“There is a certain something which tugs upon my core to reproduce the splendor of nature’s sweet decor.”
– Randy Pierce, poem, 1985
Hiking into the deeper woods of the White Mountain National Forest on a crisp autumn morning has the potential for incredibly majestic moments. In my mind’s eye, the ideal fall hiking day features the colors bursting across the ranges of mountains unfurling from the sparkling rime ice ridge line of an isolated peak, providing a climactic finish to strolling through an ever-changing forest carpeted by golden leaves, interlaced with orange and red blossoms of the frost-trimmed offerings of maple and birch giants which still hold vestiges of the green canopy over our head. This is my nostalgia of that rare perfect autumn day and my desire to share with treasured friends who might perhaps feel some of the joy and delight of my experience and translate the various visions to my now sightless eyes.
Unfortunately, it’s a difficult reality to arrange. There is much planning in bringing people together. Such excellent views are often likely to attract a hoard of visitors to appreciate just such splendors and then the weather is so often loathe to comply with the desires of managing all those other aspects to perfection. This is why it is a particularly marvelous gift I received on Saturday, October 5, National Blind Sports Day.
Companions who have traversed many mountains with me, figurative and literal, drove up in early morning darkness through a ground fog which the sunrise began to burn off just as we unloaded at the Skookumchuk trailhead. It was below freezing and as I put my gloved hand to Autumn’s harness and asked my ever eager guide dog to show me the way, I could envision the chilled exhalation steaming the air with every breath.
Soon my body was warmed with the effort of the climb and the sounds of laughter in my friends around me as we began our hike. Very shortly into the journey, my friend Robbie provided the enthusiastic description of the very carpet of leaves I had envisioned and the wonder in her voice brought the smile to my core. All along the steady upward climb through the beautiful and, as anticipated, changing forest, I heard friend after friend marvel in a different way regarding the splendor of the scenes being gifted us. The early morning sunlight burst through the canopy to shine on the frost-laden leaves and frost-crusted mosses. Maureen, a particularly devotee of the frosty frozen tundra, delighted me with her excitement over every sign of winter’s early touch on the higher elevations provided by Mt. Lafayette. She reminded me of Jack Skellington’s “What’s This?!” from “The Nightmare Before Christmas” and the smile in my soul deepened even more.
It was hard work; trails are almost a respectful level of work for me to manage with my blindness. Autumn’s guide work was excellent, patient, attentive, intelligent, and as a result exhilarating for me. My friend Greg managed a stream crossing for me while another dear companion, Michelle, managed a long section of narrow stair like boulders that seemed to never end!
I appreciated our ability to accomplish and achieve together, and all the more in particular for my wife Tracy who has been working her way back from a series of injuries which have for too long set her back. This was our most aggressive challenge and our primary goal was to not push unrealistically hard on those strides and set back the great progress of the summer and early fall.
Thus at 4 miles of upward climb, just shy with the junction trail for Garfield Ridge, Tracy made the decision to turn around and I, by plan, to accompany her that none of our crew would be alone. After all we try to respect the principles of “Leave No Trace” and “Leave no Tracy” behind. We encouraged the rest of the team onward with the expectation they might meet us on our slower journey down after they had appreciated the wonders of the ridge line.
Tracy, Autumn, and I enjoyed some great quality time in those less travelled woods. We worked the trails together and appreciated much of the experience anew on the difficult downward descent. Meanwhile, our companions were experiencing all of those glorious ridge line wonders mentioned in my nostalgic reflections. I’d await their rejoining us to hear the details and more at our celebratory dinner, ride home, and likely for many years to come.
Suffice it to say that perched atop the narrow ridge line on a cloudless day in the peak of red, orange, and golden foliage amidst the White Mountain wonders of New Hampshire is a gift to anyone fortunate enough to experience it. It is not common to be there. It is rare to be there under perfect conditions. It is rarer still to be there with friends who lift our lives higher still than those peaks. It is, however, worth the effort to strive towards it because these gifts are there and they can happen–and your life will likely be enhanced for the magic such a day will bring to you.