The Trial of the Trail

outlook

Author’s Note: I want to give a very special thank you to Marina for the suggestion for this post. This was a lot of fun to write, and I’m proud of this one.

All Photos by Me (Seth Dombach)

Every once and awhile I’m captured by a moment of sheer spontaneous drive in which I become compelled to do something out of the ordinary. I wouldn’t say that I’m an obsessive planner but I also like to map things out. I like the comfort of timelines, which is why I’m perpetually early to everything I do. If something starts at 8:00am, I’m likely there by 7:45 so that I do not miss a thing (being late is one of my biggest pet peeves).  I like knowing what I’m going to do and usually if there is a deviation from that it really sends my brain into a whir of irritability and chaotic preservation.

 

But there are times in which I will subconsciously choose to do something completely unexpected on just the slightest whim. Normally when this happens it turns out to be something that leaves a lasting impression on me. Whereas the normal day to day schedule becomes nothing but a tangled fog in my remembrance; these moments are the ones that stick out and have a clarity that is undeniable of the self-importance of the moment. One of these moments happened on a hike.

 

It was early spring, before the world had really been kicked into new life. Most of the trees were still bare, but it was warm enough for short sleeves and a long drive with the windows down. I had taken off from home around midday with a lingering depression and needed time to clear my head. I did not want to surround myself with other people, so crowded public spaces were out completely.  I needed room to think and the idea of sitting alone while surrounded by the laughter of others, would make my plastic smile seem all the more disingenuous. Though I’m definitely not the first to observe it, it still remains true that there is something even sadder about being alone in a crowd. It makes you feel all the more isolated when you can’t connect to anyone, even if they are standing right beside you.

One of the greatest things about driving a car is the absolute freedom you can feel while doing it. It is the closest to flying most of us will ever get to. You control everything when you are out on an open road, how fast you are going, how loud the music, and you don’t even need to have a destination, you can pick a road you may never have taken before; just to see where it leads. One of the greatest feelings for me is to be driving down an empty back road, without knowing where it is going. Rolling down the windows and letting the cool breeze trail over my arm as it hangs out over the door. You take so much more in when you aren’t looking for a destination; you just soak up what surrounds you as you become just a part of the landscape as your car trails the twists and turns of a country road.

This particular day I ended up at Colonel Denning State Park. I hadn’t been there for years and one of the roads I had taken led me there like a dowsing rod to water. I got out of the car and read the park signs to see what trails were there and which one I wanted to take. I ended up taking the Flat Rock trail, which is about a two and a half mile hike to the top of the mountain, one that ends up at a rock outcrop that overlooks the entire valley. I picked it, not because of the beauty of it, I wasn’t even thinking that, but because it was harder. I made this decision subconsciously.  I was going through an extremely emotional hardship, one which tested me each day, and I wanted something challenging.

bridge

The hike starts off easy enough, following the beaten trail through the forest. Gradually the grade of the mountain begins to get steeper, and before long I was feeling the effects of being out of shape. When I got to a steep incline which ended in the first of the rocks, I had to sit and take a break. My breathing was labored and I looked up at what felt like a ninety degree angle at what I was about to climb with a little more trepidation. But I continued on. At this point I passed a few other hikers. Some going down, others pushing onward up, and I pushed myself. Most of the climb from this point was all natural rock steps which to climb, you need to step up first then pick your body up. It was tiring to say the least, and quite a few times I thought about turning around, but something deep within kept pushing me, and with as much doubt as the past few months had cast on me, it was surprising the amount of esteem my conscious had in my ability to persevere.

The trail eventually evened out and for awhile felt like smooth sailing. I kept thinking I must be close to the end, but the path kept stretching onward into the forest. I crossed a man-man bridge that went over a mountain stream, and even knowing that it is better to not drink from them, I took the risk and cupped my hand in the cool water and drank deeply. It was rejuvenating and so crisp that my body felt like it was jump-started again.  Then I came to the last leg of the hike, which was another seemingly vertical climb up another rock-laden path. It went on further than I could see but I was now determined to go on until the end, to see this hike through.

riverrun

As I climbed up the last of boulders I became aware of the duplicitous nature of this climb. Though I hadn’t realized it at the start of my hike, at this point where I was tired but euphoric over beating my doubt, I now understood why I was here at this particular moment in time. For months I had felt the weight of life pushing down on me and had wanted more than a few times to give up, to just be done with the constant hardships and feeling like I couldn’t handle it anymore, but I had kept on. Just like here, where more than a few times it would have been easier to turn around and go home, but I knew something better would be at the end of this test. Something that would make the pain worth it. I realized that I had a strength that was more powerful than I had given myself credit for and if I could push myself to the top, I could overcome the other odds and boulders in my normal life.

Finally I reached my reward when the path leveled out to one lone outcrop of rock at the edge of the mountain. I didn’t rush for it, but took my time managing the last of my journey. And then there I was. Standing alone on top of this rock, looking out over a thousand feet up from the valley, taking in the all the miles my eyes could see in front of me. It was breathtaking. If there were words beautiful enough to describe the way I felt inside as I stood there alone, I don’t think I would be able to write them down because then it would somehow diminish the experience. But it was life changing. I sat there for a half an hour by myself just thinking and being. It had started to drizzle just a little bit while I sat there and the rain felt transformative, washing away the negativity of the past year and I felt baptized in it. When my mind had become fully content, I stood back up taking a lasting glimpse of the scenery, turned around and made my way back down.

When I got to the base of the mountain the sun was back out and only lingering droplets of water still clung to the trees. I got in my car, rolled down the window, crested a big hill and coasted the whole way down the mountain; my arm swimming in the wind.

flatrock

 

 

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18 thoughts on “The Trial of the Trail

      • Not a hiker anymore. In the early 80’s we used to head out to the western deserts in Utah, where no humans had set foot for centuries. Make sure you keep a cell with you or detail your intended whereabouts with someone before you go.

      • I normally do (along with provisions). I’ve gotton turned around in the woods before and that is a horror I don’t wish on many people.

  1. That was a beautiful post Seth! Nature sure has a way of calming one’s spirit and soul when needed. They say, the longer you stay in nature, the better you become focused on life and the clarity of thoughts become clearer. I hope things will go better this year for you! Thanks for sharing your thoughts!

    • things actually got so much better from that moment on 🙂 thanks so much for reading and for the comment

  2. Top post; know exactly how that feels. I’m a walking machine – too much sometimes and I have to force myself to slow down or stop altogether for awhile. Can’t help it, just like the sound of boots on terrain, whatever it may be – with particular affection for crunching twigs.

    Nearly got stranded in a Cumbrian peat bog once; there was a path on the map but the path was ancient history, it was nothing but bog, deep bog. I said to meself, ‘you lose it out here, Wolf, you’re in a world of hurt…’

    Funniest thing was, after about an hour of this I made it to the coast road. Reached a gate, climbed over it coz it wouldn’t open, didn’t care if there was an angry farmer on the other side waiting with a shotgun… I was that knackered, I hit the ground on the other side and just started spinning, I was like one of them hammer throwers, I must’ve done about 8 turns trying to keep my balance before face-planting into a pile of cow shit.

    By the way, that photo with the boardwalk reminds me of a place called Finglandrigg Wood in Cumbria, spitting image in fact…

    • Thanks so much my friend!

      I just looked up Finglandrigg Wood and found a picture that looks just like it, that is too funny.

      Peat Bog has got to be one of the worst places to get lost in, I know that must have been a gigantic pain in the ass to walk through that.

      but I also understand the need to walk, it is either in you or it isn’t. I never fully understood joggers, I like mine a more leisurely pace so I can take it all in.

  3. A ginormous pain. It wasn’t even walking; one big stride, careful planting of weight to see how deep I sink. And the next… and the next. Exhausting. Tell you what though, got out onto the road and my feet felt fantastic. I dunno what bog water is made up of but my feet were loving it.

    Yeh, joggers… Where I go locally, a section of the river Mersey, it’s full of ’em, cyclists too and dog walkers. Each to their own, I’m not fussed, but I often think do they ever notice what’s going on around them? I usually get off the river bank and go into a wooded area; it’s quieter, there’s lots of birds and a heronry. This year I’ve seen my first Reed Warbler and heard my first Grasshopper Warbler. The woods are full of Chiffchaffs, Willow Warblers & Blackcaps. It’s a beautiful noise.

    • For me I’ve only seen most of the normal birds of the area here this year, but have noticed a large influx of hawks and kestrels in the area as of late.

      A few miles from where I live is a place dubbed ‘Hawk Mountain’ at least to the birders and it is part of a migratory path so we get golden eagles, bald eagles, all kinds of hawks up there.

      My biggest enjoyment this year though was that the loons have returned to a lake by my parents house. Used to see them all the time, and haven’t seen one in probably 10 years. a few weeks ago I went fishing and saw one on the lake around 6am. Just beautiful birds and have such a haunting call

  4. Loons – we just know them as Divers over here. I’ve only seen a Great Northern Diver – otherwise, never heard the call of any kind of Diver in the wild, just on reference CDs and whatnot.

    My personal favourite haunting call is from the Curlew…

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