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Most people are so accustomed to using their vision for guidance when hiking that they don’t even realize it. For those of us who are sighted, we make decisions almost solely based on what we see: how to place a boot onto a tilted rock; whether an ominous cloud is headed in our direction; suddenly ducking under branches that might otherwise give us a good poke in the face.
It is entirely possible to use the sense of touch—that which arrives through the bottom of our feet, to hike a decently flat trail in pitch-blackness.
I do this on trails I know pretty well, I admit, but even then I may lose my way a bit. I certainly don’t head out in the thick of mosquito season. John Muir used to climb trees during storms so he could be in the midst of the action. I suppose night hiking is one of my ways to do something noteworthy too.
When the Blair Witch Project came out, I was intrigued with all the hoopla. Although there were scary sounds and bizarre rocks piles and a great deal of footage careening around the woods, I realized that none of it scared me. Being out in the middle of nowhere is fairly unterrifying. It’s navigating big city traffic or shopping in a big box store that does me in.
No small wonder, then, that I feel right at home here in the Door. I love the freedom we have to careen around, unpressured, in the woods, by day or for a change of pace, at night.
Best to approach your choice of trail quietly. Then you can hear last year’s leaves rustle. A squirrel traversing a crunchy leaf pile sounds like a bear, a very big bear. Silence can be, well, disquieting!
But if you give it a chance, suppressing nervous giggles and not using your phone’s flashlight, it might surprise you.
For one thing, I’m forced to move slowly as I feel for footing. That in itself is a welcome treat! The songbirds have all gone to bed, but you may hear a loon or an owl.
It’s uncomfortable at first, as if you are naked, completely vulnerable and out of your normal element. A twig snap can draw your breath up sharp, fooling you into thinking someone is behind you. Jack the Ripper is only a figment, but let’s hope that a skunk doesn’t cross your path.
Trails can be tricky what with our abundant rocks and roots. There are no rules, however, so feel free to traverse a trusty paved road, through a State Park (we have 5 of them!) or one off the local beaten paths.
On the trail, it is entirely possible, after attuning yourself to be able to feel the trail through your feet, to realize instantly the moment you step off of it. It becomes very affirming, a mini sort of adventure, a small moment of triumph, when you are then able to feel your way back to the correct path.
We are often humbled when facing something larger than ourselves. Out of all the truly wonderful Door County things we have: dancing to open air music, outdoor Shakespeare, the aroma of conifers, art up galleries galore, whitefish and cherry delicacies, I defy you to take any of that to your soul as much as a walk under a full moon in one of our quiet places. It is only for a few moments that I stand still, alone in the woods, held by and returning the gaze of the moon, but those moments will remain with me all of the night, all of the nights for nights to come.
It’s funny we can schedule our daily lives, our responsibilities and our vacations, but it doesn’t seem permissible to put something like: “night hike” on the calendar. It has turned out to be one of the most important events I will ever attend.
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