The final hike of Hike366

The date was highlighted on my calendar: MAY 10. It was the day that I’d fly into the Boston airport for a short visit with my family. It was also the last calendar date I needed to complete the list of 366 hikes. In 13 years I had never hiked on May 10. This was my year.

My dad picked me up from the airport and we immediately drove 2 hours to the trailhead. We stopped for coffee and breakfast because I was running on just a couple hours of bad plane sleep. We had a twelve-mile day ahead.

A history

It felt fitting to complete this project with my dad. I remember trips to Connecticut when I was a kid. Connecticut. It felt like an exotic, distant land. I grew up in Rhode Island, so my sense of distance and time was pretty skewed (I would later learn). Driving just an hour away felt to me like flying across the country. When we landed in a campground in rural Connecticut, I rushed out into the green trees and tall grasses, my imagination on fire. These camping trips meant so much to me. We caught frogs, played games, went swimming, made campfires and took walks in the woods. Hikes.

These hikes were nothing epic. I remember stopping frequently to look for animals or admire the flowers. We flipped over rocks, wandered off trail to explore unique looking things and took time to learn about the world around us. Mileage, time and elevation gain were foreign concepts. We were just out walking as a family.

But I lost interest in these moments as a teenager. It wasn’t cool to hang out with the family anymore and we took vacations to theme parks instead of the forest. In college I was much too busy to hike and besides, all my city friends weren’t interested. It would take several more years for me to reconnect with hiking and spending time out in nature.

The final countdown

Flash forward to today. I was bubbling over with excitement at the idea that I had done it. I was just about to complete a project that I’d been working on for years. Just like my dad, I was very good at starting projects and much worse at actually finishing them. This one was happening.

At the start of the hike!

Our hike began at the Gunstock Ski Resort, which was just ramping up for its summer season activities. We had taken an Uber to get here, since our walk was a one-way traverse. An employee of the resort pointed us to the start of the trail and we were off.

Not long into the adventure we ran into an off-duty hiking guide, who accompanied us on the first three of nine highpoints we’d reach today. He was friendly, very chatty and knowldgeable about the area. When we reached the firetower he bid us adieu and we set off into the woods on our own.

We’d truly be on our own until the very last highpoint. Solitude. Yes. A recurring theme of this project.

On solitude

I’d come into solo hiking out of necessity. As it turned out, my adult friends weren’t interested in hiking, either, so if I was going to get out I’d need to get out on my own. This was terrifying at first, but it grew on me. I liked the feeling of being deep in the mountains by myself. I enjoyed learning how to be self-reliant, how to problem-solve in real time without having someone else to fall back on for advice. I loved the quiet that solo hiking brought. And with my dad here today, I felt all the benefits of solo hiking with a bonus: I got to share lots of special moments with him. The summit views, the snake across the trail, the pretty flowers, the sparkling lakeside lunch stop. Instead of taking a picture to show him later, we were able to have those experiences together.

The grand finale

It was a long, hard day. Nine highpoints meant lots of ups and downs. New Hampshire meant lots of steep ups and downs. But we pushed through, together, racing to stay ahead of storm clouds and finish the hike in a reasonable amount of time. There was no turning back, since we were hiking to the car at the other end.

Atop the last highpoint, a broad summit with panoramic views, I took a deep breath. We did it. There were a few other people there, sitting and taking it all in. It was a popular hike, and a heck of a climb to get up there. This was a place to rest and reflect. So we did.

The hike down involved some bouldery, steep descents. The adventure wasn’t over yet! We shared the trail with some people still going up, others coming down. Near the bottom we met a guy who was working on a very similar project to mine, except his goal was to hike that single trail on all 366 calendar dates. Wow!

Last hike complete!

Now that the hiking is done, what does that mean? I have focused so intently on this goal for so long that I’m going to need time to figure out my next steps: for this project and for my next hikes. I’ve got a long list of trip reports to catch up on, photos to edit and organize, big ideas to put together. My next step is to tell the whole story. My drive to complete Hike366, what it means to me and what lessons I can share with others. Hiking has been, and continues to be, a source of passion and meaning in my life. As an activity that can be done every day of the year, it is a great way to remain grounded (literally and figuratively) in the ever-more-complicated world.

So, stay tuned. I’m not done yet. I’m definitely not done hiking. But I’m also not done speaking. There’s lots more to be shared. Follow the Instagram feed for almost daily photos and keep an eye on this blog for more good stuff about hiking.

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