You may have noticed that in the past few months I’ve been doing a lot less hiking and a lot more reflecting about life. Moving in with my girlfriend, committing to over a year of residence in one place, and trying to make a living in unfamiliar territory has certainly made me a little nervous about the future. With my past experience being almost entirely nomadic and seasonal, the idea of settling down is pretty foreign to me.
|This stream crossing was rough enough without the newly collapsed bank, probably from Hurricane Irene.|
So with the holiday shopping season promising to overwhelm my work schedule for the next few months, and the impending winter promising to make the cost of living rise to push my limits, I needed to get out for a day in the woods. I wasn’t looking for great views– just some alone time to collect my thoughts and to knock off a few of those Long Trail Side Trails that I’d hoped to complete this year. For the past few months I’ve mostly been doing day hikes with Yvonne, but I needed some solitude on Friday. Sometimes a lone walk in the woods is the best thing for the brain.
|Starting to look like autumn for real– all the leaves are down, and there’s snow on the ground.|
I started out reasonably early at the remote trailhead for the Broad Brook Trail, just over the Vermont border from Williamstown. It seems like an odd trailhead, since it’s right across the street from someone’s house, and the first few tenths of a mile of the trail go behind rural houses in dense hardwood forest, but soon enough I was walking along the gushing Broad Brook, hurrying to stay warm. The forecast had called for cool temperatures– indeed, it didn’t rise above freezing until I was ten miles into my hike.
|As if the rock hops weren’t enough, those rocks were slick with ice.|
The Broad Brook trail turned out to be much more interesting than I’d expected. Several crossings of the brook were difficult, to say the least. I had to walk up and down the banks to find a decent rock-hop, then make leaps of faith over ice-coated boulders. I dunked my feet at one point when a rotten log collapsed beneath me, but I later found that my feet would have been wet most of the day anyway– starting about halfway up the trail there was a thick dusting of snow that stuck to my shoes and melted through.
|I haven’t seen this place since 2007, when the sign was older and a little more ragged.|
Once I arrived at the Long Trail near Seth Warner Shelter, I realized I didn’t want to try any of those stream crossings again, so instead I took the Long Trail / Appalachian Trail south to the Pine Cobble Trail, and then a three-mile road walk back to my car. This turned out to be a very worthwhile detour, since the LT/AT is in a much better state of maintenance, and much easier than the Broad Brook trail. And I was able to knock off one more side trail from my list (leaving only four short trails in my side-to-side list). The scenery didn’t hurt– the trail passed by several large glacial erratics, near a few open hollows, and across long abandoned logging routes in the forest. There weren’t any views (except a few from Pine Cobble), but it was a wonderfully peaceful walk. And even with all the leaves down, the forest had an austere sort of beauty. Most of Northern New England has dense, overgrown forest, but down here it was open and orderly. It seemed I could have just walked in any direction without difficulty.
|Somebody spent a lot of time at the top of the Pine Cobble Trail on this rock garden.|
By the end of the day I was happily exhausted. Fourteen miles of walking, and the sun had finally come out around mile ten. Though I’d started with the intention of collecting my thoughts, I found that my mind stayed happily blank, just soaking in the scenery and the joy of being alone in the forest. What little pondering I’d done revolved around future plans, which is normal for me, but unlike usual I felt overly optimistic.
|How’s that for an interesting find in the forest? A bowl of ice made from a trio of trees.|
I’m living a very hand-to-mouth existence right now. My Christmas-season retail job will likely end in mid-January, leaving me with no idea what I’ll do for the rest of the time until summer, when my plans are just as vague and uncertain as ever. And yet I felt like everything was right with the world. I may not have a steady job, or a plan for the future, but I’ve got great expanses of New England forest to roam. If I had to choose one of those three things, you know which one I’d go with every time.