Cramming for my Hiking Exam


I’m not lost, I just don’t know where I am, I think as I study my map, which is tattered from sweat and refolding.

The problem is blue and white.

Why are so many stretches of Sugarloaf Mountain trails blazed blue or white? There are way too many trees painted blue.

The other problem is that I’m stuffing 3 months of training into 2 weeks. I’m cramming for an exam — a 26.9-mile hike — by hitting the gym, and bolting up and down Sugarloaf Mountain.

This is not an optimum conditioning plan. But it’s all I’ve got.

I hike at day’s end when the sun is setting. I speed-walk up and down the mountain, propelled by fear, since the trails are virtually impossible to navigate in the dark. (Ear buds and music blot out my irksome panting and gasping.)


Well-timed hikes yield this view

Under normal hiking situations, Maisie acts as personal trainer, circling and barking. But on these evening marches, she just trots ahead. I imagine her thinking, It’s dark, let’s get the hell out of here.

I’ve gotten lost on the mountain. The great thing is that other people get lost, too. And they ask me for directions.

Getting lost has advantages. It guarantees extra mileage. And last Sunday afternoon, the fact that I spent hours pondering my possible location, distracted me from my swollen, itchy foot.

Sidebar here: European hornets are the largest vespine [that’s “wasp”] in North America. They are attracted to light at night — porch lights, for example…. or indoor lights… accessible through a broken screen door.

Sidebar to that sidebar: European hornets camouflage quite well against an Oriental rug. And the pain from a sting –hypothetically speaking — lasts for hours; the swelling…about three days.


But enough about that.

Last Sunday I eventually found my way off Sugarloaf.

I hope the same for all those people who asked me, “Is this the right way to the parking lot?”

My frantic, torturous mountain marches are winding down as exam day nears: Xtreme Hike, our annual fundraiser for the Cystic Fibrosis Foundation, is Saturday. I’ve blogged about this before, like last year. And I’ve accosted many of you, via email or in-person, to donate. My deepest thanks for every contribution. You will get your money’s worth: I’ll tackle 26.9 miles in a day, and these funds help Brynn and others with CF.

If you’ve been spared my pitch and you’d like to contribute to this GREAT cause, it’s not to late to donate. Feel free to check out my page for Brynn.

That’s it, I’m hitting the “publish” button. I’m late for my Sugarloaf sunset dash.

The Jalopy

Occasionally Martin embarks on random hikes in the woods, exploring the forested girth encircling Sugarloaf Mountain. He laces up his hiking boots, calls the dog to his side, and slips through the cornfield across the road.

I get it. These bush-hacking larks offer the only chance for solitude. A temporary respite from work, kids and me.

Invariably though, my cell phone rings. “Hey, can you come pick me up?”

“Yea, sure,” I’ll say. “Where are you?”

“I don’t know. Somewhere in the woods.”

On his last outing, Martin stumbled on an abandoned truck mired in a wooded creek bed. “It reminded me a little of that jalopy we saw in Sonoma,” he said. “Do you want to see it?”

So last week — on a random kid-free afternoon — we struck out in search of Martin’s junker truck.

I didn’t expect his discovery to resemble the old jalopy in sunny California.

Last fall, somewhere in Sonoma

Around here, antique cars don’t fare well in the East coast elements. And Martin’s find had been rotting in the woods.

But I like all things old. And I was game to see anything that might spark memories of wine tasting and our fancy B&B from vacation.

As Martin and I abandoned the sun-baked corn field and waded into a vast stretch of woods and poison ivy, I expressed mild reservations: “You’re never going to find that truck in this mess!”

“Trust me, I’ll find it.”

We cut through the high grass and followed a narrow deer trail until it dissolved into nothing but waist-high thistle, twisted greenery and wince-worthy thorns. In the thick overgrowth we adopted a goose step to clear the prickers and poison ivy. Even so we were itchy and sweaty.

Just when all seemed lost — who should we call and how will they find us? I thought — Martin announced: “Here it is!”

Camouflaged in a sea of green was the old truck, a rusty victim of weather and neglect.

I’m no gear head but I’d guess that the truck dated back to the early ’50s. And at some point in its life, the once road-worthy ride was downgraded to farm vehicle. A large tank rested on the wood runners — probably used to dispense insecticides over fields. Then someone had driven it too far and mired it in the forest lowland. Maybe the owners planned to retrieve it but never got around to it. Maybe they abandoned it on purpose.

Clearly we were not the first to stumble on it. Hunters had used the rusted body for target practice. Not a glimmer of glass remained and it was stripped of any scrap worth stealing. The door yawned open, as if the driver had stepped out for a second.

We crept through the prickers and peered inside. But we didn’t linger. Nearby, buzzed the distinctive hum of ground bees.

I don’t know if we’ll see our jalopy again but if we do stumble on it, I’ll know that we’re not lost. Yet.