Who Are You Really? Let the Trail Reveal Your True Character
Full disclosure. Ray does not approve of this post because he doesn’t like the spotlight on him. So, as in any good marriage, we talked it through, compromised – and I got my way. Enjoy!
There are, I believe, moments in our lives that reveal who we are; moments that expose our true character. These moments aren’t planned. We have no control over the circumstances. These occasions sneak up us so there is no time to be anything other than who we truly are. We simply react in our true form. When I think of my husband’s true character, one such event comes to mind. Of course, it relates to backpacking.
It was the summer of 1996 and Ray, my mom, and I were off to the White Mountains for a few days on the trails. We started our drive from Connecticut early in the morning and we were hiking by noon. Our leisurely itinerary took us from the parking lot at the base of the auto road up to Madison Hut via the Madison Gulf Trail/AT/Osgood Trail – staying on a tent platform for the first night and at the hut the second. I still remember the ziplock bag of macaroni and sauce Ray brought for that evening’s meal. Best trail meal ever! At Madison Hut we learned of a storm (remnants of Hurricane Bertha) that was unexpectedly going to reach the Whites. It was predicted to arrive the next day late afternoon/early evening, bringing rain and light winds. Our plans had us hiking out the next day anyway, but we had planned to take our time and poke along the different trails. Given the timing of the storm, we had two options: spend another night or so at Madison Hut and continue hiking when the storm cleared, or hike out ahead of the storm. We took some time to talk it out, look at the forecasts (again and again), and decided it would be safest to head down early the next morning and end the trip a bit early rather than risk getting caught in bad weather. The hike out would take about four hours and there was a great pizza place in town that was calling our names. So, off we went taking the Madison Gulf Trail back to the auto road.
We were some distance into our descent hike when everything changed.
Gone was our decent weather day and in its place came rain, wind, and falling temperatures. “Embrace the rain,” my husband is famous for saying. At first, we did. Anyone who has hiked in the Whites knows how challenging the terrain can be even on a good day. On a rainy, cold day it can be downright treacherous. The narrow, steep descent of this trail became scary at times. We reached a point on the trail where we had to navigate across a steep, open ledge that had become very slick in the storm. My fear of heights grabbed me and wouldn’t let go. I stared at the ledge, the other side of the ledge, and below the ledge. Mom and I stopped. How the hell were we going to get across that ledge? Our rain-soaked packs had become heavier, making it more difficult to balance the weight. Getting from here to there seemed an impossible feat (OK, pun intended). In that moment, in my mind anyway, Ray became a super hero. It was a real “Touched by an Angel” moment, halo and all. Oh, OK, I know… it’s a bit of exaggeration but it’s my story and I get to tell it the way I want. Without hesitation, he told us to take off our packs. He then crossed that ledge several times. First he carefully guided my mom across (wearing her pack for her), and then came back for me and my pack. On his last trip, he brought his own pack across. It took all of about 30 seconds to write this; it took much longer to live it.
This brings me to my point about true character.
In that moment when mom and I were in trouble, Ray did what comes natural to him – he helped. His true character was exposed. This story illustrates several points about Ray – his natural instinct to always put others before himself no matter the situation; his ability to stay calm in even the most challenging circumstances; and his absolute love of the outdoors and desire to have others enjoy it just as much, even in trying times.
For my part in this, I taught my mom the release that can be found in a perfectly placed f-bomb. Right there, on the side of that mountain, I taught my mom to say the word fuck. But in that situation, it must be felt from the inside and screamed from the depths of your soul – FFFFFFUUUUUUUUUUUCK! Not an easy thing for that Wellesley-born and -bred girl to do but she nailed it. I kinda doubt she’s ever said that word again.
It took us ten hours to finish our trek down the mountain that day. The streams that we had admired on the way up only a day before had become angry near-rivers on the way out. More than once, we found ourselves in knee-deep water. We kept moving forward, aware that hypothermia would be a real threat if we didn’t get out of the cold and rain. By the time we reached the parking lot, I was in a bit of trouble. I remember I stripped off my wet clothes and I didn’t seem to give a shit that I was buck naked in a parking lot. Ray and mom wrapped me in a Mylar blanket and got us into the warm, dry car. Within an hour, we were checked into the local Best Western, warm from our showers, and talking about the pizza we would have shortly.
The next morning we woke to a crystal clear blue sky. It would have been a beautiful day for a hike.
We have recounted this story many times over the years. Ray always says that it’s the most challenging days on the trail that we remember the most. True in life too, I guess. I’m reminded of the advice heard within the hiker community so often – never quit on a bad day. To all of you taking on the AT this year, remember that. I wish you each just enough challenging days to make the reward of reaching Katahdin that much sweeter. Just enough rainy days to fully appreciate the sun.
There were many lessons to be learned from that experience in the White Mountains. I learned about my husband’s strength and leadership abilities. We were all reminded of how unpredictable and unforgiving the White Mountains can be. I discovered that I can do anything that I set my mind to – and that day my mind was set on getting off that trail. Most importantly, I learned that by putting one foot in front of the other, we can get to a better place – again, on the trail and in life – which proves that OneFoot is more than just my husband’s trail name; it’s a way of life.
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