Monday, November 12th, 2018
Hike #10 feels like a turning point. No longer am I starting this project, but rather, am warmed up and moving into the long haul. I want to mark this milestone with a walk that feels big; I really want to reflect on the momentous nature of this new phase of this adventure. I decide to head to the Valley, spend the night at a friend’s and undertake the hike early the next morning. Going away really seems to reinforce the weightiness of what I am doing.
There are two hikes in this area that I am considering- New Germany, a 11km, level 3 hike, 2+ hour trail, and Nictaux Station, a 21km, level 4, 5+hr one. Still working with physio and the pain I am having in my hip, New Germany is definitely the smarter option. It doesn’t however, feel momentous. It feels safe. Safe is not how I want to do this hike. I decide the night before that Nictaux Station is trail #10.
I leave the house early the next morning, bundled up against the very cold day. The wind is blowing hard and the mercury is hovering around the freezing point. It is frigid and dark as I walk to the car. Even as I get in, I am uncertain as to which hike I am going to do. I can head straight out of Annapolis Royal to the easier hike, which will get me home with time to write my post and prepare for the work week, or I can head back towards home and the Nictaux Station trail. I decide to “go for it” and head towards Bridgetown and the highway. Bring on the challenge.
As often seems to happen with me, finding the trail itself proves a struggle. Despite noting the 18A exit from Middleton on my way to Annapolis Royal the day before, heading back towards Halifax this morning the sign for Middleton and Nictaux Falls says exit 18. The book clearly says “take exit 18A”. I drive past, thinking that maybe I am supposed to approach this hike from another road. Wrong. I take exit 17, turn around and head back along the 101. I follow the directions in the book, turn right into Middleton when I get to highway #1, and start looking for the next turn toward Nictaux Falls. I am soon heading out of town however, so turn around again and head back. Easier to find the small sign from this direction, I go right on the #10, finally on the right road and within 6km of the trailhead.
This hike is already feeling like an ordeal and I am starting to think that the hiking gods are sending me signals to do the other trail today. I briefly reconsider my choice, but being so close, I keep going.
While I find the town (few houses?!) called Nictaux Falls, I can’t find the trailhead. GPS coordinates are generously provided in the book, but I don’t have a GPS with me, nor do I know how to use one, despite Jamie having shown me a few times. On the geocaching outings we did with our kids years ago, Jamie was always with me and I never saw the need to learn how to use a GPS; I thought of it as just one more unnecessary thing to occupy brain space. Today I note to myself to learn how to use it and from now on bring it with me.
Still looking for the trailhead, I obviously go too far and have to turn around again. I see a sign for Nictaux Falls (how did I miss that?!) and head that way. Within a few kilometers I am traveling along a rural road surrounded by farmers’ fields. Nothing about this matches what I read the Nictaux Station hike’s terrain is like. I turn around again, resigned to forget the hike, go home and return at some future point with a GPS (and some GPS-reading skills). Admittedly, I am both disappointed and a tad relieved.
As I head back towards Middleton, I see a gas station/convenience store up ahead. I turn in, pull out my book and try to find a map on my phone to tell me where I am. 10 minutes later and I am no closer to finding out where I am in relationship to the trailhead then before. Again, I resign myself to return with a GPS. I sense however, that I am torn inside- I want to drive home and away from this hike, yet want to leap in and tackle it. Why am I so ready to give up on this one? I jump out of the car, head inside and ask for directions. The kind woman points me back to where I just came from, and while she doesn’t know where a trailhead or trail are, she thinks that there is a small parking lot just down the road. I confirm with her that where the road forks I should go right, then jump in the car and head back the way I came. At the fork however, I am confused by a sign that says “Nictaux Fall” pointing to the left, which better mirrors the directions in the book. I go left and am soon back on the farmers’ fields road. I turn around again. Am not sure why, but I sense that I am sabotaging this hike.
After a few more turns I just stumble upon the small parking lot and the trailhead (REALLY hard to identify as a lot, due to the overgrown vegetation all around it) – exactly where the woman described it would be. Triumph! I pull in, throw on my gear and hit the trail, making sure to head to the left as Michael directs me to. I follow the written directions in the book very carefully for the first 200m, paranoid I am not on the correct path. But I am. For what feels like the first time today I am where I am supposed to be. I try to relax and settle into the long hike.
Terrain-wise, this hike is easy. It follows a small dirt road the entire way, with no ‘off roading’ or wanderings through the woods; there is no chance of getting lost on this one. That’s for the best today, as getting lost seems to be what I am excelling at. As the road slowly climbs, with a lack of challenges on this route my mind slips into a place of deeper thought. The landscape is nice and it is good to be surrounded by quiet and trees, but being unable to see very far past the edge of the trail due to heavy tree cover means that I start looking inside more then around me.
I start thinking about that inner conflict I was feeling around this hike. Even deciding which hike to do in advance was hard. I realise that I am afraid of this trail. I am worried that my hip can’t take it and that shooting pain will force me to abandon it. I am afraid that I will get stranded far along the trail with no one but myself to rely on and me physically incapable of handling the distance. This is a big one for me- while I have walked farther in a day, I have never gone as far on one single hike. I think about fear and the effects it has on me. On us. My mind slips sideways and I wonder what else I am afraid of, and how it may be keeping me from doing what I want to in my life. Not for the first time, I smile and give thanks that I am so damn stubborn; otherwise I wouldn’t be on this trail right now.
Thoughts of fear lead me to thoughts about failure. I am afraid of failing to complete this hike, to the point where I almost gave up before I began; almost turned the car around after a few small obstacles and headed home. What would failure today look like? Being overcome by pain and having to head back before I complete this trail? Having to return another time to start it again? Deciding that I couldn’t do it before the pain hit and turning back, telling myself that I am being responsible? If I’d given up and not started the hike in the first place?
If I gave up on this hike and never did another one in the book- abandoned the entire project- would I have failed? I wouldn’t have completed this challenge I have set for myself, but would I have truly failed? Already, in the last two and a half months, I have hiked more then I have in the past 20 years. Isn’t that a success? Evidently failure is relative. Perhaps allowing my fear to hold me back from trying- be it an individual hike or an entire project- would be failure. Wow. This is complicated.
I work daily with youth who are afraid. Lately students who are passing challenging courses are coming into my office to drop those classes because they are too hard. Instead of facing their fear that they may fail, or, like many I see, still pass but may get a lower mark then they want, the choose to drop that which is hard. There is an idea in our society that eliminating the things that we don’t excel at- that don’t show off our best abilities- is an excellent coping strategy. We have somehow created a world where our time is so precious (though we certainly waste a great deal of it suckling mindless technology) that we need to use it only for those tasks that we are good at. “Life is too short” we have convinced ourselves; therefore we shouldn’t spend any of our time doing the things we don’t like to do. Really? How can we ever become resilient people with grit if we quit whatever doesn’t highlight our strengths? It is as if we have fallen into a Facebook world where only the highlight reel should be lived, and instead of accepting our low lights, we simply erase them before they can happen. How can we examine things relatively if we only have the ups and no downs to compare them to? When did we become afraid of digging in and fighting for success, even when success may be defined as simply making it across the finish line… regardless of how we place. Or in this case… not making it this time, but coming back to finish another day, having learned something valuable about myself. Perhaps true failure is allowing our fears to dictate our lives.
With a great deal of stretching along this hike, as wisely suggested by Kim the Physio Goddess, I make it to the turn around point. I pull out my sandwich, rest against a cement block and enjoy the food and landscape. This is a junction where Oakes Brook and the Nictaux River converge. It is a place where the high up landscape of the trail I have been walking and the deep gully below where the river has been flowing, meet. I enjoy the icicles on the branches hanging by the brook and the sounds from both bodies of water. I made it half way and am still moving forward. My fear melts away and I know that I will make it back.
As I turn to retrace my steps, the sun shifts to my back and I realise that my shadow is now hiking the return trip with me. Rather then feeling weak and sore, I notice that this new perspective shows me as strong and solid. I have a spring in my step and walk back very happy and proud. Getting to the 250m section through the rock cut, my favourite stretch of this trail, I stop to have a long stretch on the ground and a second lunch. I know from the book that there is only 6km left of this hike. I can crawl that far if needed. I am determined and won’t quit. I also know that I can simply stop and stretch as often as needed, so crawling shouldn’t be necessary.
It is a long walk back but a good one. I have searched, found, acknowledged and faced my biggest fears of the day. I know that every step forward on this project is another achievement, regardless of if I complete all 60 hikes. As I round a bend in the trail and see the end of the hike I raise my arms, throw my head back and hoot with joy.
I have completed Nictaux Station. I have completed the longest hike of my life. Failure would have been giving up on finding the trailhead. Everything I did today after deciding not to quit was a success.
Wisdom From the Trail
- Fear is natural. It is important to face and examine your fears, to determine if they are helping or hindering you to live the life you want.
- Failure is completely relative. Perhaps refusing to risk is the greatest failure of all.
- Sometimes being kind to yourself means knowing when to kick yourself forward rather then playing it safe and hanging back. You can’t be given resiliency or pride- you have to earn them alone.