Wednesday, May 27, 2020


B. wanted to walk her dog. An enthusiastic puppy, he was too young to go far, so we settled on a three mile round trip trail to a small lake. I've been there many times over the last nine years; there have never been more than three cars at the tiny trailhead parking area. But as we rounded the bend, we were shocked to see about a dozen vehicles lined up along the road.

We fled in horror. To people from more populated states, this might not seem like very many folks to deal with on the trail. But here, at this pretty but not spectacular trail, not really close to any other attraction and with no sign on the road off the highway indicating its presence, it was too much.

Luckily, B. knew of another trail in the area. We drove there anxiously, but there were only two cars there. Bonus, it was twice as long and would tire the rambunctious dog out. While I was disappointed at not seeing the lake, the solitude of the new trail made up for it. Wildflowers dotted the hillsides, and we looked down at the valley from a small overlook.  On our way back to town, we glimpsed another trailhead, and saw cars parked half a mile along the road.

I'm not sure what to make of this trend. Even the woods in my neighborhood are crowded, when I used to be able to have them to myself. (Yes, I realize I'm contributing to the crowding). My theory is that while the gyms were closed and people working from home, they discovered some of the trails. Also, tourists are here, fleeing their more restrictive states. Some don't seem to get trail etiquette: bikes race toward hikers, their riders not even saying thank you as we leap off the trail. Even more unruly dogs jump on strangers than normal.

Now that gyms and all businesses are open again, maybe the crowds will lessen, especially when they can access the national park. I really shouldn't be surly: I'm out there too, and I should be glad that people are enjoying the outdoors. And soon the snow will melt, and I can get into the high country, and leave most of the people behind.

Sunday, May 17, 2020

Pity, Party of One

In January I decided to take a trip at the end of May. I didn't tell very many people. I didn't even ask for time off work; there would be plenty of time to do that. Unlike the other trips I have taken, I had a weird feeling about talking about it. I almost felt that I would "jinx" it.

Well, I didn't jinx it, covid 19 did. By the beginning of March I could tell it probably wouldn't happen. So instead of packing for the flight that was supposed to take off in thirteen days, I'm cancelling reservations and filing a claim with my travel insurance company. And while I understand the need to cancel, I'm sad.

I was going to fly to Iceland and then on to Greenland for a few days. Amazingly, everything lined up perfectly. I booked a few nights in Iceland, one at a fancy hotel with its own hot water lagoon, as a treat. In Greenland, I was going to a tiny town that overlooked a fjord full of icebergs. One of the places I was staying was a wilderness hut where I would be dropped off by boat and then hike back to town. The flight from Iceland to Greenland was more expensive than the plane from the U.S. to Iceland, but this was a trip of a lifetime, my last big international travel before I have to leave my job due to age limit rules. 

Iceland and Greenland's borders will still be closed. They are set to open soon, but after my trip dates have come and gone. Even then, testing and self quarantine will be required. The airlines cancelled my flights. Some of the hotels refunded me; the others refused, even though some of them aren't even open. "We're a small business," one of them said. Listening to the weird feeling when I booked, I bought Cancel for Any Reason travel insurance (most travel insurance companies will not refund you for "fear of coronavirus"). I should recover most of my money.

Will I ever get to go? Maybe not. I won't have the income I have now next year at this time. The virus may return to Iceland and Greenland, causing them to close borders again. Airlines may go out of business (I hope not, because I'm waiting on a refund). International travel may be changed forever, or at least for a long time.

I know it's not all about me. There is a greater goal here. But it's okay to be sad when you have to let go of plans, of seeing friends, of travel. Maybe I can find somewhere to go this summer locally and feel happy about it. Until then, I'll throw away my packing list and tear up my confirmation letters. Maybe someday, after all this is over, I'll be walking down a trail in Greenland. Or maybe not. Despite all the plans we make, we are never really sure what is waiting for us down the road.
Picture from my last trip to Iceland

Friday, May 8, 2020

These dreams

There is a trail I know about. It's sort of a secret. There's no sign and it's not in any guidebooks. It passes through some private land, but the landowner is tolerant so far and hasn't put up any gates or signs.

At one point the trail crosses an old road that is slowly being reclaimed by the forest, although it still looks driveable. Along this road at several scenic overlooks are building lots carved out of the trees. Piles of wood lie here, some covered by tarps. My friend who showed me the trail says the wood has been here for at least ten years. He thinks someone bought the land to build some luxury homes, but either ran out of money or found some problem that made building impossible.

The lot I would choose is the highest one, near the top of the ridge. You can see a lake from there, far below. Wildlife would visit up there. It would be quiet. If the other houses were built, you wouldn't be able to see them. You could hike and run the old roads and trails.

When I pass the piles of building material, I think about dreams. This was someone's dream that they had to let go. I wonder if they ever go back there, if it's too painful, or if they moved on long ago. Some dreams are easy to release and others stay with us always.

People are starting to find the trail and my days of hiking it may be numbered. For now it's still mine, to walk and listen and dream.