I didn’t tell you what happened on my winter hike the other day. How when you’re fatigued and disoriented, your mind can play tricks.
Earlier, when starting out, I was tuned to the environment. The trails were marked with colored disks, and the surface was packed snow and ice. I breathed in the cold air, the freshness of the outdoors. I took in the trail and bare trees and snowy terrain, the azure sky.
But eventually, I start thinking of other things, which is one of the reasons I came out for this hike. I wanted to turn over an idea. What if she did this? What if he said that? What’s the best choice? I’m cycling through this other world, completely absorbed, while another me hikes along the trail, one foot in front of the other, the spikes on my boots gripping with every step.
This goes on for an amount of time. I don’t know how much time. And then one world snaps off and the other turns on when a bird screeches overhead.
I get a glimpse of a broad wingspan before it disappears behind the trees. A falcon or hawk of some type. One more call and the bird is gone and I’m alone and the first thing I notice is the silence. There’s no distant machinery or traffic. No more birdsong. No wind. Simple, absolute stillness and cold.
I’m in a flat section of woods and I’m not sure if I’m near the top of the hill or have already crested the summit.
I think back. At one point I was on the green trail but did I take the red summit trail when I reached the intersection? Have I even reached the intersection? Now I’ve turned myself around enough times I’m not sure which direction I came from. It looks the same both ways: a flat, narrow, icy section beneath a tree canopy. I can’t even make out which footprints are mine.
I choose a direction and walk until I find a trail marker. It’s neither green nor red. It’s yellow. When did I turn on the yellow trail? Is that the ridge trail? At the trailhead, there was a map enclosed in glass. I looked at it but didn’t take a photo. It seemed simple enough to remember.
I walk for a while and the trail remains flat, then begins to ascend. I’m about to turn around but the terrain dips again and I keep going. I forgot how exhausting it can be to walk over uneven, icy ground. My legs ache. My stride length shortens. Each step is tiring. It’s colder than I expected. I wasn’t sure which gloves to wear and I wore the wrong ones.
I reverse course, thinking the other way is back. I trip on a knob of ice and pitch forward. I get my arms in front of me to break my fall but my jaw strikes the frozen ground and my teeth clamp shut and I bite my tongue. The metallic taste of blood fills my mouth.
I get to my feet and laugh out loud at my own folly. The trails all loop around the mountain to a single main trunk that returns to the parking lot. I just need to pick a direction and keep moving, which I do, and soon I’m oscillating between my two worlds again, and later I’m back at the trailhead.