Before I knew about mountain biking or the term singletrack, when BMX was all the rage and I wanted the skills of the kids in RAD, I was building bike trails in the small wooded sections on our property. The trails were short no more than a couple hundred feet in length, and I would connect them by riding across the yard or the road. Building the trail involved little more than raking, clipping and hand sawing, perhaps moving a rock or two. I’d ride laps dreaming I was on a grand adventure or racing around a track.
The mid-July sun beats down on our backs—we are dressed for battle in full military fatigues— crawling on our forearms and knees through the field, moving our arms like the feet of an old windup toy to pack down trails in the tall grass. We are creating a labyrinth that will become our base for a week or so before the farmer comes to hay.
A few decades on, I am past Army costumes and my tools now have engines, but I still love to build trails. Which is why, back in 2012, freshly returned to Vermont from the urban west, Erin often found me under my large-brimmed straw hat pushing our mower through the high grass of the field of our rental property or clipping branches in the woods. I was building trails for the boys, I’d tell her. Though perhaps I was just grasping at childhood memories, trying to dull the pain of my father’s death.
For me, building a trail is a creative release. It is a meditation that has meaning beyond the dopamine hit of physical exertion. The creativity and feeling of accomplishment is another way for me to lead the tango with my depression. It is a way to give me something tangible that can break the cycle of the negative self talk.
My favorite trails are narrow and meandering, leading through forests of any kind. The journey is far more important than the destination–a horrid cliché, I know. Trails bring me peace, comfort and challenge; they spark that bottomless wonder that we have as children but seem to lose as we gain in age–society having subtly beaten it out of us. Each footfall on a trail is a new experience, a chance to reveal something, a mystery to be solved, a new sight to see, an old relic to find, a burbling stream to sit beside or an enchanted land to discover. Trails are all the stories and dreams of my childhood stretching out before me. Here the world comes into sharper focus, thoughts clear, a bird serenades me as I come to the conclusion of a problem, an interesting mushroom or the most brilliant fallen leaf, stopping me mid-stride. On days when the darkness wallops me and on the days when everything is good, a saunter on the meandering trails near our home clears my mind and helps me refocus, allowing me to see what the Lord has given us, a place filled with beauty and wonder–if only we take the time to see it.