After the kind of week that I would hope not to repeat any time soon, I needed some time to myself. So I hit the road yesterday and went back for a solo hike up Mount Mansfield, Vermont, the same peak that Matt and I conquered last week. The morning border crossing was easy as 1-2-3, as Michael Jackson would have said — if he’d braved the countryside in preference to his oxygen tent, that is — and then it was onwards into verdant and lovely Vermont. I reached the Underhill State Park by 10 a.m. and was on my hike shortly thereafter.
With this climb, the fitness level of North Americans appeared to have bifurcated into two very different streams since just last week: the superfits and the supersloths. I even saw one group of men puffing on cigarettes while they moseyed along amiably. Then there was the woman of approximately forty years of age who was literally running along the trail; her walking poles striking the stony ground with the hectic rhythm of a speed addict on a snare drum.
Reaching the very pinnacle of Mount Mansfield (and realizing that Matt and I had been about 10 minutes short of it last weekend), I found a multitude of daytime amblers relaxing and picnicking, and, in many cases, loud-talking in Quebecois. I wanted to yell “Get off of my mountain!” because like every selfish, hippie nature-lover, I wanted that view to myself.
Oh well, I sighed, let’s see what that long ridge over there is all about. So I progressed along the ridge and discovered that it was primarily the preserve of cheats and sloths who had taken the gondola up to the mountain’s other flank. Here were entire families, grumbling ankle-biters included, who wanted all the glory — but none of the gruellingness — of conquering a mountain. My cynical side enjoyed watching a young girl berating her father. “You promised you’d bring food on our next hike… but you didn’t!” She was prostrate on her side, clutching her torso, as if she were about to die.
On the descent, there was one moment — one blissful moment — when the trail entirely cleared up, and I stopped, realizing that I could not hear a single word of conversation, nor even a squeak of a hiking boot or the click of a walking pole. In front of me, New England was laid out like a map. There was a profound and total silence. Aahh, that’s more like it. That’s worth its weight in gold. That is, in fact, priceless.