Yesterday, January 1st, 2020, I went snowshoeing to ring in the New Year and to go on a much-needed date with my Lord and Master. There was a lot of symbolism in this hike that I will get to. But before that, I do I need to preface this by saying that the last half of 2019 was really hard on me and my husband, and our marriage nearly fell apart because of what was going on. That is a story in and of itself, but suffice it to say that the Bureau of Prisons screwed up, and his physical and mental health suffered because of it. And in turn, it put a lot of stress on me. At the same time, I was going through a difficult medication change that was affecting me mentally as well.
On New year’s Eve I did my typical New year’s Eve meditation. Where I look back on the old year and take my list of goals and see which ones I’ve completed, which ones I need to continue on, etc. This year, I’m doing something different. This year is the year of simplifying my life, so instead of a list of goals, I just made a to do list to get rid of clutter in my life.
I like to do an animal card reading on New Year’s Eve. Just a simple three card thing. It’s not for divination. It’s more of a psychological tool for me. So the three cards I drew are one for the past year, one for the current moment, and one for the upcoming year. And what struck me was the card for the upcoming year. I drew the eagle card, and the short representation of what it means on the card itself is “realize your vision.” I had lost sight of my vision. After Mount Washington I didn’t have any goals, really, and I felt like I was kind of wandering aimlessly. I found it to be a play on words in the sense that 20/20 vision is perfect vision. And we’re moving into the year 2020, well, we’re there now, so it’s another chance to realize my vision in a very concrete way. It also showed me that I need to let go of my past. I’m sure you’ve heard it said that hindsight is 20/20. I can look at the past year, 2019, and see where I went wrong. I was losing my vision. Not in a literal sense, but in a purpose for life sense. If you notice I haven’t written a blog entry for a long time and that’s because I haven’t been out in the woods enough. I so missed my dates with my Lord and Master, and I knew I needed to get out there yesterday.
To prepare, on New year’s Eve afternoon I put on my snowshoes and walked around the back of the apartment building to get used to wearing them again. It is getting extremely difficult to get them on and off with the weakness in my fingers. But I was determined to at least snowshoe for one more year, so I found a way. It wasn’t pretty and it wasn’t easy, and I’m paying the price today because I was stretching muscles I’m not used to using.
Snowshoeing at Northwood Meadows is usually a good place. Usually. But I ended up not staying in Northwood Meadows. Before I left my house, I asked the Holy Spirit to lead me where she wanted me to go when I got out there. When I got to the parking lot there were so many cars that I knew I was in for running into too many people and too many dogs, some of them unleashed no doubt. And I did. And I was not enjoying myself. I needed to be alone on a date with my Lord and Master.
So I left Lake Trail and climbed back up to Dashingtown Road Trail and headed towards the CBNA trail. As I was walking along dashing Town Road Trail, I saw snowshoe tracks but at some point they turned around before they reach the CBNA trail. There was only one set of footprints and one set of paw prints from that point on.
My heart leaped for joy when I reach the CBNA trail! Whoever was looking for it couldn’t find it, and nobody had found it at least since the last storm. It actually looked like no one had found it at all yet this winter. And it was not groomed, so that meant breaking trail and I love breaking Trail! It’s like walking on clouds for me.
The CBNA trail is a half mile each way, but when I got to the end I also wanted to do Boulder Loop, because I really needed to do some grounding and be in a place where I felt like I could meditate and reset and get back on track with my life, and marriage, and my relationship with my Lord and Master. When I ground, I literally like to lean against a really big rock. And that’s exactly what I did and I just prayed my heart out.
Heading back my snowshoe tracks were the only ones there, and it seemed a lot faster going back. I guess because I was looking at my snowshoe tracks and not trying to find the blazes on the trees. Breaking trail in the woods requires a lot of paying attention to where the blazes, are because there is no indication of where the trail is other than the blazes. And these blazes were white, which made them harder to see in the Dark Forest of Eastern hemlocks that still had snow on them.
As what usually happens, I get inspiration or message from the Holy Spirit on the way back on a hike. And my Lord and Master was telling me that just like I had to trust him on unbroken snow to break the trail and get to Boulder Loop, I need to get back to trusting him implicitly. That even if I don’t know where I’m going or what I’m doing, he does, and I need to be open to the signs that he’s showing me just like the blazes on the trees. And I have to trust him that he will take care of me and everything will work out according to his plan for my life, and my husband’s life, as long as we keep our eyes focused on him even if we can’t see the trail he’s leading us down.
Altogether it was approximately a 3-mile hike in snowshoes. And I can tell my CMT is progressing quickly. I started feeling nerve pain in my inner thighs in the fall of 2018, but it was extremely intense last night after I got home and relaxed for a while. I do go back to my neurologist on Monday, and whether or not she does another electrocution test I’m not sure. She may to see how the disease is progressing. Or she may be able to tell by other means. But whatever the results end up being, I will continue to push on and do what I can do for as long as I can do it, and keep my eyes on my Lord and Master and just trust him that everything is going to work out like it’s supposed to.
I have 20/20 vision for 2020. And I have the hindsight of 20/20 vision to let 2019 go.
See, I will create new heavens and a new earth. The former things will not be remembered, nor will they come to mind.
I haven’t posted anything about my hikes since I recovered from my broken ankle. On August 1st I headed out to complete the hike that I was on when I broke my ankle in April. I didn’t have to do the Orange Trail for this, so I parked at the trailhead at the end of Alton Mountain Road and hiked to Mont Anna. Mount Anna was my original destination when I broke my ankle. So when I reached the summit and looked out over the ledges coming down the Blue Trail, I felt a sense of redemption. Not in the spiritual sense, because that’s a different kind of redemption. But in the sense that I was healed enough to complete that hike.
I get this itch to complete something that I have left undone, and it doesn’t go away until I do it. I believe everything happens for a reason, and my Lord and Master tried to stop me in numerous ways the day I broke my ankle. Including the obvious of blocking my way, with not just a fallen tree that I would have had to shimmy over, but also by the two saplings that were blocking my way. If you recall from my writing about that day, it was my trying to rescue the saplings that resulted in my ultimate slipping in the mud and falling on my ankle in such a way that it snapped. But I was too stubborn to listen to all the subtleties to turn back and go home.
So after finally getting to Mont Anna and coming down the Blue Trail, I realized it was probably for my own protection. A broken ankle is a lot easier to heal from than a host of broken bones from possibly falling off a ledge. So things started to make some sense.
I will say, that coming down was definitely not easy. My Achilles tendon in my right foot was starting to cause me problems, and my left leg had to overcompensate. However, after 5 hours and hobbling back to the car, I finished the hike with a renewed sense of confidence. I still kept hiking on the easier trails at Northwood Meadows and Concord, and I tried to hike Pine Mountain about once a week. Hiking Mount Anna showed me that I still had to strengthen my ankles more. Or at least my legs to compensate for the weakness in my ankles.
One of the series of trails that I went to during this time was Oak Hill in Concord. There is a fire tower at the top of Oak Hill, which was one of the ones I did for my five towers for the patch. Because of my renewed resolve, I started to set some hiking goals for myself. I wrote about the fire tower quest in the past. I only had to hike to five fire towers for that, but there are more.
I pulled out my map of where the fire towers were and set my sights on hiking to at least two of them for what was left of the hiking season. Let me rephrase that, the Mountain hiking season for me. I won’t hike in the mountains in the ice and snow. My disability prevents me from that level of adventure.
On August 20th I decided to tackle Red Hill and hike to the fire tower up there. The weather was not supposed to be hot and humid. However, when I got there it was hotter than expected and definitely humid! The trail I took going up was definitely a difficult one, to say the least. Partially due to the fact that it was the first time I was hiking a mountain outside of the Belknaps since I broke my ankle, and the trail was eroded and very steep in places. At one point I got nauseous and dizzy and had to hold on to a tree and my vision went blurry for a little bit. I was also having a difficult time breathing. I can’t breathe when it’s hot and humid.
I did make it to the top, and I sat at the picnic table there for a while and rehydrated and ate a Clif bar, and I was fine coming back down. I always take the steeper trails up because it’s easier for me to go up then to come down. And that’s what I did this time. So on the trail coming down I didn’t have any problems. The thing is, hiking in the mountains I have to take my big backpack with all of my emergency gear in it. And that adds at least 20 to 30 pounds depending on what else I have in there. I did not climb the fire tower because it looked unsafe to me. So I didn’t get much in the way of views. From what I understand, the only real views you get from there are when you climb the fire tower. But I did come across some interesting things to photograph on the hike anyway.
I told my primary care physician what happened on that hike, so she sent me for a cardiac stress test. I told the people doing the test that it was the heat and humidity that got to me. I did the treadmill test and I passed with flying colors. As long as I was able to hold on so I wouldn’t lose my balance, and watch my feet so I knew where I was walking because I have no feeling in them, I was able to do the treadmill test. I had a chemical stress test done once and I will never have it done again. It made me feel like my brain was on fire. So, I may have all these other problems, but my heart is fine 🙂
I was really psyched at this point, and I set a really high goal for myself. I wanted to hike the rim around the Castle in the Clouds, and I knew I would have to do this before the fall equinox. So just about a week later, on August 26th, I got to the Ossipee Park parking lot and began an early morning sunrise hike up Mount Roberts. The route I planned to take had two escape routes, so to speak. If I felt like I wasn’t going to be able to make the whole ring around, there were two options to get down and head back to the car.
It was a beautiful hike up Mount Roberts! I’ve never done a sunrise hike before, and the way the mist was rolling over lake Winnipesaukee was just absolutely amazing! Once I reached High Ridge Trail I was doing okay, but then I started getting tired around the junction with Faraway Mountain Trail. So I ended up not completing the ring and taking Faraway Mountain Trail back down to my car. It’s a good thing I didn’t try to do the whole thing. I was giving myself 12 hours. I definitely wasn’t up to the task yet. It took me eight and a half hours to do what I did, and I was physically and mentally exhausted. But I still felt accomplished that I was able to do that.
On September 6th I was going to Dover for something, so I stopped at Parker Mountain. I had fallen on that mountain in snowshoes before. And it’s a pretty steep but steady climb to the top. I was thinking of continuing on to the ledges that overlook Bow Lake, but instead I decided to explore Link Trail which I have seen signs for many times.
What a surprise that turned out to be! It was ledges and steep and I had to go down on my rear end in places! So by the time I got to the bottom and reached the trail that goes to the Strafford Town Forest lower section to the right, and back to my car to the left, I realized I was probably ready to hike to Green Mountain fire tower in Effingham.
At some point I would like to return to the bottom trail and see where that leads me. I did notice a pull off on the road near where I came out of the woods. I did have to walk along the road to get back to my car where I parked at the original trailhead, because there is no trail connecting those two near the road.
Three days later I did drive to Effingham and hiked to the fire tower on Green Mountain. I didn’t park at Green Mountain State Park. I drove around to the other side, past the rehabilitation center, and parked at the trailhead for High Watch Trail. Originally I was expecting it to be similar to Red Hill in difficulty, but it wasn’t. It is a mountain, so it’s going to be steep in places to get up there. But it wasn’t hot, and it wasn’t humid, and the trail was not as steep as the one at Red Hill. There were more switchbacks and it wasn’t eroded.
When I reached the top, the fire tower looked like it was in good condition, so I did climb to the top of the fire tower to get pictures. I have to explain something about climbing these fire towers. I have to pull myself up with my arms because they are like trying to climb a steep ladder. And coming down, I come down backwards the same way as if I’m coming down a ladder, but I do have to rely on my arms a lot.
By the way, if there are any amateur filmmakers or documentary-makers out there who would like to follow me on a hike sometime and see the crazy way I have to hike due to having CMT, I’m more than willing to talk to them about it. I do write this blog trying to bring awareness to charcot-marie-tooth disease, because it’s not a well-known disease and it slowly takes your life away.
Anyway, I hiked back down the same way I came up and now I felt like I was ready to tackle some of the tougher trails in the Belknap range.
September 25th was my mother’s birthday. And I wanted to take her on a hike with me through pictures. She turned 79, and even though she walks 4 and 1/2 miles a day with my father, it’s not hiking. This was also my fall equinox hike. I like to do hikes at all eight points of the wheel of the year when I can on the day, or as close to the day as I can.
Sometimes people ask me why do I use the ancient Celtic names for certain times of the year. For me it’s a sun thing. It’s my way of marking where the sun is in the sky at what points during the day and in what seasons, so I know how much daylight I have to work with when I’m hiking.
So back to this hike. I think I wrote in a previous blog that I at least wanted to get to Straightback Mountain this year after I healed from my broken ankle. I decided to really challenge myself and I took Precipice Path East to the summit of Straightback Mountain. It took me two and a half hours, because I literally used my arms more than my legs climbing that trail.
There were areas with rock scrambles, and I have come to realize that rock scrambles for me are easier than regular hiking, because I can use my whole body. In the areas that did not have rock scrambles, I just dug my hiking poles into the ground and pulled myself up, literally, by my arms. Even though my broken ankle had healed, I noticed that my charcot-marie-tooth disease was getting worse. And no matter how much hiking I was doing to try to keep my other muscles strong, trying to hike now is like carrying dead weight below my knees.
Then something weird happened at the summit. I was planning on taking Blueberry Pasture Trail down, and as I was heading that way there was an ATV with two women in it. And as far as I know, ATVs aren’t allowed on that part of Straightback Mountain, but I could be wrong. Anyway, the younger of the two kept saying her family owned that mountain and she could do whatever she wanted. And rather than get into it with anyone I just said, okay well then thank you for letting me hike on your property, and headed down Blueberry Pasture Trail. The irony is she didn’t know about all the trails in the Belknaps, even though she claimed that she grew up there. So I headed down Blueberry Pasture Trail, and lo and behold I’m halfway down, and here comes the ATV following me down that trail that they didn’t know about. It started to feel really creepy.
I really don’t like hiking when ATVs are doing their thing because of the pollution and the noise. I go hiking for fresh air and no noise. I need the peace and quiet of nature; that’s the whole point of hiking for me. I got down to Jesus Valley Road Trail, and subsequently to Old Stage Road Trail, and I heard an ATV coming up behind me. I figured it was probably the same people. But it wasn’t. It was an older woman who looked like she could have been the younger woman’s mother or the other woman sister. And when I got to the Silent People of Finland she was there waiting for me and I don’t know why. She said something about it being a nice day and I said, yes it is but I’m exhausted; I’ve been hiking for over 5 hours. And she asked where I went hiking I said Precipice Path to Straightback Mountain and back down. The thing is, she had a big truck parked right by the Silent People of Finland, and to me that felt a little sacrilegious because that’s a memorial.
Anyway, I decided if there were going to be ATVs along that side of the range, I wasn’t going to park at Alton Mountain Road anymore to access the Belknaps. I would just park at one of the Boy Scout camp parking lots instead.
My next hike in the Belknaps wasn’t until October 9th. I had to give myself time to recover from the hike to Straightback Mountain. I wasn’t sure if my Lord and Master would give me the strength and the grace to be able to hike Mack Ridge Trail, but he did. I had fun climbing the rock scrambles, because like I said, I can use my whole body on those. I took my time and eventually I made it to the top of Mack Ridge.
The plan was to hike across the ridge and come back down Round Pond Trail to Old Stage Road and back to the parking lot at Camp Bell. But when I was on the junction of the service road and Round Pond Trail, my brother-in-law called me and said that he was going to be at my house by 4. Well, that threw a wrench in things. I had to cut my hike short and go down the service road to get back to my apartment by 4. But I felt uneasy because I left something undone. So I was planning on returning and hiking Round Pond Trail South to finish what I had left unfinished.
In the meantime I kept walking around town, and hiking at Northwood Meadows and Pine Mountain. I also discovered that on the Avery Hill side, a new Trail was made, so there’s a loop now in the Alton Town Forest.
I knew I would not be able to get a big hike in on the last week of October because I had appointments scheduled just about every day, and the weather was not going to be cooperative. So on October 26th I returned to the Camp Bell parking lot and hiked Round Pond Trail South to Round Pond.
Everything happens for a reason. The day I hiked Mack Ridge the colors were changing, but it was cloudy. The day I returned and hiked Round Pond Trail South and got the view of the gorge from the ledges, the light was perfect, and the pictures came out awesome! The colors were just amazing!
And then, because I was on a date with my Lord and Master, he showed me a section of Round Pond that I had not been to before. It’s the area where it turns to wetlands before it becomes the stream that eventually becomes the Suncook River. The Suncook River flows down the hill behind my apartment. Round Pond is the headwaters. It is a spring-fed pond that is over 1,600 feet above sea level. So hiking to Round Pond isn’t like hiking to a wetland area. You actually have to go quite a bit in elevation to get to it.
There were a lot of wet leaves on the trail which made it a little treacherous for me, and I didn’t want to break my ankle again, so I came back down the service road. I finished that hike with the feeling that my Lord and Master showed me that special view of Round Pond, because it could very well be my last Mountain hike due to the worsening of my CMT.
I counted that hike as my Samhain hike, because I have doctor’s appointments the rest of the week. That hike also marks the end of my Mountain hiking for the season, because it has been very wet and there are just too many areas where I could possibly get hurt.
Will I be able to hike in the mountains next year? I really don’t know. After I hiked Mount Washington, I knew it was the only shot I had at it, and I figured this year might very well be the last year that I could hike any mountains. God willing I’ll be able to continue snowshoeing and ice hiking through the winter, and then I will reassess the progression of my CMT next spring to see if I’ll be able to hike any mountains at all next year.
The clearest way into the universe is through a forest wilderness. – John Muir
I had climbed to the summits of 11 of the 12 peaks in the Belknap range for the Belknap range hiker achievement patch. After coming down Straightback Mountain, I had injured my right foot. It was diagnosis as plantar fasciitis. Mind you, this was before I had my diagnosis of CMT and was still running around thinking I had idiopathic peripheral neuropathy. My orthopedist put me in a big boot, but I was allowed to take it on and off. I was only supposed to wear it if I was walking.
I had been planning a trip to Mont-Megantic in Quebec province to go hiking for quite some time. I had my reservations made to stay in a hutopia. If you ever want to go camping across the border, a hutopia is the way to go, because all you have to do is bring food and bedding. So there are really no issues crossing the border going into Canada, and it’s less of a hassle when you come back into the United States. Because, sorry to say, every time I come back from Canada, my car gets literally torn apart and they expect me to put everything back in myself.
That aside, I had made my reservations months in advance. I was at Hannaford’s in Concord getting some last-minute items I needed to take with me. When I came back out to my car I had a voice message from my otolaryngologist. I started seeing a new one when the old one didn’t take my insurance anymore. Which was fine, because the old one just kept blowing me off, and the new one took things more seriously. I tend to find that the doctors that I have at Dartmouth-Hitchcock Medical Center do take things more seriously. Maybe because it’s a teaching hospital, I don’t know. Anyway, the voicemail was quite lengthy and it was from my doctor himself, not one of his nurses or assistants. That raised a red flag for me right there. On the voice message he said that they found something when they did the imaging, and they wanted me to come in for an MRI. I called back and spoke to one of his nurses, and she explained to me that they found something near the right temporal bone and they wanted to confirm their findings, so she wanted me to schedule an MRI. They had found this on a CT scan. I explained to her that I was on my way to Canada for a hiking trip and was I still able to go? And she said yes, so I went. Like always, I had no problem crossing the border into Canada at the Pittsburgh, NH crossing, because officer Oulette is very friendly and has seen me enough times to realize that I’m not up to no good. So I drove to Mont Megantic and set up camp. I was writing letters to Matthew by hand during that trip, and I was trying to process the news. It’s not easy being told you have a brain tumor, even if they do believe it’s benign.
So what does someone like me do when I hear news like that? I laid awake crying most of the night, because I had no one to share the news with. I was in an area with no cell signal and no internet. The next day when I woke up and had breakfast, I decided to hell with the boot, I’m going hiking anyway. And why did I do that? Because I was just told I have a possible brain tumor, and I didn’t want to waste this time that I may not get again.
I started along an easy trail that just went along a brook. And then I came across a trail that said moderate and it went up a mountain. It didn’t seem like as much of a mountain as some of the ones I was hiking in the Belknaps, so I went ahead and did it. When I originally planned my trip, I wanted to hike the mountain to St Joseph chapel and to the observatory on the higher mountain. But I knew with my foot injury that probably wouldn’t be a good idea. So I continued on the moderate trail. For me it had parts that were not so moderate, because I had to get on my hands and knees to climb rocks. But at least when I made it back to camp, I was able to sleep that night. I only stayed two nights.
Another reason I wanted to spend time there, was because Mont-Megantic is an international Dark Sky Preserve, and I was hoping to be able to observe the stars with no light pollution. The towns around Mont-Megantic are required to turn the all their lights out at 10pm so as not to pollute the sky with light. Unfortunately, it was cloudy both nights that I was there. The next morning I was already packing things up to leave. But before I left I drove to the observatory and I also drove to St. Joseph chapel. I didn’t know if I’d ever get the chance to hike there again, so I wanted to see those things.
I went in for my MRI and they confirmed that not only did I have a brain tumor, but it was eating away at the bone, and if they didn’t take it out it could pose real problems. So they scheduled my surgery for September 22, 2016. That would be exactly three years ago today. Maybe that’s why I was inspired to write this blog today.
My daughter came to visit me that August. My trip to Mont-Megantic was in July. I asked my daughter to bring her passport so we could go to Canada. She asked me how close I was to Maine and I told her it was right next door. She asked if we could go to Maine so she could say she was in every state on the East coast. So, since I was dealing with this brain tumor issue, now I decided to live out a bucket list item. When I was with my ex we used to talk about going to the Bay of Fundy. But she never wanted to drive that long. I asked my daughter if she wanted to go to Canada and go to the Bay of Fundy in New Brunswick, because it was like a natural wonder with how much the tide changes. And she said yes. So I booked us a chalet at Fundy National Park, which is another great way to go somewhere if you’re disabled. Everything is there for you; you just have to bring food. I didn’t realize there was going to be a difference in the time zone, so we got there late. The chalet was very cozy, and I really wouldn’t mind living in something like that. Again, I only booked it for two nights. So we only had one day to explore.
We went to an area of the park where we could access the floor of the Bay at low tide. So we walked along the floor of the Bay of Fundy during low tide and I even explored a cave, which my daughter said I was crazy to do. She took a picture, though. Then we drove around to other parts of the park and decided to hike a trail to one of the waterfalls, except it wasn’t like a regular hiking trail. To preserve the ground and the tree roots, it was all on wood walkways, and going up and down was on stairs. I was still at a point where my CMT had not destroyed my feet to the point where I couldn’t do stairs using one arm holding on a railing. I can’t do that anymore. And then we went to get something to eat in Alma. It was the first time I ever had a lobster roll, even though lobster rolls are common where I live in the summer. I sat outside and wrote a letter to Matthew. This was when I could still write. My CMT had not progressed to the point where I couldn’t write yet.
The next day we had breakfast and packed up to go home. But we drove to look at the bay during high tide first. And what a difference! Everywhere we walked was completely underwater. It took us 16 hours to drive home, because I wanted to drive past Mount Washington to show my daughter what my goal was. When she saw how high that mountain was, she was kind of shocked because that wasn’t what she expected. And as I looked at it, I was beginning to wonder if I was ever going to be able to climb it now that I knew I had a brain tumor.
I still had that one mountain in the Belknaps left. I was saving Mount Major for last, because it’s usually so crowded and I wanted to wait until tourist season was over. I also didn’t know if I was going to survive the surgery. They were planning on doing a middle fossa craniotomy which didn’t sound pleasant at all. But I didn’t want to take the chance of dying and leaving this unfinished. So I chose a weekday after kids went back to school. The remnants of a hurricane were still covering part of Mount Major so there weren’t many people in the parking lot. I hiked up the Yellow Trail, which for me was a challenge. I wasn’t in my boot anymore but whatever was wrong with my foot, I found out later had to do with my CMT causing my foot to curl up.
When I got to the summit I couldn’t believe it! There was no one up there! So I spent some time up there and took pictures. And as I was debating which trail to take back down, I saw a chipmunk heading down the Blue Trail. So I went down the Blue Trail. If I thought climbing to the top was a challenge, coming down the Blue Trail was insane! It was The Ledges Trail and I wasn’t used to climbing or hiking those kinds of trails because I wasn’t redlining yet. I spent most of the time coming down on my rear end until the Blue Trail merged with the Yellow Trail again, and then I was able to walk the rest of the way to my car.
Obviously my surgery was successful or I wouldn’t be here to tell you about it. Well, sort of successful. I had some complications. I will write about those in part 5. My otolaryngologist said that it was a cholesterol granuloma. My neurosurgeon said it was a cholesteatoma. They’re both benign, however one is more aggressive and grows back, and the other one is unlikely to grow back at all. I’d like to know which one it really was, because my health record says a cholesteatoma and that’s the one that comes back.
For I know the plans I have for you, declares the Lord, plans for welfare and not for evil, to give you a future and a hope. Jeremiah 29:11
Right after I was given the go-ahead to be able to hike again, but on limited types of trails, I had been hiking in Concord and Hooksett on accessible trails to get back into the groove. On June 6th I decided to test the waters, so to speak, and hike Pine Mountain. I’ve written about Pine Mountain before, so anyone who has followed my blogs will know that it’s not a very big mountain by any means, and not even very steep as far as mountains go. I intentionally took the least steep trail of the two going up from Avery Hill Road, but I still had a difficult time coming down, because my ankles and achilles tendons were still very weak. So I knew I couldn’t do anything in the Belknaps. At least not at that time.
I started hiking in Northwood Meadows State Park. That’s usually one of my winter hiking places, but I figured it would be about the right difficulty level to build my strength back up. My Lord and Master ended up showing me a whole new section of trails that aren’t in Northwood Meadows, but are connected to Northwood Meadows by the Coe-Brown Northwood Academy Trail. AKA the CBNA trail. I’ve never noticed that trail before, so I don’t know when they made it. I discovered this trail on a hike to Demon Pond.
I had been wanting to cross over the brook and go to the other side of Demon Pond for quite some time, but in the winter it was just a little too risky for me to try to do that. So on the day that I did go, I found a huge, dead beaver in the brook. Mind you, there’s a very large beaver dam right above the brook where the trail is. I called NH Fish and Game, because I wasn’t sure if they tracked the beaver population in New Hampshire. They don’t. The woman on the phone said they just let nature take its course. That phrase came back to me later in that hike. I’m going to reach a point where I’m going to tell my doctors I just want nature to take its course. I’m not there yet, but I do need to talk to them while I still have my mental faculties intact to let them know that will be my intention. As I rounded the pond, I came across the beaver lodge, most likely where that dead beaver came from. And I could hear beavers belly flopping into the water. I paid my respects for their lost family member and watched the dragonflies dance for a while before continuing on Demon Pond Trail.
On the Northwood Meadows State Park map, Demon Pond Trail comes to an abrupt end. But that’s not the case. It crosses over into another conservation area and continues to a snowmobile trail. That trail turns out to be one mile, approximately, from beginning to end, but it has loop trails going off to the sides all along it. They do have maps posted in a couple of places along the trail. I took Hill Loop and Ledges Loop and continued north looking for the place where I needed to turn to get onto CBNA Trail and get back to Northwood Meadows. I couldn’t find it. So I ended up bushwhacking to Route 4 with the intention of coming back another day to find the trail that I had missed.
We’ve been having some very hot and humid weather, and I don’t do humidity very well. It makes my brain swell. So on a day where it wasn’t quite so hot and humid, I returned to look for the CBNA trail and access the other system of trails that way. And I found it with no problem. It was easily marked with signs and birch logs, right off of Dashingtown Road Trail. So the plan was to cover all sections of the snowmobile trail as well as the loops that I hadn’t done. So I turned north to see where I went wrong. Ledges Loop Trail comes out past the CBNA Trail, and that’s why I missed it. I should have turned south instead of north. But I learn from my mistakes, and that’s a mistake I won’t make again.
There is a short trail called Boulder Loop and I was concerned it was going to have rock scrambles, but that wasn’t the case at all. Walking into Boulder Loop it didn’t seem like much, until all of a sudden there were these giant boulders in front of me. And as I walked on the trail, I felt surrounded by them. The energy was amazing and very healing! I continued south, and because I wanted to cover the whole snowmobile trail, there was some backtracking involved. But I was able to hike the other loops: Wolf Pine Loop, Ridge Loop, and Brook Loop. There is a spur trail off of Ridge Loop that goes to the eastern boundary of the conservation area. I didn’t hike it that day, but I planned a return hike that would cover that.
Once I completed the loops, I was debating whether or not to go back via Demon Pond Trail or go back up to the CBNA Trail. Demon Pond Trail would have me backtrack, and I was already pretty tired and was monitoring my ankles. I decided Demon Pond trail was not the best way to return, so I hiked back up to the CBNA trail and took that west to Northwood Meadows State Park. I didn’t feel like walking on the snowmobile trail all the way back to the parking lot, because gravel is hard for me to walk on. Instead, I walked along Lake Trail north to the Universal Access Trail, and then I didn’t have much gravel to walk on before I got back to the parking lot.
I gave myself a few days to rest. That hike took just over three hours. I wanted to go back and plan a loop for myself that I could do once or twice a week. So I came up with a loop where I hike to Demon Pond Trail, take that all the way to the other trail system, take the snowmobile trail all the way to the south end, and then do the loops coming north. And once I hit the end of Ledges Loop I’d go south and take Boulder Loop and then take CBNA Trail back to Northwood Meadows and back to the parking lot. I did include the spur trail that day. There was absolutely nothing interesting on that trail, just for the record. But there is a cut out, albeit growing back, on Ridge Trail that overlooks a mountain in the distance, but I’m not sure what it is. That whole loop was quite a workout. I didn’t stop for anything. I was just testing it, and I was also testing my stamina and trying to build up the strength in my ankles. It took three and a half hours to complete that loop. By the way, the CBNA Trail reminds me of walking through a fairy tale Dark Forest. And when I’m in the Dark Forest I feel extremely connected to Spirit. For me, it’s more of a grounding energy than in a deciduous forest.
I went back to Northwood Meadows this past Tuesday. It had rained all day Monday, and it was still raining Tuesday morning, so everything was pretty wet. I was going to do a partial hike of that other trail system, but when I noticed there were only two cars there, I decided on a different hike. I hadn’t been around Meadow Lake in a while, and I try to avoid that when it’s busy because of the problem with unleashed dogs. However, I did go all the way past the lake and the marsh along the White Trail, and took the Old Town Road snowmobile trail west. When I got to the kiosk at the junction with Dashingtown Road Trail, I was debating whether or not to try to hike to the top of Saddleback Mountain. The last time I was up there was in the winter wearing microspikes. Everything was still very wet and slippery. I hiked part of the trail, but where it got steep I turned around, because I didn’t want to break my ankle again. On the hike back to the car I was thinking about going to Pine Mountain again on Friday to compare the strength in my ankles to how it was on June 6th.
Yesterday, on July 26th, I went back to Pine Mountain. I took the steep way up and had absolutely no problems. But going up has never been the problem. It’s coming down an incline where I’ve been having problems. But I came back down the same way that I came back down the last time, and I had no trouble at all! My achilles tendons didn’t fatigue at all, which really lifted my spirits! My peroneal muscles are different story, but that’s part of the progression of CMT, so I compensate by using other muscles in my legs and my hiking poles. Hiking also functions as vestibular rehabilitation for me, because it has become second nature for me to automatically shift my weight to my poles when needed.
All of these hikes are dates with my Lord and Master. And I open myself up to the Holy Spirit’s leading on where she wants to take me, and I end up going places that I would have never found without her guidance. Also, hiking at Northwood Meadows has really aided in healing. Not just of my body, but my mind also. Every hike in the woods for me is a spiritual journey, so hiking always helps to heal my spirit.
So what is the take away from this? Not only is regular hiking helping me to heal physically, it really does wonders for my mental health, and it helps me grow spiritually. Being able to hike Pine Mountain with no problems anymore was awesome! I am hoping to be able to hike a mountain in the Belknap range for Lughnasadh. The weather is going to play a role in that, but I finally feel ready enough to hike to Straight-back Mountain or Mount Anna. I’ve never found either one of those two to be all that difficult, depending on which trails I take. I’m very excited about the prospect of hiking in the Belknaps once a week, and Northwood Meadows for my other hiking day.
When I broke my ankle on April 5th, I never thought it would take this long for the healing process. But there’s been so much going on in my life with Matthew getting transferred, yet again. He’s currently being held in Atlanta for transport to a very dangerous prison where he told me he fears for his life. It’s also even further away than where he was when I got to see him last on June 17th, and that was a whole 5-hour visit for one day. He’ll be too far away for me to visit at all with my health issues. It’s not like he has a choice where they’re sending him, and I struggle with the thought that he may not live to the end of his sentence, considering his age and health issues.
I guess my Lord and Master is allowing my healing to take longer so I can come to terms with what’s going on with my husband, too. But all in all, for as long as it has been taking, the healing is happening, and that’s what’s important.
In spite of the terrible heat and humidity yesterday, at least for me it was close to unbearable, I needed to be out in the woods. So I decided to go back to Head’s Pond Trail in Hooksett with the intention of exploring a little bit down one side of the dirt road where the railroad bed ends. I have been meaning to do this ever since I hiked to the end the last time I was there.
I had been away visiting my family in Maryland, so it’s been a while since I was there last time. Although my ankle bone healed, the muscles, ligaments, and tendons in both of my feet are different story. I met with my neurologist on Monday, and I now have a more specific diagnosis. My peripheral neuropathy is no longer in the idiopathic category. Unless she finds a different cause, my current diagnosis is Charcot-Marie-Tooth disease. That means there is no cure, and there is no treatment. All I can do are certain exercises targeted at the nerves and muscles that are dying, and the ones that haven’t died yet, in order to slow the progression of the disease. I will be going for physical therapy at the MDA Center at Dartmouth-Hitchcock Medical Center at the end of July. The goal is to learn exercises that I can do at home, because I live so far away from DHMC.
So I decided to explore to see if the road to the left went around the other side of Head’s Pond. I thought maybe if I walked around that way, I might see some wildlife or other things that I couldn’t see from the main railroad trail. I saw a red-wing blackbird, an oriole, a beaver lodge, and what appeared to be a beaver dam that had broken apart and was flooding the snowmobile trail that I was on. I was constantly accosted by deer flies, but I was also blessed by the presence of numerous, and I mean numerous, dragonflies, or I would have been bitting way more than I was.
As I was exploring in childlike wonder, I came across what appeared to be a dead, baby bird baking in the sun in the middle of the snowmobile trail. I picked it up and it didn’t show any signs of life, so I moved it to the grass just in case something could make a meal of it and continue the circle of life. It was extremely young, and looked like it may have been blown from its nest during a recent storm. But I could not make out what kind of baby bird it was.
I had to come to terms with the fact that I will be living in excruciating pain for the rest of my life, which will never get better and will only get worse. CMT does not kill you. It just progresses for as long as you live. It is most likely what my grandmother had, and she lived to be 86. So the thought of possibly living an extremely long life in debilitating pain was not a pleasant prospect. Neither was the knowledge that my ability to use my hands and feet is going to continue to diminish. And if I live long enough, I will lose the ability to use my hands and feet all together.
Hiking where nobody else is around helps me to cope with difficult news. It gives me time to have audible dialogue with my Lord and Master without people overhearing me. It allows me to connect with my Lord and Master in a deep way when I’m sharing my pain, my anxiety, my uncertainty… and then he shows me beautiful things in nature that I would have missed otherwise to cheer my heart and lighten my load.
The healing part in the title does not have to do with my diagnosis. Well, not really. I’m still trying to strengthen ligaments and tendons in my ankles and calves, partially from inactivity during the healing of my bone, but also because I don’t want to lose any more strength, not just yet.
When the weather cools off a little, I’m hoping by then I will have strengthened my achilles tendons enough to where I can at least hike the ring around the mountains at Castle in the Clouds and one more mountain in the Belknaps, before mountains are out altogether. And if I had to pick just one in the Belknaps, I don’t know if I could. There are so many summits that I really like in the Belknaps, and my favorite loop is in the middle of the range that includes the Quarry Mountains. If I had to pick just one mountain in there, though, it would have to be Straightback Mountain. Maybe, with the help of my Lord and Master, I’ll be able to do that loop one last time, and that does include part of Straightback Mountain.
In the meantime I will become an advocate for Charcot-Marie-Tooth disease as I learn more about it. Once my mountain climbing days are over, and they soon will be, I will still hike as much as I am able on a accessible trails that I’ve been discovering in other areas. I have a special affinity for the Belknap mountains, but I’m sure I can find trails in there that don’t require climbing the mountains and still feel connected.
So yesterday I explored a new trail. And I also got to see a coyote pup. Of course I went the opposite way from where it came from. And that was in addition to the other wildlife that I saw that I never see from the other side of Head’s Pond. It gave me time to process my diagnosis, and it wasn’t totally unexpected, so I’m able to handle it pretty well. Hiking two and a half hours on fairly level ground, aided in my healing after breaking my ankle. But it also helped in healing me mentally. I had to wait so long for my appointment to go over my testing, that I was very anxious over it. But I’m not anymore. I’m going to keep doing what I can for as long as I can do it, and that’s what I’ve been saying for the past number of years since I got back into hiking.
Unfortunately I was not able to get good pictures of the wildlife that I saw. But I was able to get pretty decent pictures of other things along trail.
“My advice to other disabled people would be, concentrate on things your disability doesn’t prevent you doing well, and don’t regret the things it interferes with. Don’t be disabled in spirit as well as physically.”-Stephen Hawking
Good news on the hiking front! My broken ankle is healed. On May 30th I went to my orthopedist, and the look on his face indicated that I was going to need surgery. But I was misreading the look on his face. I asked him what the bad news was, and he told me he was in shock. I said in shock over what? And he said in shock over how fast my bone healed after a complete break. I told him well, with my kind of neuropathy I still have good circulation, and I wanted to keep the circulation going to my feet. So even while I was recovering with the brace on, I still made an effort to exercise every day, even if it was just for 5 or 10 minutes at a time. I was also massaging the muscles and tendons and bones every night with a cream I made that I call neuro cream. It was more for the nerve pain, but evidently it really helped with healing in my muscles and tendons and joints also. I also told him I drink milk everyday. He told me whatever I was doing worked, and he told me to just keep doing what I was doing.
I was using the walker inside and out. And I would walk back and forth in my apartment with the walker. Once the tendons and ligaments around my ankle started strengthening, I started walking in my apartment with my walking poles. I still had to use the walker on inclines when I would go out to check my mail. I did try to walk with the walker along Main Street, but I only made it as far as the police station, which isn’t very far, before I had to turn back. So I practiced walking in my apartment some more. Also, when I would be out in a store I would use a shopping cart as a walker and would walk all the aisles.
Once I got my equilibrium back enough, I decided to practice walking outside with my walking poles. A couple of weeks ago I started walking around town, which is hilly and the sidewalks are in disrepair, so it’s probably safer for me to walk in the woods. But I didn’t yet. I wanted to see my doctor first. So on May 29th, the day before I saw him, I discovered a railroad bed Trail in Hooksett, New Hampshire, Called Heads Pond Trail. I walked for as long as I could, keeping in mind I still had to come back. It just whet my appetite for more.
I knew there were a series of hiking trails in Concord. I had hiked some of them before. So I decided depending on what my doctor told me, I was going to go hiking on one of these hiking trails in Concord. After my appointment when he told me it was okay and to just be careful, I went to Winant Park and was going to hike the trails up in there. But I found a trail that I hadn’t walked on before, Swope Trail, and it looked like it was going to be pretty level.
I should know better by now never to expect anything when I’m hiking, but be prepared for everything. It wasn’t completely level. It wasn’t mountain climbing, either, by any stretch of the imagination, but it had hills in it and it gave me a nice challenge at one and a half miles each way. I was so happy to be back out there! I felt like a bird let out of its cage!
Instead of crossing the road and taking the rest of Swope trail to the parking lot, I just hiked back to Winant Park where I parked. I drove over to Swope Park and found the kiosk and noticed they had a whole series of their own trails there.
Today I had another appointment in Concord, so I went to Marjory Swope Park and explored the trails there.
I believe I’m ready for Pine Mountain on Thursday. I don’t have a whole lot of hiking time left in New Hampshire before I go to Maryland. I’ll be visiting my family for a week and hopefully I can at least get some walks in the woods so I don’t lose my sanity all together.
I most likely won’t be able to do mountains until July. But my doctor told me to do what I’m comfortable with, pay attention to the pain level, don’t push myself too hard, and gradually work my way back up to the mountains. Pine Mountain, to me, is more like a hill, and the trails that I find in Concord can go up some pretty steep hills. So I know I’m ready!
Adopt the pace of nature; her secret is patience. – Ralph Waldo Emerson
Today marks exactly one month since I broke my ankle slipping in the mud on a hike in the Belknap range. I’ve been going nuts not being able to go to the woods, because that is where I regain my sanity. I feel like I’m imprisoned, or at the very least on house arrest. I am able to drive short distances, but I can’t walk very far.
I had a follow up with my orthopedist last week, and he told me I’m allowed to do normal walking but that’s it. I asked him if I can walk in the woods and he said no. My heart sank to the ground, because that even leaves out the Sargent Town Forest here in Pittsfield *sigh*. I asked him exactly what I can and can’t do, and he said no twisting. He says if I twist my ankle it’ll break again. And right now it is still aligned and starting to heal, and he doesn’t want me doing anything that could possibly cause it to break again and result in a surgery with an even longer recovery time. I don’t want another surgery either, so I’m definitely following my doctor’s orders.
I did ask him to prescribe me a walker, because I’m having problems balancing with the broken ankle on inclines. I’m fine on level ground with my cane, and I can even walk a little bit in my apartment without the aid of my cane, as long as I keep my weight in my heel. So he prescribed me a walker, and now I feel safer when I go check my mail.
So, in the meantime, what have I found? There is this little park off of Barnstead Road that has a dirt road going into it. It’s not far off of the road, but it has lots of Eastern Hemlock trees, which I have come to absolutely love and develop an affinity with. It is also right along the Suncook River. There are benches to sit and look at the river, and there are picnic tables with grills. Hopefully, when I am more mobile, I can return for a picnic with some friends or with my daughter if she visits, like I am hoping she will. I can’t walk there yet. It’s just a bit too far to walk on a broken ankle. And right now I can’t drive in because the road is quite eroded, so you need something with higher ground clearance than my Chevy Cobalt.
I had been missing the woods so bad. So when I stumbled across this park, which I hadn’t been to since a snowstorm in December of 2017 where I got the inspiration to write I Haunt Pittsfield: A Christmas Ghost Story, I walked down the short dirt road into the park. It was not the same as hiking in the mountains, but because I had the place to myself, I could concentrate enough on the sound of the river to block out the sound of the traffic from route 28 and just take comfort from being surrounded by the Eastern Hemlock trees. It was late afternoon or early evening, and the sun was trying to peek out. It was the only time I’ve seen the sun in the last two weeks! We’ve been having a lot of rain.
I don’t know how long I sat there soaking up the energy from the trees and the river, but it did take a ton of stress off of my shoulders that I had been experiencing. Hopefully at my next orthopedic visit on May 30th, I will at least be given permission to walk the distance to get there, so I can find some serenity from the woods that way until I am able to hike again. I guess my Lord and Master is teaching me another lesson in patience.
“When we develop patience, we find that we develop a reserve of calm and tranquility.” Dalai Lama
I couldn’t wait to get back on the trails! I had my toe surgery, and I recovered nicely from that. When I went to have my stitches removed I asked my orthopedist if I could get back to hiking, and he said yes. So what do I do? The very next day I plan a hiking trip up Mount Anna, leaving from Hidden Valley Scout Camp in Gilmanton Iron Works, New Hampshire.
Even the best laid plans don’t always transpire. I had all my safety protocols in place, and I set out for my hike. I got about halfway up the Orange Trail towards Old Stage Road when disaster struck. Okay, so it wasn’t a major disaster, really. But it definitely changed my plans. Not just for my hike, but for all kinds of things. For example, in the middle of May I wanted to visit my family in Baltimore and my husband in North Carolina. Now I have to delay my trip until I’m allowed to drive again. But I’m a firm believer that everything happens for a reason, even if I don’t know the reason right away.
This happened, because as I was hiking there was a lot of mud underneath some leaves and I didn’t see it. I slipped in the mud, and the way I fell on my foot, I knew something was terribly wrong. Now, I remember from my EMT training years ago, to keep my boot on because it acts as a splint. Which it did. I knew I had to get up to see if I could put weight on it. If I couldn’t put any weight on it, I was getting ready to call fish and game to rescue me. However, my boot worked so well as a splint that I could put weight on it. Between that and the use of my poles, I was able to get back to my car. I was wearing my winter hiking boots that I wear with my microspikes, because they come up higher over my ankles and give me more stability.
I figured I sprained my ankle, so I knew I had to go out a different way. If I went back the way I came, I would have hit some steep, slippery spots, and I really didn’t want to fall again. So I kept going forward until I reached Old Stage Road. I knew once I reached that, because it’s used for snowmobiling, there would be ice, and it would be more stable for me to walk on. Ironic, I know.
I followed Old Stage Road until the road that connects Camp Bell to Hidden Valley Scout camp. I followed that back to the parking lot where my car was. If at any time I felt like I was causing my foot more damage, or it was too painful to walk, I would have stopped and called for help. One of the reasons I choose certain areas to hike at certain times of the year, has to do with if they are staffed or not. And I know that the boy scout camp reservation has someone there all year long. So if I run into problems, help is just a phone call away.
I got home and did what I do with any sprain, and that is elevate my foot and ice it. It wasn’t until I took my sock off that I realized I did not have a sprain. It was broken, most likely. Obviously not bad enough to where I couldn’t still walk, but something was broken in there. This looked almost identical to an injury that my daughter had when she was in fifth grade. She was coming down a water slide and landed wrong and broke her ankle, but it wasn’t a severe break. However, it looked just as purple and swollen as my foot did when I took my sock off. So I drove myself to urgent care, and as it turns out I have an oblique fracture of the right distal fibula. I’ve included a series of pictures on what it looked like the day after it happened compared to what it looked like yesterday. Tomorrow I go back to my orthopedist. He’s probably going to be rolling his eyes and asking me what did I do now? It’s mostly aligned, according to the Radiology report, but I don’t know if he’s going to decide to reset it or not. I kind of hope not, because it doesn’t hurt anymore. I’ve been keeping it in one of those big black boots. For the first couple of days, for the bruising, I was applying comfrey. The bruising is pretty much non-existent now, except right around the ankle.
So what does this have to do with the title? Beware of mud season? Yes! A resounding YES! You may not even see the mud that lies beneath the leaves, as in what happened to me. And I think I got lucky that it wasn’t a worse break. If you hike in the mud, be careful. Like really careful. It doesn’t matter how fit you are either. Some of the most experienced and seasoned hikers have had similar mishaps. But sometimes, it doesn’t matter how prepared you are, or how careful you are, you may still fall. As in other sports, like skiing or snowboarding, if you hike frequently at some point you’re probably going to fall. Probably more than once. And one of those times may actually result in a broken bone. As long as this heals properly, I should still be able to do mountains at least this year. But due to the progression of my neuropathy, I do realize my mountain climbing days are very quickly coming to a close.
I’ve been itching to get back into the center of the Belknap range ever since my late winter hike up Pine Mountain. I always feel like I’m on the outside looking in from the summit of Pine Mountain. Although it gives a great view from the southeast of the Belknap range, it is truly in the middle of the range where I feel at home.
I follow the posts on the Belknap Range Hiker page on Facebook to get updates and things from other hikers who hike there. Because my snowshoes make it difficult for me to hike on mountains, I had to wait until I was seeing reports from people where they did their whole hikes in microspikes. I was having toe surgery on Wednesday, March 27th, and I wanted to get in a hike to remember before then. I know that by the time I recover, most of the snow will be gone. I had never seen Round Pond in the winter, so I decided to plan my hike around that.
My original plan (see map) was to park at Camp Bell, take Old Stage Road to the truck road, which would lead me to Round Pond Trail South, take that to Round Pond, and come back down along the truck Road. As usual, my Lord and Master had other plans, haha!
Getting to Camp Bell was interesting in and of itself. Because the weather has been so warm for so many days in a row, albeit freezing again at night, the road to get to Camp Bell was all mud! I do not have a four-wheel drive vehicle, so it made for some very interesting maneuvering and skillful driving. But it was kind of fun, I have to admit.
There were no other cars parked at the Camp Bell parking lot, and I didn’t run into anyone else during my whole hike. I put my microspikes on right away figuring I would need them anyway. And no sooner did I get onto Old Stage Road, I realized that was a smart idea. There were some sections of Old Stage Road where I could have used snowshoes, but they were few and far between. If I was relying on snowshoes, I would constantly be taking them on and off, and I found that to be the case for my whole hike. Once I reached the truck road, it was packed ice for the most part where snowmobiles had been. I took the picture at the top of my post, while I was on the truck road. There is a section there where trees have been cut out, and it offers a nice view of some of the mountains in the southwest of the Belknaps.
The weather got really warm on this hike – so warm that I had to take off my parka and put it in my backpack and switch to a hoodie. I still had my layers of t-shirts on underneath. But I overheat so easily, the last thing I wanted was for my parka to get wet from sweat in case I needed it later if the temperature dropped.
Hiking along Round Pond Trail South is a beautiful, peaceful trail. It is lightly traveled and offers beautiful views of the gorge and the mountains across the way. Usually when I hike this trail there are too many leaves on the trees to get the full effect. But on this hike, on March 25, 2019, there were no leaves on the trees. And because this section of trail is mostly deciduous trees, as opposed to conifers, I was finally able to get a really nice view of the gorge and mountains on the other side.
I had just hiked on bare sections of Round Pond Trail South, but north of the overlook and the closer I got to Round Pond, the ground was not bare anymore. It was packed snow, and I saw quite a bit of post holes. For anyone reading this who is not familiar with what a post hole is, it’s when someone walks without snowshoes and falls through the snow creating what appears to be a post hole. Due to the fact that the snow would refreeze again at night, and it was pretty packed down to begin with, I found as long as I stayed on the packed areas I did not have to worry about postholing. And even though snowshoes along some of those spots could have made my hike a little easier, they weren’t necessary. As a matter of fact, I’m glad I was not lugging snowshoes around, because I would have been taking them on and off; more often off than on.
When I finally reached Round Pond I was exhilarated! I’ve always been intimidated to hike in the Belknaps in winter, and even though it is technically early spring, at Round Pond it was still winter. It was frozen and completely covered in snow. It is one of the few bodies of water in the area that is not surrounded by lake houses. It is surrounded by mountains and is about 1652 feet above sea level. So hiking to Round Pond means increasing elevation as you hike. As I mentioned in the beginning of my post, I was just going to hike to Round Pond and back down the truck road. When I stopped to take off my coat, I noticed I lost my hat. Normally I wouldn’t care. But this hat held sentimental value. I had gotten it in Iceland when my daughter and I went to Amsterdam three years ago. That trip to Amsterdam is special to me for a lot of reasons, so I was debating whether or not to go back the same way to get my hat. It is also a reminder of my bucket list goal of ice hiking in Iceland to look for the Northern Lights. I figured I had time to think about it.
Once I got to where the Boy Scouts have a little campfire setup, my Lord and Master decided to lead me up Mount Mack (1945’). It was close, and I hadn’t climbed a mountain in a while, not one in the Belknaps other than Pine Mountain, so I went that way. There are solar panels at the top and there were snowmobile tracks on the way up, presumably made by whoever maintains them. The tracks made it easy to walk on microspikes to the summit. I stood up there for a little while contemplating if I was going to go back and get my hat or not. Well, the Holy Spirit directed me to go back the way I came to look for my hat.
Everything happens for a reason. I’m a staunch believer in that. And going back via Round Pond Trail South was not all about finding my hat, I was about to learn. This hike was intended for a very specific purpose. A friend of mine is going through a very tough time, and I told him I would offer this hike for him. I wasn’t even sure I’d actually find my hat, but I was following my Lord and Master’s direction as he led me that way. He was about to show me something special and experience healing in a very powerful way. The sun was strong and warm, and the wind was strong and cool. And my Lord and Master directed me to sit on a rock on the ledge overlooking the gorge, facing the sun and the wind. As I grounded myself with my feet planted firmly in the pine needles beneath me, and my hands beside me on the rock I was sitting on, I raised my face toward the sun and just allowed the wind to blow over me. I received kind of a vision of fire in the wind. And that fiery wind was just blowing all over me. In the vision it looked like waves of yellow, gold and orange. But it wasn’t a burning fire. It was a healing fire. It wasn’t hot. It was warm and comforting. Above all, I found it to be very healing physically, emotionally and spiritually. I don’t know how much time I spent enjoying this moment, but when I felt it was time to continue back to my car, I got up and enjoyed the hike back. I took my time, allowing the healing energy I just experienced to permeate my whole being.
The entire hike took me about four and a half hours, and that was with the stopping and meditating. I was thrilled that I got to hike in the Belknaps before my toe surgery, and I was able to experience winter at Round Pond, because spring will be in full force when I can hike in the Belknaps again. By the way, I did find my hat lying on the snow on Round Pond Trail South.
Since the late 1990s, I have tried to make an annual Spring Equinox hike somewhere. As time went on, I reached a point where I tried to hike the wheel of the year, not just the equinoxes and solstices, but also the four fire festivals that mark the changes of the seasons in Ireland, Great Britain, and even parts of Northern Europe. Being first generation American, with an Irish father and a Dutch mother, I tend to look at the seasons a little differently than most Americans do. But one thing my ancestors and modern Americans can agree on, is that during the equinoxes there is an equal balance of light and dark.
There was a period of time, when I wasn’t hiking at all, where I wasn’t diligent in this practice. But I would still notice the subtle changes during the year, and especially during the Spring Equinox. It’s a lot different living in New Hampshire than it was when I had my farm, Promised Land Homestead, on the Eastern Shore of Maryland. On the Spring Equinox there, we would have what I called a “spring planting frenzy.” We would have already planted onions and other cold-hardy plants in the beginning of March, but we planted our first round of larger crops on the Spring Equinox. This included things like potatoes, which we would harvest on the Summer Solstice. Planting season in New Hampshire doesn’t start until at least Memorial Day, they say. That’s what I was told when I moved here, because we can still get a heavy frost until then. So looking for changes is quite different here. I don’t see snowdrops around Imbolg, and I don’t see daffodils and grass at the Spring Equinox. What I did find on my hike to Bear Hill in Bear Brook State Park yesterday, was balance and contrast in nature. And as I moved along on my four-hour hike, I started to see how balance and contrast manifests in my own life as well.
The balance was pretty obvious in the equal hours of daylight to equal hours of night. What’s really interesting to me, is that there are only two days in the year, unless you live along the Equator, that you experience equal hours of daylight and night. For me, the solstices and equinoxes have a profound meaning. This goes all the way back to astronomy class when I was in high school. We were given an assignment to stand in the same place on the same day of the week at sunset for six weeks. We were to draw a picture of the horizon and then we were to draw the sunset where it was setting on the picture. This was to teach us about how the sun moves back and forth along the horizon throughout the year. Obviously the sun isn’t moving, the Earth is, but I think you get what I mean. Ever since then, I was fascinated with the movement of the sun back and forth. And I took special note of how different that was depending on where I lived. Where I currently live, the sun sets directly into my living room on the winter solstice. On the Spring Equinox it’s already so much further north that I can barely see it at sunset from my window. I have to go outside.
I was living in Maryland when we had to do that experiment. When I moved to Germany when I was 21, that’s where the movement of the sun was most notable. I lived in Northern Germany, and around the time of the Summer Solstice it really seemed like the sun never completely set. You could see a glow moving along the horizon for a couple of hours between sunset and sunrise. By contrast, it was very dark for a long time during the days around the Winter Solstice. When I lived in England it wasn’t quite as noticeable as when I lived in Germany, but the movement of the sun was definitely still more notable than when I lived in Maryland. Maryland is the farthest south that I have ever lived, so I haven’t had a chance to really do that experiment in my mind anywhere further south.
Living in New Hampshire, it isn’t just the sun that makes a difference, it’s also the air flow. I live at a lower latitude than I did in Germany, but where I lived in Germany we didn’t get the cold, harsh winters that we do in New England, especially Northern New England. That’s because the Gulf Stream keeps England, Scotland, Ireland, Northern Germany, and some other parts of Northern Europe from permanently freezing. By contrast, here in Northern New England, we get blasts of Canadian air that that keeps us colder longer. But even in Germany at the Spring Equinox there were already early spring flowers coming into bloom.
That kind of contrast wasn’t there on my hike. This was probably my first Spring Equinox hike where I actually saw the forest in balance; equal, like a see-saw. And like a see-saw, there were signs of winter trying to hold on and spring trying to break through. I started my hike at Podunk Road parking lot north and walked along Podunk Road until I reached Bear Hill Trail. The Northern end of Podunk Road was icy. The further south I went, and subsequently higher in elevation, there was more snow. By the time I reached the top of Bear Hill, there was enough snow that I could have used snowshoes for a little while, but I completed my whole hike in microspikes. My Spring Equinox hikes are usually long enough to warrant me taking my backpack. It was also very warm yesterday, so I needed my water bladder. The temperature climbed to the upper 40s, if not 50. Being the cold weather person that I am, that was very warm for me!
The contrast came when I reached the other side of Bear Hill, on Bear Ledge Trail. That side of Bear Hill was melted. The dried leaves on the ground and the still dormant trees were a stark contrast to the snowy areas that weren’t receiving as much sunlight. This is where I received the “see-saw” image. Yesterday the see-saw was level. Today it ever so slowly starts to tip, and the daylight side will increase in power. Yesterday, I saw a tug-of-war between spring and winter. Winter was desperately trying to hold on as spring was fighting to be born. All around me I could see this tug of war, not just where there were bare areas in the forest, but it was most prominent in the streams, and ponds, and marshes. This is where I saw water fighting with ice and snow as it tried to break through and flow. This is where I saw the Equinox Sun shining on ponds and marshes causing the ice to melt, and allowing water to come to the surface.
As the sun gets stronger, even though we’re still prone to snow storms and heavy frosts for a while in New Hampshire, the strengthening of the sun will give the earth what she needs to burst forth with new life when she’s ready. I try to hold on to the Spring Equinox for as long as I can. Because when it’s over, I know it’s just a matter of time before I have to hibernate. You see, when the weather gets hot, my nerve pain and the swelling in my head get worse, so I try to hold on to the cold and winter for as long as possible. Yesterday on my hike, I strongly identified with winter trying to hold on for as long as it can. And I was happiest walking were there was still snow and ice. I sensed a feeling a sense of sadness walking in the bare areas. They were reminding me that everything was going to gradually change the next day as daylight overpowered the night. But I do have hope that I will see winter again. Everything in my Lord and Master’s universe has cycles of birth, death, and rebirth. Even our own Milky Way galaxy is in the shape of a spiral. They are constant reminders to me of eternity.