Wednesday, March 31, 2010

Trail #2

There isn't a day goes by that I don't wish I was full time at work. However, on days like today, when I get to leave work at 1:00 in the afternoon, when the sun is shining and the temps are in the (say it with me!) upper 70s, I do smile at the glass-half-full side of being part-time.

I've been trying to motivate myself to start exercising again, so I started walking a couple days ago, covering several blocks in town. Yesterday, my schedule didn't work out as well, and I didn't make it outside. (Bad Odie!) Today, I knew I had to get out in that sunshine. Instead of heading out on the sidewalk, though, I decided to drive to the state park and walk one of those trails.

Because I hadn't had lunch yet and was hungry, I chose one of the trails closest to the park's entrance so that I could get parked and get walking. It was already 1:30 by the time I got out of the car.

Trail #2 is not just a hiking trail, it's also a horse trail. Our state park is very horse-friendly, so the horse trails get used a lot. I knew it was a shared trail, but I didn't anticipate that being an issue. It was, but probably not for the reason you might be thinking. (I didn't step in, or have to dodge anything stinky.)

The ground under the trail I'd chosen had a high concentration of sand mixed in it. Four-legged hikers, shod in iron shoes, had churned up the soil so that it reminded me of walking on the beach. In many places, the trail sank between banks almost a foot high of the same sandy soil, and all of it was covered in dead, dry leaves. It was not an easy walk (which is good news, on the exercise front).

As I chugged up the trail, wallowing in the horses' footsteps, I glanced at the forest floor that ran beside the soft trail, and I thought, "I bet it'd be easier to walk there. It looks flatter, smoother, less beach-like." So, I tried it, with "try" being the key word.

The ground beside the trail wasn't as churned up as the trail itself, so my feet didn't sink into the sand. Unfortunately, there were lots of little switches and branches with briars growing along the trail, so I traded my sand-filled shoes for scratches on my legs. I also found it difficult to stay off the trail. My feet were constantly slipping down the little banks and slopes - the leaves worked against me and the sandy ground kept eroding. It was more work - and more painful - trying to stay off the trail than it was to stay on it.

It dawned on me, as I tried to avoid the overused path and blaze my own - parallel to, yet different from the established one - that it was a great symbol for life choices. Some people choose to follow the herd, to stay on the chartered path, even when the path isn't exactly what they thought it would be. They follow it diligently and usually end up right where they thought they would. They measure their success in reaching the desired destination.

Then there are those who refuse to walk in others' footsteps, who fight to make their own way, who stumble and fall and wear themselves out in an effort to do it differently. Sometimes, they fully abandon the established trail and forge into the wilderness with little more than a good pair of boots and a backpack full of hope. Sometimes, these wanderers blaze a trail others can't help but follow; once in a while, the mavericks simply get lost. Whether they end up at a predetermined destination or discover a whole new world, they measure their success in the journey they took to get there.

I think I'm a little bit of both. I like to know where I'm going, and I like the comfort that comes from knowing there's a path that will get me there. At the same time, though, I want to make my mark on the world. I want my footprints to stand out from the rest, somewhere along the path I'm walking.

I came out of the woods where I planned to today - with sand in my shoes and scratches on my legs.

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