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On New Paths

What good is livin’ a life you’ve been given
If all you do is stand in one place – Lord Huron, Ends of the Earth

If snow transforms the landscape, then a walk in that snowy terrain transforms the winter walker. Add a new path and suddenly you’re seeing the world entirely differently than you had before. Add snowshoes and you’re suddenly set free to break off trail to see new places, explore animal tracks that run off into the woods, and to see what’s on top of a rise you might have walked by at another time of year.

There’s a popular pursuit in hiking called red-lining, in which hikers hike every bit of every trail on a map or guide. A popular red-lining pursuit in New England is hiking the AMC White Mountain Guide. The whole point of red-lining is to explore new paths – to get off the crowded hiking trails and try something new. To do it, and to belong to a small group of hardcore hikers who have also done it. And add a measure of accomplishment and camaraderie in the world of hiking. I don’t see myself hiking every trail in the AMC White Mountain Guide, but I’m fully onboard with hiking new trails and seeing the previously (for me) unseen.

On Valentine’s Day I explored trails previously unseen in a forest I’ve spent a lot of time in. Snowshoeing with friends, we walked a trail largely by ourselves to new places. When you’re on a new trail like that, every step is a discovery, every bend in the trail is a curiosity, and every trail junction is confirmation and validation of what the map was trying to tell you all along. There’s magic in taking that image on a map for a walk and making it real.

The day after a long walk on new trails you start thinking about the trails at those junctions that you didn’t take. You wonder at what you might have missed down that way and begin to realize the allure of red-lining. For how do you want to spend your time in this world? Sticking with the familiar or exploring new places and challenging yourself in new ways? There are other paths that warrant exploration. I’ve seen them out there, if only on a map.

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