By Alexa Coughlin
It is carved into human instinct to congregate towards one another. To live in close proximity to another creature that shares similarities in speech, function, and thought process is perfectly natural. The call to gather and share in the company of others has long been popular practice to a comfortable life. It is because of this however, that people have increasingly lost sight of yet another important human instinct- the need to get away! In my belief, it is pertinent to a healthy, happy life to take time away from the hustle and bustle of crowds of people and to find comfort in the uncomfortable. And what better way to do so than to hike a mountain?
Last week, Zach and I decided to take a drive just 40 minutes outside Burlington, Vermont and enjoy getting back in touch with a little Mother Nature. When surrounded by your own kind for so long, it feels wonderful to be the minority amongst the wildlife and vegetation. After hitting a morning WOD at CrossFit Burlington, our legs were anything but rested prior to the start of our adventure, but we couldn’t resist the challenge of one of the hardest hikes Vermont has to offer. The original plan was to be on the mountain by noon, a precautionary strategy used by a majority of hikers. But like stated in previous posts, our life almost never goes as planned, and it was after 3:00pm before our feet met a dirt path.
Hell Brook Trail was definitely named appropriately. Over four miles round trip, the distance wasn’t far enough to be intimidating. But when paired with a steep uphill terrain of slippery boulders and jagged rocks, the trek became a little more daunting.
We loved it. Being able to test our progress in the gym by traversing real life obstacles really put into context CrossFit’s mantra of the unknown and unknowable. Step by step, we were greeted with a never-ending series of nature’s box jumps and rope climbs. As we trudged further and further into the depths of the Vermont landscape, we became less cognitive of the human world we were marching away from and more in tune with the hum and buzz of the forest encompassing us. It’s peculiar, in a way, how comfort can be found in two drastically diverse cosmos. One being the blood, sweat, and tears accompanied by the boom of music or screams of encouragement that delineates a CrossFit box from any other montage of fitness practice. And the second a scene so humbling one might find themselves lost in serenity amongst the flesh and flora of a backwoods trek.
After a little over an hour of hike time, Zach and I finally reached the head of our journey. Looking out atop Vermont’s highest peak, roughly 4,400 feet, Mount Mansfield provided a three hundred and sixty degree view of the surrounding mountains and the valley below. The houses of Stowe and Underhill looked like anthills from the summit. Pictures will tell the story of a quiet, peaceful moment overlooking the land, but our experience at the top was nothing short of loud. What people don’t tell you about standing on top of the world, is how noisy it can be. With nothing blocking the wind, Zach and I compared the sound to that of a jet engine taking off. Standing on the edge was not only a test of ones fear of heights, but a test of balance against natures invisible hand which pushed us around like leaves in this turning autumn weather.
Believing that we had more time than was actually available to us, we sat down in a small nook about a dozen meters from the peak to escape the wind and enjoy a light dinner. Assuming that our descent would take a comparable amount of time to our upward trek, we left with just enough time to beat the setting sun. We certainty won’t ever make that mistake again. Zach and I found ourselves in a rather precarious situation after stopping more often than necessary to take pictures as well as visit the Taft hiking lodge to write our story in its’ travel log. It turns out that the sun was much faster than we originally anticipated, and our descent of the trail began to increase in difficulty as our vision of the ground below our feet slowly began to decrease.
As if the situation wasn’t unfortunate enough, we then somehow managed to lose the trail, or so we thought. After what seemed like an eternity of hiking horizontally, my heart rate began to increase with the idea that this path might not be taking us back down the mountain. It was also roughly this point in time when Zach graced me with his knowledge of hearing what he thought was a bear. With it fully sinking in that we were in a definite “oh shit” situation, I was just waiting for yet another roadblock to occur to push me into full panic mode.
By some random stroke of luck we found ourselves trampling down the familiar path of the Hell Brook Trail again. And by trampling I mean stumbling, tripping, and quite a bit of scooting. A drastically different scene from our more graceful, athletic ascent to the peak. It is unbelievable how much coordination is lost when one can no longer watch their own feet touch the ground.
I had successfully sweat through two shirts and a flannel from nervous anxiety by the time we finally caught a glimpse of the road. The sight of smooth asphalt was a welcome one, marking our victory over the darkened forest. I must admit that looking back on the situation now, Zach and I can laugh lightheartedly about our dangerous close call. In hindsight, our physical preparedness, forged from our countless hours in the gym, made the mental battle we were forced to fight a little easier. After all, it is the ‘unknown and unknowable’ that CrossFit is supposed to ready us for. With that said however, being lost on a mountain in Vermont pushed my mental capacity to the brink and I’m unlikely to venture into it again, at least when the sun goes down.