplies of food, cans of Off, and new insoles. But I want to be able to connect with her in different ways. And I want my two daughters to appreciate the world around them, and how they can challenge themselves and grow from the experience. I also enjoy creative writing, but the girls are getting too old to write them stories about girls giving themselves Mohawks, three-legged kids being great soccer players, trolls who taste better if eaten with ranch dressing, and witches who will do better spells by practicing.

Aside of hobbies, I realized that the economy and my lack of access to the Warren Buffett gene pool makes it seem as if it will be impossible to ever retire. I’d be perfectly happy sipping Coronas on the back of my boat, or flittering between my condos in the mountains of northern New England and the beaches of Cape Cod or Nantucket. But maybe that’s not in the cards, and I’ve got a few decades of time to kill. So my challenge to myself was to figure out, if I could never retire, how to approach life in a way that didn’t feel beaten down and slaving away in Corporate America working for The Man.

One of my alleged epiphanies was to write more, and to integrate it with some other aspect of my life. This is where hiking comes into play. I don’t have the life or the knees to ever allow me to hike the Appalachian Trail. In full disclosure, I also don’t have the interest. But day hikes or a weekend can work for me. And it can be a way to bond with some of those around me. There are sixty-seven mountains in New England above 4,000 feet. I thought if I gave myself sixty-seven months to hike them then I could chip away at it. I could do them in a variety of circumstances: day hikes in great weather, winter hikes, staying at huts, car camping, tenting, hiking with Sara, with my girls, with a group… there could be a great variety. And it would generate stories. I also realized that over that amount of time my life would undoubtedly have some changes, and it would be interesting to see how all of that unfolded.

All of this brings me to this point: I’ve begun working towards the goal, I’m going to chronicle the hikes and my life, and I’ll find it interesting to see where this all leads. I have no destination other than having it feel like a worthwhile effort that will last into my mid-forties. If you should choose to follow along for any part of this, then I’ll be glad to have the company and any feedback. I may be principally writing for myself, but I wonder what experiences this writing aspect of this adventure may generate as well. Hiking, like plenty of other activities, has its community. Actually, so does Lamenting Growing Old, Watching Kids Grow, and Creative Writing. All of these things may be fodder for writing, or for your thoughts and contributions, which I’d welcome.

Jay, AKA Rock Hopper