My boyfriend and I hiked Mount Cardigan Loop in New Hampshire this weekend. The trail was around 3 miles roundtrip, so I figured it was something we could both hike in a couple of hours. We started around noon and met a few people on our way up. And this is how you endure an arduous climb and enjoy the journey—by focusing on new people and ideas:
- We met a gaggle of 4th and 5th graders who were out hiking with their school (and one girl tried to roundhouse kick me—maybe she thought I was a chaperone on my way by?). Their big yellow bus was parked in the lot.
- We hiked up the West Ridge Trail; the easy way to the top.
- On our way up, as we kicked into high gear and Nick complained about not feeling so great, we saw this guy driving his remote-controlled truck up the mountain. It was impressive. “This will be the third time this one’s made it up,” Andrew told us as he maneuvered his little Bronco around rocks and up onto big boulders. “I have a few bigger ones that have made it more times.”
- When we finally reached an expanse of granite, we met older folks who were stumbling downward on ski poles. I used to think they were for older people, but with these steep New Hampshire climbs, I’m beginning to think differently. “It keeps about 25% of the weight off your knees on the way down,” one guy told us.
- When it felt like we were almost to the top, we arrived at a huge expanse of open granite, with narry a tree or bush in sight, and giant piles of cairns lined the way like traffic cones leading to the tower at the top. “It’s like a giant, angled parking lot,” I told Nick. I crossweaved, creating my own switchback on the unending climb. Nick walked straight up.
- There were carvings in the stone—names and dates. “How did they do that?” I wondered aloud. “They clearly didn’t bring these rocks in.” “Chisel,” Nick answered. And a few minutes later, the group in front of us—two women and a man—echoed our conversation. “How did they do that?” One woman asked. “Chisel,” replied the man.
- “Are you going to take pictures?” I asked Nick from my spot on the rock. “It all looks the same,” he whined. This reminded me of a time when I was hiking Grey Rock with my friend Sue in Colorado, and she told me this: “When people ask me if they’re almost to the top, I like to tell them yes, and let them keep going. Why don’t people get that it’s about the journey? Who cares if you get to the top?”
- I wanted to go down a different way, so we followed the South Ridge Trail down to the East Ridge Trail until it snaked back into the West Ridge Trail, which is where we began. This way down is treacherous—steep, and rooted, and not so great on the knees. I’m not sure how helpful a pair of ski poles would have been going down this thing. It was intense, but I still prefer going down a different way than how I went up.
- At the bottom, we found the bathrooms, and a sign marking this as one of the places built by the Civilian Conservation Corps. This was part of the New Deal put into effect during the Great Depression as a way to get unemployed, single young men working in a country with few jobs available. The CCC built many of our state and national parks, as well as bridges. It’s one of my favorite subjects to learn about and share.
In all, the hike took us 4.5 hours to complete. The elevation gain is 1,250 feet. Although All Trails rates this hike as “Moderate” I would argue that adding that its steepness is not moderate. We met people, saw new things, and made it back alive. Writing feels a lot like this: you get bogged down at the beginning, then you get really into it, and finally, you make it through. But it’s looking back at all that work that makes the finished project worth the time you put into it. It’s about the journey.
What’s the last journey you went on, writing or otherwise, where you felt that the destination didn’t matter as much as getting there?