Saturday, October 19, 2013

Know your limits--but don't limit yourself

"It's a mile and half!" wailed the woman next to me at the trailhead kiosk. I found the dismay in her voice nearly comical, since I'm several decades older than she was and I had no qualms about hiking to the top of North Pack Monadnock.

On the flat, I can walk a mile and a half in about forty-five minutes, but North Pack isn't flat. It rises about a thousand feet in that mile and a half, though the actual climb is more because of dips in the landscape. My best time ever for the trail is an hour, on a day when I was impelled by some pretty dire stress. On average, I figure it will take me ninety minutes or a little more.

I don't know what limits that young woman had. Maybe not enough time; maybe not enough water. Certainly her footwear was inadequate for the rocky, root-snagged trail. I hope she looked at the contour map and judged herself not yet fit for the climb, and I hope she embarked on a shape-up plan. I hope I'll see her on the summit next year. 

Most of all, I hope she didn't just give up on hiking.

In the woods, knowing your limits is a survival skill. Reaching your destination without the time or energy to return can kill you. Many's the time I've stopped short of my goal because of fatigue or bad weather or because I overestimated my fitness level or underestimated the challenge. Many hikers are faster than me. I step aside with a smile and let them pass.

Some limits are immutable (I can't fly) and some change over time (I'm slower than I used to be). The neat thing about most limits, though, is they're not rigid. I can improve my fitness, return another day, get better boots. I can choose another trail to the top. 

The one thing I can't do is stay off the trails. If I stop hiking entirely because one mountain defeats me, I limit myself. And that's one thing I refuse to do. I accept that I'm aging, but the rocking chair can wait. It'll feel good after I come down off North Pack.