Cadence: Reflections from the trail

Trail at Many Glacier (Photo by Erica Thompson/NCC staff)

Trail at Many Glacier (Photo by Erica Thompson/NCC staff)

June 4, 2016 | by Erica Thompson

Humans are animals and like all animals we leave tracks as we walk: signs of passage made in snow, sand, mud, grass, dew, earth or moss.... We easily forget that we are track-markers, though, because most of our journeys now occur on asphalt and concrete — and these are substances not easily impressed.

Robert Macfarlane, The Old Ways: A Journey on Foot

One of my favourite parts about spring is thinking about summer, especially the anticipation of a vacation that will involve walking from somewhere to somewhere else.

Trails, paths, tracks, way, course…there are countless words that describe the routes we use to move across landscapes by placing one foot in front of the other. Walk, stroll, amble, wander, saunter….there are countless terms for simply moving under our own power, while never having both feet off the ground at the same time.

A dear friend, whom I have logged a lot of miles of trail with, often reminds me: hiking is all about cadence. Keep putting one foot in front of the other and eventually you will get to where you are going. The magic of momentum along challenging trails lies within the balance of step, stride and breath, he says.

This pattern applies to most aspects of life, I figure.

I was reminded of the value of conscious cadence last summer, when we hiked the Loop Trail in Glacier National Park, Montana. The trail head is located at the sharp bend on the Going-to-the-Sun Road (an engineering feat completed in 1933 crossing the Rocky Mountains at Logan Pass), east of historic McDonald Lodge. The trail offers up spectacular views of the massive 2739-metre Heavens Peak and the McDonald Creek valley below.

The Loop climbs up from the Logan Pass for seven kilometres leading to the Granite Park Chalet and sections are a real grind, but worth every hard breath. The backcountry chalet was built in 1915 by the Great Northern Railway, to provide hikers accommodations inside the park. It was the last of the chalets built by the railroad and one of the only two back country chalets that have survived. Winding through the remains of the 2003 Trapper Creek Fire, which burned more than 19,000 acres (7,689 hectares), the trail steeply climbs more than 731 metres to reach the chalet through wildflower-studded meadows and regenerating pine forests.

That day in July, we eventually made it to our destination. We walked up to the chalet and ate apples under the cover of the deck while waiting out a passing thunder storm. You can only access Granite Lodge by walking up to it. There is no road. You have to earn it one step at a time.

That day on the Loop Trail in Glacier National Park is one of my fondest hiking memories. In a world of constant connection, the task of moving by foot from one place to another by trail is desperately meditative and soothing to me. There are no cell phones with their dings of email notifications and calendar appointments.

Journeying along a trail, whether solo or in shared company, helps us access our imaginations, process questions, deepen perspectives as walking moves us, inwardly, towards quiet and stillness. Conversations are different too, the way we shift between sharing thoughts and quiet is unique along the trail.

This summer’s hiking plans are still in the works, but I am sure it will involve a trail joining somewhere to somewhere else.

Want to get out for some hiking? Come visit us this summer.

Erica Thompson (Photo courtesy of Erica Thompson)

About the Author

Erica Thompson is NCC's national director of conservation engagement.

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