Wednesday, September 17, 2014

Vacation imagination

This is where I watch the sun come up. 

So much of the pleasure of a vacation happens weeks in advance.

My upcoming three-day hiking trip to my favorite wilderness retreat — Pittsburg, New Hampshire — begins next Tuesday. But in my heart and my imagination, my nature getaway begins the minute I open Evernote and begin itemizing packing and to do lists.

  • S’mores ingredients. Check.
  • Hat and gloves. Check.
  • Running shoes. Check.
  • Walking stick. Check.
  • Travel mug. Check.

Each item on the list comes with a treasured repository of memory. There’s the hilly, chilly morning run past First Lake and on to Happy Corners restaurant for celebration pancakes. Hat and gloves a must. There’s the late-night, fire-pit roasting of marshmallows under a jewel box of radiant stars. And that steep and miserable climb up to Magalloway’s summit, where my walking stick’s a necessary appendage? Up there, breathtaking — oooh, aaaah — tempts hyperventilation it is all so beautiful.

And what about the travel mug? My daughter Ardis and I sip coffee on our before-dawn photo safaris up and down remote logging roads, where fox, bull moose and deer bound in front of us, flushed from their meanderings, as surprised as we are. Ardis, the daring one, takes our off-road vehicle places I would never go alone.

Full moon over First Connecticut Lake.

For years I have opted for Pittsburg adventures in lieu of travel to Italy or France or Greece or Spain — all places I have no personal knowledge of despite how right they seem for me. I choose nature. And it calls to me so persistently that I never fail to reserve a cabin and let myself be drawn, mile by forested mile, till I am breathing pine and peat and wood smoke. My hiking buddy Lynn called it “the Pittsburg effect.” Once I pull away from it and head home, and that is a wrenching moment, it haunts when I blink, turn my head, bring a fork to my mouth, mount a lectern to greet an audience. I know the siren call personally. And so did Lynn.

And yet, you cannot know what is to come.

I often open my iPhoto library and scroll through Pittsburg photos taken year after year, season after season. How many photos do I have of Murphy Dam? Of the moose feeding in the wallows? Of Lynn? Of Cliff? Two of my favorite hiking companions, Lynn Harnett and Cliff Post, died within a week of each other just a couple of years ago. They both look so happy in Pittsburg, with the panorama of Maine, Canada, Vermont at their backs and the solid granite summit stone at their feet. I miss them most right there and in the memory of there.

Cliff Post, left, feeling content,
at the end of the scramble
to Table Rock. Lynn Harnett, right
thrilled to have found a new trail
in nearby Vermont. 

I have packing-for-Pittsburg rituals that keep up my end of the bargain so that Pittsburg won’t disappoint. I wedge a sharp chopping knife into the middle of a roll of paper towels because my knife is a good one. I bring two-ply toilet paper because we do appreciate our creature comforts more than the lodge owners do. I have a gin-and-tonic on the deck after a long day of hiking and exploring so that, despite the chill this time of year, I suck in enough of her essence to carry me through the winter and bring me back to her next year.

As the sun sets, there's time to commune.

In the top tier of New Hampshire, where Pittsburg spreads its ever-changing woodlands and waterways like a Secret Garden, there is always something new to see and do in nature. Or, put another way, there’s always another way to bully fate.

Pittsburg doesn’t get old. It is the lover with always the new trick up her sleeve. Or the soft shale on the precipice’s tempting edge.   

All this pre-travel fantasy may psyche me for my next rendezvous with Pittsburg, but it will never prepare me. Imagination gets me only so far. I have to be there to truly know.


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