After the death of both my Grandmothers, finishing an intense last year of my Master’s program, moving, and changing jobs all in a matter of months, a vacation was certainly in order. Ready for a break from my busy life, but always up for a challenge, my boyfriend and I decided we would travel to Vermont to hike a 50-mile portion of the Long Trail. Anticipating climbing 4,000 foot mountains and carrying 30 pound backpacks pushed me into a regular gym routine of cardio, stairs, and lifting. It became a great stress reliever and planning the trip gave me something to look forward to, a reward for all of my hard work.
As the date came closer, I began to get nervous. My anticipation heightened as we arrived in Vermont and hitched a ride from the motel owner to the trailhead with his warning of moose, bears, and wolves. But, he also assured us that only a couple people had ever been attacked… a couple more than I’d like to hear about, thanks! There we were, taking our first steps onto the trail on a bright and sunny day, our plans finally reality. So, the adventure began.
The first portion of the trail was steep and painful. Immediately I started wondering what I had gotten myself into and felt a slight panic. Just as we stopped for our first water break, we ran into another hiker who assured us that this was the hardest portion of our first day’s trek. Phew! We hiked on with ease of mind until we missed our stopping point and ended up hiking an extra five miles to a campsite, the last mile of which was like climbing uneven rock stairs made for giants. I was so exhausted I stopped after nearly every big step to chomp on trail mix and try to pump myself up for the next few steps. We FINALLY reached the top after what felt like an eternity and made camp. After a whirlwind of a year and emotions, the stillness of the forest was a welcoming solace. The hike got smoother each day, one step at a time, and the views were absolutely gorgeous.
We met lots of characters on the trail, young and old. I remember one woman in her late 60’s who said something along the lines of, “We will let you pass because I move slowly, but as long as I’m moving, I’m happy.” I thought to myself how true this statement really was, and after losing one Grandma this past year to Alzheimer’s disease, I understood the value of this statement. Through hiking she was working to preserve her body and mind, and in return she was happy. It also made me realize there is no need to rush; hiking is about the experience and being alone with your thoughts and nature. We took our time that day, resting when we needed to, stopping to observe the changes in foliage as we made our ascent and realizing the fact that one of the best things about hiking is that you’re not on the clock—you’re in it for the long haul. I mean that in all senses of the term, too. Hiking is something that you can do for the long haul. It doesn’t take fancy equipment or extreme athleticism, and the benefits on your body and mind are great!
After watching a terrible disease take someone I loved and in light of Alzheimer’s awareness, I can see the importance of cardiovascular exercise even more clearly. Never stop moving. Find something you love and stick with it. If it’s not hiking then bike, or swim, or walk. Find what works for you. I’ll continue hiking for the amazing views and the strength of my body, heart, and mind so that years from now I can still have happy memories. So, as they say, “Happy Trails.”
Vermont Long Trail