This is the first year I have hiked consistently throughout each season. As a result, I’ve noticed changes in the landscape that I hadn’t seen before. Twice this week, on two different trails, I said to myself, “Wow. Someone’s been hard at work clearing out the dead growth along the trails.” Then I realized that this was actually the work of nature. The leaves that once littered the trail below my feet had been replaced with shattered limbs and vines that had perished under the weight of winter. As it comes to an end, winter has cleaned the forest of the growth that couldn’t hold on any longer, making space for the new growth of spring.
I could easily perish under the weight of winter. The short cold days and lack of sun play a huge part in my mental state. Then signs of spring begin to show, and I begin to come back to life, traveling through some sort of zombie state for a few weeks before finally appearing to be and feel completely human again. This weekend I ventured out to do a hike new to me in the George Washington National Forest. It is my 12th hike in the 52 Hike Challenge. I took the dogs and we scoured the Tuscarora Trail from Elizabeth Furnace to Moneka Peak looking for signs of spring.
I have been a little impatient, hoping to find more trees in bloom and more green popping up from the earth. I photographed what I could find as the dogs and I dodged trail runner after trail runner coming toward us. Then I realized that I had chosen to hike a trail that had an active race happening. That may have been the clearest sign of spring I had seen all day.
As runners passed by, we exchanged pleasant hellos and quick glances. I began to notice that most of them appeared to be my age or older. I wondered how long they had been training, what their lives were like when they weren’t trying not to break their bodies on rocky terrain, how they chose this race, and what distance they had come to get here. The first runner I came upon was surprised by my presence, fell, and did a very graceful tumble before popping back up and continuing to run. The last runner I came in contact with was crossing a stream, happily humming along with whatever she was listening to as blood streamed from a gouge on her shin. Ah, the wounds of hard work and perseverance. She will look back on that scar and smile, I’m sure of it. Just look at what she had accomplished.
After passing so many runners, I had to ask myself if I was pushing myself hard enough. Should I be trying to accomplish more on my outings? Then I realized that I was working to my own potential, and the only thing I should be pushing myself toward is not comparing my journey to others. Pushing myself a little harder with each hike is bringing me happiness, and my happiness should not be tied to the goals of others. What’s the saying? There are two things in life that are certain, death and taxes? So, I should be doing what makes me happy before the weight of my winter pulls me to the forest floor. And, I guess tomorrow I have to work on my taxes.