Without sounding boastful, there’s nothing like a good hike to settle a man’s soul and put him in touch with God’s world.
Over the last three decades, ever since the YMCA fitness buffs invited me along, I’ve scaled my share of mountains, including the tallest peaks in each of the New England states.
I’ve been stranded in transit, encountered turbulent conditions, lost a hiking boot to the elements, and suffered my share of calluses and bruises — all in the line of pleasure, I might add.
The joy of reaching any summit is bound to have a redeeming effect upon me, especially in this fast-paced world of stress and anxiety. A hike in the woods with the smell of balsam and pine is the pearl in my oyster.
So, it comes as no surprise that some of this glitter would rub off on my children. As Boy Scouts, the boys have done their share of mountaineering. The latecomer happens to be my daughter, who spares no limits in maintaining her fitness.
The job of being city editor carries a lot of restrictions, but she unwinds with a solid workout in the gym. One day we worked out together on a cruise and her routine ran rings around me. I couldn’t believe it was the same woman who, as a girl, preferred dance classes to sports.
“Let’s do a hike together,” she volunteered last May. “Pick a mountain and off we’ll go.”
Each of our spouses would come along for the ride and even indulge. No sweating a son-in-law who played college hockey and can still stir up the ice. But my wife? A non-hiker?
“I’d like to tag along if that’s all right,” she proposed.
Who was I to object? Her confidence level was already high and mighty. Absolutely, we would hike as a family should and enjoy one another’s companionship on the mountain.
Our choice was Kearsarge, located in the Sunapee Region of New Hampshire — a 3,000-footer with scenic views along a gradual incline, mostly over rock. We chose the Winslow Trail, named after Captain John Winslow, commander of the USS Kearsarge which, in 1864, sank the Alabama in the English Channel in a famous Civil War sea battle.
We picked a date and counted the days leading up to our approach. Then disaster struck. On the week of our climb, I went in for a stress test and failed — miserably. A cauterization showed three blocked arteries, which called for open heart surgery.
Triple by-pass surgery had nixed our plans.
A month’s worth of rehabilitation was followed by physical and occupational therapy. The mere thought of scaling a mountain remained off limits.
“Kind of let everybody down,” I said glumly one day when the family gathered. “Maybe God was trying to tell us something. The next hike could have been my last.”
We settled for a fall encounter, only to be offset by other priorities. Two dates were marred by rain. Another was overruled by work commitments — theirs, not mine. When you’re retired, time is usually on your side.
The subject was closed until this summer when it was broached once more by my daughter.
“So when are we going to take that hike?” she wondered. “I’m ready to climb.”
We picked a couple possible dates and took our chances with Mother Nature. After a week of intense heat and humidity, the big day arrived — a weather pattern that called for no humidity and low 70s, a perfect outing.
Off we went to Kearsarge, through the forest and over bare granite ledge to the 2,937-foot summit. After reaching the top, we opted to traverse part of the Barlow Trail with breath-taking views of the White Mountains and Mt. Cardigan in the north, Green Mountains of Vermont and Monadnock Valley in the south and Lake Sunapee off in the distance.
Not a black fly in sight, much less a mosquito. On this day, I felt on top of the world with those I love very dearly.
We met a 70-ish couple from Houston, Texas, joined by three children and spouses, together with six grandchildren. All of them decided to have a family reunion on the mountain and posed for that one unforgettable snapshot.
A Scouting expedition crossed our paths. The number of children afoot was most inspiring, along with an occasional dog or two.
I could mention all the other innuendos along the trail, but that would only be rhetoric on my part. Better still is the air I breathe, the sights to behold, the fact that God gave me a second chance at life and here I was, climbing His stairway to paradise.
Faith may move mountains, but it still takes work to maneuver them.
Photographer and writer Tom Vartabedian is retired from The Haverhill Gazette. he contributes this regular column.