Smoke Signals

Rough going


The trail herein pictured was improved all to hell last summer. The bulk of its rocks were removed. Its grade made more benign. Erosion-control structures were installed at appropriate intervals. I was disappointed in the extreme. I have always been attracted to trails that are rocky, bumpy, unkempt and otherwise “bad.” On a purely selfish level, I know your average person, even your average hiker, is going to seek out more polished pathways — meaning there will be fewer people tromping upon these delightfully unmaintained trails. And those who are willing to risk fractures and sprains in the name of seeing what’s around the next bend will either be fellow devotees of challenging backcountry perambulation, or at least those willing to negotiate difficulty if that’s what it takes to access wherever the ragged trail goes. Of course, every once in a while, there will be an accidental traveler, one who did not know before the fact what roughness lay ahead. Sometimes those people will be scowling, growling things like, “This trail needs to be fixed,” as though it is a dog in need of immediate neutering. More often than not, though, they will be smiling, glad for the chance to experience something at least approximating real adventure in these faux/contrived-adventure times. Making backcountry-based social observations is not why I am attracted to rough trails, though. Hiking by itself does not necessarily make one tough, in the sense that, say, going through Marine basic training makes one tough. But, under the right circumstances, it can make one tough-er. Rugged trails test and enhance balance, proprioception, concentration, endurance, dedication and desire. Of course, there’s always the chance of fucking up your ankle or knee. That’s part of the package. Maybe even the best part. The big “maybe.” I think this is yet another example of where moving through the woods serves as a living, breathing analogy that can be transferred back to civilization. Strength rarely comes from well-coiffed tracks.