Higher Living Reflections

Making Magic: Act II

I crossed paths with Pat when he was climbing the final ascent of the Herman’s Gulch Trail and I was descending it. He was younger man, perhaps in his later twenties or early thirties, so it initially surprised me to see him a bit winded. I caught sight of his backpack, which I hadn’t noticed because we were in the shade, and when I did, my face lit up. I smiled and asked if he was hiking the Continental Divide Trail. He was, he said.

When talking with fellow hikers, I often ask where they are from. I am stirred by the hiker community that shares my love for ambling through nature and comes together from disparate areas, cultures, and backgrounds. Being out in nature can be a great leveler in our humanity.

“I’m from the North Hills area of Pittsburgh,” Pat said.

I smiled wryly. “I grew up in Monroeville,” I replied. (Monroeville is a suburb of Pittsburgh, PA.)

He smiled in acknowledgment.  

We chatted briefly about our roots and his endeavor. I could see he was anxious to move on. His goal was to reach Steamboat Springs, Colorado by June 28. He had about five days to cover a hundred plus miles, most of it over mountainous terrain.

I wished him well and continued my descent. As I hiked, I could feel inner joy pervading the whole of me. I mused about the synchronicity of us crossing paths moments after the thought came to mind. And I mused about the wonder of the incredible challenge he had undertaken.

The Continental Divide Trail stretches 3100 miles from Mexico to Canada. At the southern end, it begins in the southwestern New Mexico high desert. The apex is atop Grays Peak, the highest point on the Continental Divide at 14, 275 feet. Pat had climbed it, like all CDT hikers do, with full pack the previous day and then descended over 3,000 feet to camp for the night. He was in the process of regaining 1,000-plus feet in altitude when we met. I understood full well why he felt a tad winded.

Another of my practices is to begin hiking at first light. Being a morning person, I find the early morning energy revitalizing. It brings clarity and inspiration. On the practical side, hiking early allows me to stay ahead of the pack.

Early morning hikers constitute a subset of the hiking community. Our attention tends to focus more on the trail rather than the social aspect. Socializing for me comes during the descent when I greet dozens and sometimes seemingly hundreds by saying good morning and responding to salutations that often include cheerful observations about it being a perfect day to hike. Every once in a while, I pause and banter with someone, a couple, or small group. Eric and Marcie were two.

As it is with others, I am not sure why we chatted. But as is often the case, it was illuminating. Eric and Marcie were vacationing in Colorado. They were from Cincinnati and regularly hiked through the Tennessee mountains and neighboring areas. Though they found hiking in the thin air of the Colorado Rockies breath taking in its literal sense, they couldn’t get enough of the breathtaking beauty. I told them about Pat and his undertaking, and somehow our conversation moved to the magic of hiking.

“Magic usually doesn’t just happen,” I said. “Making magic takes work, like hiking this trail. This can be hard work.”

They agreed but were hardly daunted. The reward for finishing was well worth the physical and mental challenges.

I wished them a pleasant hike and set off. Not much later, I met Liz. Coincidentally, she too was from Cincinnati.

“Wow!” I said. “There’s a couple just ahead from Cincinnati.”

As we chatted about the joy and magic of hiking, I described Eric and Marcie because of the potential they would meet. I also told her about Pat. Being an avid hiker, Liz appreciated full well what Pat was doing.

Liz’s eyes lit up. “I passed a guy a short ways back who is also hiking the Continental Divide Trail,” she said.

Liz described him. He was tall, had a gray beard, and was wearing a plaid shirt. No sooner she finished describing him, Smokebeard appeared out of the trees.

To be continued: Act III: Liquify or Ossify

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