The math adds up, mostly. When you walk 4.25 miles in one direction on a rail trail, you should get the same number coming back in the other direction. Except that I took a couple of detours on the walk north, exploring side paths that I’ve previously marched right by. This wasn’t a timed walk, it was all about being outside, alone with the ice. Well, mostly alone; there were the seven other people I saw, shufflers every one. The iciness of the rail trail made it unsafe for walking without micro spikes strapped into your hiking shoes, but crunchy ease with them.
That crunchiness. The quiet solitude made the crunch, crunch, crunch of my every step echo off the frozen landscape, and I paused now and then to listen to the stillness I was disrupting with my walk. The crunch was caused by my micro spikes biting into the two inches of frozen carpet atop the rail trail, sprinkled on top with bits of broken ice accretion fallen off the branches above as the trees shrugged off last week’s icy embrace. Snowflakes drifted silently to the ground, not in an accumulating way but in a complete the scene way. I welcomed them and noted their progress along with my own.
The ice crunch was my companion the entire afternoon, the chatty hiking partner with a lot to say, but not the only ice talking to me. The ponds on either side of me also spoke, in sustained, low rumbles and pops as the ice sheet on the ponds came alive in the relative warmth of the sun. For those in places where ponds don’t freeze, it’s a fascinating rumble, almost like a serpent is brushing against the icy ceiling, looking for a place to break free. It’s particularly exhilarating when you’re standing out in the middle of that frozen pond, with your body weight adding to the groaning of the ice. These are days when you forget the rest of the madness in the world, and it’s just you and the ice.
I reached the depot on the north end of my walk, looked around a bit, seeing only two cars in the parking lot and knowing the three people who they belonged to whom I’d see on my return south. And I began the four mile walk back, walking with purpose, focused on getting back in a little more than an hour. That’s a good clip marching on ice, but my meandering was for the northward leg of my walk; it was time to accelerate on the return. Frozen footprints in the ice make fast walking challenging and a bit dangerous in the middle of the rail trail, and getting injured alone two miles from help wouldn’t do at all, but the sides of the trail were generally footprint-free and I made the desired progress. Walking for speed offers a different reward than meandering, this was more workout, less pondering the world. But I made it back to the southern parking lot pleasantly surprised by my speedy pace, finding my car alone in the icy parking lot, patiently waiting for its own chance to move.
Ice offers its own rewards, if you’ll only look for it. This winter has been uncommonly warm, and the ice was a welcome return to winter for me. A well-prepared walk on a frozen carpet of wonder, surrounded by ice sculptures and rumbling ponds. That’s the February Sunday afternoon I’d been hoping for, an exclamation mark on the weekend and a chance to pivot into the week with a clear head.