Sturman: Ready To Hike

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(HOST)  The coming of spring means different things to different people.  For commentator Skip Sturman, it means getting ready for a summer passion.    

(STURMAN)  Lord Tennyson famously wrote: "In the Spring a young man’s fancy… turns to thoughts of love." That may be true but here in Vermont, it is just as fitting to say, in the Spring, a man and a woman’s fancy, turns to… thoughts of hiking.

For my part, as soon as the peepers start peeping and the mud stops seeping, my feet start twitching in eager anticipation of another hiking season. Like many
hikers, I bide my time by making sure that I’m ready to hit the trail as soon as conditions improve. Let’s see: day pack, check. BPA free plastic water bottle, check. Comfortable hiking boots, check. Compatible hiking partner, double check!

But, hold on a minute; that last item really deserves special scrutiny. After all, finding an ideal hiking partner is no mean feat (so to speak).  In my quest to identify a trail soulmate, I have tripped over roots and scampered over rocks in the company of tortoises and hares; smokers and water guzzlers; hikers who act as if their feet are bound and others who just PLAIN bound.

Luckily for me, some 20 years ago I stumbled upon my ideal hiking partner. I’m talking about a septuagenarian with two artificial hips, arthritis and a stent to keep his coronary artery from clogging up.

Looking back, I can’t quite remember exactly how we discovered each other. All I know is that our reputations and shared obsession with mountains, preceded us.

When we first met, we approached each other warily, like two aging gunfighters wondering who would draw the first blood. Our initial exchanges probably went something like this:

"Heard tell you climbed the 100 highest in New England."
"I reckon that’s true but aren’t you almost an Adirondack 46er?"
"Yep. Still working on the 48’s in New Hampshire, though."

And so it went until one magical day we decided to throw caution to the wind and bag a peak together. Talk about a marriage made in hiking heaven; we found that we matched each other, stride for stride and rant for rant. Now, some 55 mountains later, we can even finish each other’s stories, mostly because we have repeated
them so frequently.

What I didn’t know 20 years ago is that my hiking partner is truly one of a kind. Who else can stand on summits and rattle off peaks as far as the eye can see, even without the aid of maps. And how many peakbaggers do you know who study meteorology and geology and can identify all manner of birds and trees. So what if the majority of them are deemed to be hermit thrushes and beech trees?

For most hikers, the end usually justifies the means. In my case, at least when I’m in the company of my hiking partner, the means is satisfying enough.  And it’s curious but a funny thing happened on the way to scaling those 55 peaks together; somewhere along the way, my hiking partner became my new best friend.

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