Saturday, August 04, 2007

Two Good Walks - Unruined

Mars and I went on two different three miles hikes recently. Our son Bram, who was visiting from New Mexico, requested the first and accompanied us. The other was one that we, mostly tongue-in-cheek, suggested but he declined to partake in so we did it ourselves two days after he left.

The Sleeping Giant after whom the *mountain was named is either the spirit Hobbamock sleeping eternally after diverting the waters of the Connecticut River or an ancient chief who became overcome by drowsiness after consuming too many oysters.

(*I should point out that in Connecticut, probably because we are a relatively short state, we tend to call things mountains that other locations might label as foothills or even moguls. The tower at the peak of Sleeping Giant, to which we walked, is about seven hundred and thirty feet above sea level. You decide.)

Although we exercise daily and hike a lot (and a lot longer) when we are on vacations, especially in the desert southwest, Mars and I do not do much trekking around here. It is not because we think the trails are too easy or too difficult. It's probably just another one of those instances where local folks do not do local things unless they are entertaining non-locals.

The "Tower Trail" is considered a "gentle climb on wide clear path" according to their Trail System map, a mostly shaded (uphill)out-and-(downhill)back. We walked across the giant's torso somewhere between his head and chest and climbed to just barely past his left hip. The temperature that day was probably in the mid-eighties on the mostly shady trail but occasional microclimates (usually around larger rock formations) gave us a nice break from even those non-uncomfortable conditions.

We took about an hour and one half to ascend and fifty minutes to come back down. Several other walkers passed us on the trail. The first one wearing a blouse, skirt and running shoes and carrying a cell phone looked to be an office worker on break from Quinnipiac College which is located across the street from the park. At the other extreme was a huffing and puffing mid-forties guy with a water bottle belt at the base of his spine whom we saw four different times (twice going up and twice coming down). There also was a young man and his large dog and two young women one of whom carried a large cup of Dunkin' Donuts coffee for hydration.

There not being much variation in the scenery along the route (tall native trees, ferns, rocks, and a few wildflowers) we chatted among ourselves mostly about non-hiking stuff, and moved along at our own steady pace. At the end of the up-route we walked to the top of a four story stone tower. On a clear day you can see Long island Sound and on a hazy one like we had the city of New Haven rising like Brigadoon just over the giant's right hip. We ate our snacks of almonds and dates, enjoyed the breeze and then headed back down where we consumed the sandwiches that we brought in the picnic area just south of his chin. On our drive home we stopped for some homemade ice cream at a local stand.

It was a nice leisurely trek that required enough attention to where and how we were going to keep us in the present and make us aware of where we were; adequate exercise to provide our fix for the day; some new things to see and some old things to see differently; and sufficient opportunities for quiet conversations or solitary thoughts. Good walks do that.

Our second three mile foot-journey occurred on a wide-open, relatively flat, sun drenched area where our son would have been embarrassed to be seen with us - the "Flat" Nine at Goodwin Park Golf Course about two miles from our house in the adjacent town of Hartford.

We tried to entice Bram to join us by explaining that while not a National or State Park it was a part of a municipal recreational area; that what counted on a walk was the duration and distance, not the speed; that he didn't have to wear garishly colored madras pants or even a collared shirt to take part; and most importantly that he need not swing a club or carry ours (we have push carts) - but he steadfastly declined our invitation, barely hiding his appall at the entire concept.

Mark Twain famously called golf "a good walk ruined". There have been instances when both Mars and I would have agreed with him - but not this time.

The day started off unpromisingly when Mars awakened with a "small" migraine headache. She took one of her magic pills and we waited. After a couple of hours she proclaimed herself good enough to give it a try - "We can always stop." - took a couple of Motrin (for some other pains) and we headed off to the course.

The weather was pretty much identical to that of our Sleeping Giant trek except this is a "links" course (minus the seaside attributes and the sand bunkers) and therefore ninety-eight percent bereft of shade. It is also a "public" course - i.e., everyone welcome, no dress code, no clubhouse, change shoes in the car, etc. The one amenity is the occasional water cart that patrols the grounds looking for dehydrated hackers to revive. It showed up twice during our first nine holes and then disappeared. But we carried our own which we refilled from the peripatetic public trough when it came our way.

We normally play nine holes, 2,544 yards if you hit the ball straight (like Mars) - up to a third longer if you play like me. There was a pair of women playing and three older gents toddling behind (all also walking). We only had to wait at two holes and never were pressured from the back. As we finished the ninth hole, realizing that if she were not feeling well we still wouldn’t be here and she definitely wouldn't be hitting the ball as well as she was, I asked Mars if she wanted to play a hole or two more. She was in fact feeling great and did.

We walked back to the first tee and waited in one of the very few shady spots for a mother and her young son to finish off that hole. Since the mom, a good golfer, was doing most of the playing they moved quickly. We started off intending to repeat the first three holes again and then head back. After the third, there being no one behind us or immediately ahead, we decided to do the fourth and fifth. And from there the next two. And then, since we had come this far, to finish off the remainder of the course. We rationed our water to leave us empty on the ninth green - walk, walk, walk swing, walk, walk, walk, swing, sip...- and maybe because of this circumstantially induced rhythm we both hit some of the very best shots of our relatively short careers.

After a lot of our hikes, particularly the southwestern ones that went off into unfamiliar territory with only each other and our snakebite kit, I have felt somewhat heroic - not a bigtime lionheart with a capital H but in the smaller sense of having accomplished something bolder and more unexpected than I thought I could - something that I probably wouldn't have tried without Mars. Right place, right time, right person.

A few years ago I would have felt that treading purposefully through eighteen holes of golf while scoring several pars and a birdie was in the "never gonna happen" category. Now it feels like another good walk - un-ruined.

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

The one thing I have figured out about golf is at least half the attraction is an excuse to be outdoors for an extended period of time. Hear the public courses in New Mexico are outstanding, too.