Wanting to mark the first day of 2019 outdoors, with only a few hours to spare, I drove to Mount Kearsarge, a local mountain I’d never climbed. The auto road on Kearsarge is closed for the winter, making for an easy, quiet passage from the Rollins State Park on the south side. The mountain is only 2100 feet, but it’s isolated in the landscape, with vast view that makes it feel much higher. The day was warm, 45 degrees, but there was a wind picking up and cloud cover in the distance, so I carried my small pack with some water, a snack, and an extra layer, which I’d be grateful for at the top. The road was snow covered, so I pulled NANOspikes over my gore-tex Adidas sneakers.
The auto road winds up through a dense pine forest, which breaks open for several stunning overlooks. For the first few miles, I ran over slippery pavement covered with few inches of soft snow. As I climbed, the snow was increasingly deep– crust covering unpredictable pockets beneath. It was tough on the feet and ankles and hard to get any purchase, particularly on the steeper sections.
I ran into just a few other people on the mountain and was struck by how much joy there was in almost every exchange–strangers sharing a day and place, buoyant and grateful to be ringing in the New Year in the mountains.
The first guy I passed, on his way out, was a bit of an exception. He looked fictional–long, combed hair and a wooden walking stick, metal water bottle tied to his belt–he was in his own world and didn’t acknowledge my presence as I passed. I waved to his silence. A mile or so later, I came up behind a young man with a camera in hand. He was bright eyed and friendly. We exchanged a “Happy New Year!” and “What a beautiful day!” as I ran by. About a mile and a half in, I came across a middle aged couple, walking down and looking elated. I asked how many miles it was to the summit–was it 4? They said that sounded about right, but that they’d had lunch at around 2.25 and turned around due to the intense wind. They mentioned a big pine that had fallen across the road, cautioning, “Don’t get hit by a falling tree out there!” The wind was getting more intense, noisy in the tree tops, but I figured I’d still head for the summit. I did come to the tree the couple had mentioned, but snow was covering the root ball, so it wasn’t freshly fallen. There was another tree down near the upper parking lot, easy to scramble over and again, not freshly fallen.
As I passed the couple’s lunch spot, the going got rougher—deeper snow with a hard crust–and the temperature had dropped a bit. I decided to keep on and pulled out a running vest to add a little warmth to my core. The remaining mile and a half was windy and isolated. There were no human prints, but I did see what looked like moose tracks crossing back and forth. I also saw some large round prints covered by snow. The bears are likely hibernating, but I peered into the woods anyway, wondering…
The wind and cold were getting more intense, and when I reached the parking lot at the top, I decided to turn around, skipping the half mile of trail and rock to the summit. My feet were sore from the twists and turns of snow and ice. After a quick snack, I put on another layer and started down.
A half mile or so from the top, I ran into the young photographer, looking open and peaceful, camera ready. We shared a knowing smile, “look where we are–the woods!” As I continued down, I noticed that for most of the way up, he’d followed my footsteps exactly. It struck me as poetic–the choice to plant one’s feet in a stranger’s prints and navigate their meandering path through the snow.
A bit further down, I ran into another couple on route up. “We were just talking about running Kearsarge, wondering if it would be possible in the snow. Did you run all the way up?” the woman asked. I said that it had been rough going, more like a run/hike, but that yes, it was great! They both looked fit, with that wind-chapped look of people who spend winter outdoors. I looked down to see that the man had two blades in place of feet, and said, “Oh, if you mean running in the blades, I would think that would be tough given how irregular the snow is…” “No, she offered, we couldn’t run it in those.” At that, we exchanged a “Happy New Year” and set off in opposite directions.
The Kearsarge run was a perfect way to bring in 2019. I’m not one to make a big deal about New Year’s celebrations, but I did reflect back a bit, thinking about what I’d like to do differently in the year ahead. I pondered how hard I strive–in my art life, my academic life, my personal and family life, my running–and usually the striving feels like a gift. I’m grateful that on most days I have an innate drive. On most days, I look forward to momentum, to moving toward goals. But there is a flip side, when the hungers that cause me to strive spring from a sense of lack or in reaction to feeling outside of something that I long for. If I were to frame this as a resolution, I’d say: Check the striving when it comes out of a feeling of anxiety or a defense of self-worth; give rein to hungers and drives that are authentic, that come from curiosity, creativity, and empathy.
Happy New Year!