A few weekends ago J and I traveled to Massachusetts to meet up with some good friends and check out the Big E, which is, for those of you who've never been, like a state fair on steroids. I used to think the fried food selection at the North Carolina fair was astounding, but they had nothing on the these guys. Anyway, because J is a total opportunist when it comes to his hobbies, he decided that we should make an event of the trip and visit the Massachusetts and Connecticut highpoints the next day (you can read more about the highpointing business here).
I don't like highpointing. That's right, I SAID IT. I don't like it in the same way I don't like the birdwatching stuff, because I'm not really one for accruing specific goals that can be added to some kind of life list. But I do love the situations that both activities entail. You're outside, you run into interesting people and you usually get some exercise. Plus, you get to check out new places and often, I force J into stopping for coffee after we're done, and that's always nice.
So I said, "Let's do it!" We found a totally adorable, affordable place to stay in the Berkshires that night and headed to Mt. Greylock, Massachusetts highpoint, the next day. You can drive up Mt. Greylock. Up at the peak there's a lodge, a few trails and lots of helpful rangers. Gorgeous views everywhere, and lots of tourists.
The Connecticut highpoint is different. Way different. I think the Connecticut highpoint is exactly the kind of thing these highpointers get off on. Difficult to find. Difficult to climb. Known by a select few. Annoying.
The highest peak in Connecticut is on Mt. Frissell. But it's not located at the top of Mt. Frissell, because the top of the mountain is actually in Massachusetts. So you have to stumble around until you find this tiny little marker indicating that you are, in fact, the highest you can be while still in Connecticut, before passing over the state line. It's ridiculous. This site, called "Peakbagger," which, frankly, sounds dirty to me, provides some information: Mount Frissell-South Slope.
The second highpointing excursion was going to be totally different from that morning's trip. I could tell the second we pulled onto the bumpy gravel road we were to follow for, like, three or four miles. No people anywhere. Just murderers and bears.
Yeah, you know how I feel about abandoned woodsy areas and murderers and bears. Only black bears in Connecticut, you say? The wildlife is an integral part of the outdoors experience? I don't care. It's still way different than spotting a deer or squirrel.
My ex-boyfriend once said he thought I had the opposite of claustrophobia because I am afraid of wide open spaces and the lack of people, rather than being in crowded, tight spaces. It's true; give me a semi-bad neighborhood in a city any day over a lonely forest glen.
I didn't want to be labeled a coward, however, and the truth of the matter is I do like hiking. I also adore being outdoors. I love the fresh air associated with unadorned nature, pure and simple, and sometimes that means leaving the crowds behind. I can deal with that. Sort of.
Also, I shouldn't complain because J had the baby strapped to his chest the entire time, but this hike was hard. There are certainly more difficult trails out there, but I wouldn't call myself an experienced hiker and I was really working for the majority of our uphill climb. At times we were basically on our hands and knees, pulling our way up large rocks. We'd passed a couple of other hikers on our way in, but since then we'd seen nobody and I was starting to wonder exactly how quickly I could pull out my Blackberry and dial 911 in the case that we were attacked.
I was cranky, to say the least. I'd been up for this, but climbing and climbing and CLIMBING in order to find some remote metal marker on the state line just to say we did it? Are you serious? Also, our directions were confusing and the trip was psychologically, as well as physically, exhausting. We had to hike to the top of one smaller mountain, then hike back down a bit before beginning to scale Mt. Frissell. J kept saying we were "almost there," which I found frustrating because how can you possibly know when you're "almost" on some southern slope of a mountain at the state line, especially when you're never been there before and especially when all landmarks listed are things like "pile of rocks" or "especially large tree"?
My body was tense, I was scared and all I could think about was how we kept going deeper into the wilderness and in order to get back to our car we had to do it all over again.
Just when I was really starting to hate life, we heard voices. A couple was approaching us from the opposite direction, hopping down the rock face, having already completed their upward climb. Other people! I enthusiastically greeted them. Seeing other people on a hike always helps remind me that, in terms of my fears, I'm being an idiot. People hike in the woods! And not only do they survive, they have a good time.
The couple asked us how we were doing with the baby in the Baby Bjorn, and J gave them a quick rundown, telling them that hiking with the baby was really very easy. They said they were interested because they were expecting their first.
This healthy, athletic, not-afraid-of-bears-in-the-least woman about my age, she was totally pregnant. I stood there, sweating and resentful and totally not helping out with Nora, and I thought a good long while about how I needed to seriously stop it. Where was worrying about bears and murderers going to get me anyway? It was a beautiful day! I was with my family, somewhere on a mountain near the Massachusetts/Connecticut state border, for Christ's sake, and if my husband wanted to find that obscure marker, then we were going to find it.
We chatted for a bit, and before getting on their way, the woman said, "It's great to see you guys out here. It's good to know that you don't have to stop doing all the things you love once you have a baby."
"You can do everything you used to do!" I exclaimed without a moment of hesitation.
I didn't say it to try to impress them. That's something I truly believe and I meant it, one hundred percent. So on we hiked until, after searching around in the brush, J found what he was looking for and we were - officially - standing on the highest point in the state.
After such a grueling uphill trip, my legs were weak and I fell a bunch of times on the way down. But we didn't see any bears.
More importantly, I didn't even stop to look.