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Hubbard: Mansfield Hiking Group

Shortly before 7am most Tuesday mornings, my life-partner Sally and I meet a small group of friends in the parking lot at the base of Stowe Mountain Resort. We come to hike Mt. Mansfield, as many of us have been regularly doing for more than 25 years. Most Tuesdays, our goal is the top of the quad ski lift, high on the mountain.

Throughout the year we experience all kinds of weather, and dress accordingly. At various times in winter we climb with MICROspikes, or snowshoes, or skis with climbing skins. But on warm and sunny days in the late summer or fall, we climb in trail shoes or hiking boots.

Often we head diagonally up along the Crossover trail at a conversational pace, passing several of Stowe’s famous downhill runs. But when we get to the North Slope trail, conversation stops and it gets more serious. Each of us then heads uphill as rapidly as we can, and slowly we drift further apart according to our various abilities. At the top, we regroup, snap a picture, and head down together, when it’s time for conversation again.

I’m 72 now and most of us are in our 60’s or 70’s. We’re all clearly in, or approaching, what we might call “use it or lose it territory” and I’m sure we all share the same preference to keep our fitness up as long as we can. These days most of us hike despite some type of physical constraint, whether it’s a less than perfect knee, ankle or back, more weight than we’d like, or something more complex and life threatening. It’s increasingly about just keeping the hiking going and supporting others to do the same.

Although we’re quite diverse in background, gender, age and current or former professions, we’ve become good friends and over the years had great conversations and helped each other through business and job changes, health issues and divorces. Each time one of us has a birthday we celebrate with breakfast together after the hike.

On our hikes we’ve enjoyed seeing occasional deer, bear, wild turkey, a moose or two, and a wide variety of other animals and birds. As winter ends, we enjoy an annual contest of “who can find the most coins” which appear each spring as snow melts from the trails. In early summer we sometimes stop on our way down to pick tasty wild strawberries. Later we pick blueberries.

We also enjoy all the wild flowering plants; from trout lilies, mayflowers, bluetts, columbine and trillium in spring, to daisies, devil’s paint brush, red clover and others in summer, plus the beautiful leaves of red and gold during fall foliage. Best of all, we enjoy a wide variety of fantastic views, first snowfalls and, occasionally, spectacular morning sunrises.

As I think back over these past 25 years, I’m grateful to be living in Vermont and enjoying the outdoors in the company of wonderful friends. It’s a great way to age!