I make lists and I make resolutions. And I make them all the time, not just on December 31st.This summer I resolved to become a hiker – or, in British parlance, a “good walker.”
I live in the right place. The Appalachian Trail runs through the town of Great Barrington, Massachusetts, and winds back and forth, too. You see signs for the AT no matter where you drive, north and south, east and west. We don’t see much of the trail, though. Bearded hikers occasionally come into town, and AT repair crews, mostly college students, sometimes turn up at events and talk loudly about how weird it feels to be in a house again.
A seriously good walker works for me as managing editor. In his spare time, Bill Siever is writing a guide to hiking in the tri-state region. I have promised to trail test his instructions, but I already know that he needs to add an intro section for newbies. All his hikes are 7-10 miles and require a lot of scrambling up steep mountainsides.
For a starter trip, I wanted to try something easier and my son Tom offered to come along. East Mountain, the landmark ridge of Great Barrington, was a place I’d always wondered about, so we found a short route that promised excellent viewing points, packed sandwiches and water, and parked the car by a small AT marker.
The path was obvious and I pointed out white rectangular blazes on the trees, reminding Tom of the time he and his sister lost their way and ended up in New Marlborough instead of in Great Barrington. After ten minutes I commented that I hadn’t seen a blaze for a while, though we agreed that we were clearly on a trail. We forged ahead. The path finally petered out and we realized that we were, technically, lost. It was midday and we had GPS and sandwiches so no cause for panic, but not a promising start.
We retraced our steps and finally Tom spotted an abrupt turn to the north, white blazes easy to spot on the trees ahead once you made the turn. From then on we were fine, following the trail as it wound up the mountain and eventually coming out on a massive slab of sun-warmed rock facing west across the valley, with a view out to the Catskills. That’s where we ate our sandwiches and where I intend to go in the autumn with my beloved, to bask in late afternoon sunshine and nap on the warm rock.
On our way back down Tom and I commented on how difficult that turn was to spot. I gestured towards the path we’d taken in error, and we burst out laughing. There was a moss-covered log lying across it the misleading trail, with the word STOP painted in bright white letters and a big white arrow pointing in the right direction.
Here is the first lesson I learned: Attune your eyes to the markers, and realize that you become part of the AT community when you’re out there. Though the woods seem empty, many people have gone before and they will show you the way.