Hiking to Stop

I hike up the Woody Ridge Trail to get out of my head. According to the map, the trail only cuts 8/10 of a mile into National Forest before it peters out at a junction with White Oak Creek. But I feel certain a trail must be blazed further than that and I study the topo, determined to bushwhack my way to 4,000 feet and get a good start up the side of Locust Ridge.

It doesn’t take long for me to realize that hints of fall are already tickling the edges of the leaves. Within two hundred yards I spot buckeye, sourwood, maple, and tulip poplar with leaves that are turning. Some leaves already fall to the forest floor when the wind picks up, flashing their burnt red hands through the air as they descend, glowing next to the mica-flecked mud.

I’m supposed to hike until the thinking stops, or at least until I can land my brain somewhere for a little while. It’s been seven days straight in the cabin, writing and reading, and pestering Vic via email and phone for her gracious criticism of my work (love you, Vic!). I managed to get out for a six-mile paddle on the South Toe, two hikes, and two short trips to town during that seven days. Otherwise, it’s been balls to the wall – which demands ample recovery time.

Sure enough, the trail stops at a wide intersection with the tumbling White Oak Cree. I cross anyway, balancing on lichen covered rocks, and decipher an old path to follow. It’s clear hikers have been here before, but by the looks of it, hardly anyone – perhaps no one – has pushed through here this summer. I count more than sixteen different types of fungi, cross over hemlock trees killed by the invasive wooly adelgid beetle, and find an old, dry drainage that is relatively clear. It runs straight up the back of Locust Ridge, and after fifteen minutes of huffing and puffing, I’m rewarded with a slight view of Gibb’s Mountain and the steep slope of Celo Knob in the distance.

I cup my hands around my ears to gauge my distance from White Oak Creek – which is my point of reference and where the official trial stopped. It’s a little daunting to realize that water sounds like the wind, meaning that sometimes a point of sound is decipherable but mostly it sounds like it’s on all sides of you. Regardless, I’m sure I know where I am and the dry drainage provides a relatively clear line of sight to follow.

After about a mile off trail I decide it’s time to stop. I sit in a fallen long to notice this feeling inside myself – the feeling of time to stop. This is something I need to familiarize myself with and apply it to my writing process.

“It’s time to stop,” Vic said, as we were discussing the last pages of this month’s submission over the phone.

“But –“

“Look, I know you’re a perfectionist and obsessively disciplined but it’s time to stop.”

“You’re right. I’m destroying this story. I might as well have shit all over the page and-“

“And you have to be nicer to yourself. And get out and do things, like the hike you did today.”

“Right, chief. Right.”

“And recognize when you’ve done a good job.”

“Ok. I’ve – done – a – good – job…There, like that?”

“Yes. Now go watch a movie.”


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