A Walk in the Woods

Solo hiker in NYS Rockefeller Preserve.

“Whose woods these are I think I know.” – Robert Frost

Learning to ski when I turned 40 was ambitious. And stupid. I’m sure others do it successfully, but I’m not one of them. We went to the right place ¬†to learn – Breckenridge, Colorado – and I dutifully enrolled the kids and me in ski school. They took to it like penguins to ice. Me? I flipped and floundered and twisted and writhed. When I charged down the mountain, it was beautiful. When finesse was required (the lift, bumps, turns), I was lost.Quote

Since I’m a January baby, winter’s in my blood, so I need a season-appropriate sport. I loved ice skating when I was a kid. So I decided to lace up the boots and take a spin. I sailed hither and yon, taking out a couple of toddlers on double blades in the process. Do those come in adult sizes? I suppose it would be as humiliating as bowling with gutter bumpers.

I blame my physical spasmatics on my inability to clear my mind. It impacts my yoga practice dramatically. I can’t concentrate and plant and stay upright. All kinds of things wriggle through my brain the minute it gets still…

“Did I lock my key in the car?”

“The lady on the blue mat looks just like Zooey Deschanel, if Zooey Deschanel was 60.”

“I hope there’s still one brownie left when I get home. And some milk.”

Tumble. This is okay in a yoga studio. Well, relatively okay. But on a snow-covered mountain or an ice rink, the potential looms for broken stuff. At my age, breaking a hip isn’t life threatening, just morbidly embarrassing. I was resigned to releasing winter sports from my life.

And then lightning struck. Well, the email equivalent of lightning. REI sends me regular notifications about upcoming classes at our local store. I scrolled through looking for the classes I usually take, the ones that involve wine and a camera. And then I saw it. Intro to Snowshoeing. Yes, I thought. I can walk. Snowshoes are the winter sport with no learning curve. It’s walking on snow. Not through snow. Not down snow. On snow. I enrolled.

Two pairs of vintage snowshoes propped against a rock.

I was surprised to learn that snowshoes are no longer wood frame paddles with leather straps. They’ve gone all high-tech, made from aluminum and composites. via Shutterstock/marekuliasz

The instructor was a 25-year-old ambisexual who enjoys curing her own meat, trekking the Appalachian trail blindfolded and heliskiing. I was simultaneously attracted to and repelled by her but I shook out my head and allowed her to take me through the snowshoe process. This included the very scary “Essential Items for Winter Sports” gear list, subtitled “If you don’t do this, you’ll get eaten by a polar bear”. Included were all of the ways to stave off hypothermia in the wilderness. My intent was to keep a Westchester parkway in sight, not to venture into the backcountry to pitch a tent and ice fish. Do I really need a first aid kit? I don’t anticipate the need to suture myself. I just want to be able to walk around while everyone else is schussing down the slopes. The one item she did mention were gaiters. I knew there were neck gaiters; didn’t know that a leg version was available to keep snow out of your boots. Bought a pair of those. And some hand warmers.

I was ready. Better yet, I was eager. The only problem? We had no snow. You need at least 6″ of snow on the ground to snowshoe. REI promised to send an email as soon as conditions were favorable. I thought I’d do a bit of prep, however, and headed out to the Rockefeller State Park Preserve¬†where snowshoeing and cross-country skiing are permitted. It was great to get out in the crisp winter air and trudge along for a couple of hours. It was still. And quiet. I could hear the Gory Brook pushing past ice clumps as hearty song birds cooed and chirped. Occasionally another hiker would pass. We’d mumble an acknowledgement and return to our solitary journeys. It was good. And my mind went blank. And this, my friends, is why it’s important to empty your head.

Now if it would only snow.

PS: It has since snowed and I have snowshoed and I remain ambulatory, which is a good thing. Details to follow.

5 thoughts on “A Walk in the Woods

  1. You tried skiing at 40 and that’s just about when I stopped! Having a home close to Park City, UT one would think I had taken up snowshoeing but I have not yet tried it. It sounds peaceful and refreshing. Hopefully you’ll have pictures to show soon now that it’s snowed.

    • I headed out yesterday and snowshoed the trail I hiked a couple of weeks ago. It’s a good workout and I seemed to be enjoying myself more than the x-country skiers who were working very hard. Try it with rental equipment and see if you like it. I think you will. Photos on my instagram feed @theopensuitcase.

  2. Hi Cathy, I enjoyed reading this and chuckled along the way. Nearing my 40th birthday I’m tryinng to think of a sporting challenge, if I didn’t live so far from snow this might just be it.

  3. Yes, excellent suggestion. We do a lot of that here in West Australia, it’s actually perfect because we have a river option too which is way less daunting than the open ocean.

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