By: Emily Reiling, Venture Outdoors Intern
When I became a summer intern for Venture Outdoors, I realized that I had very little experience with the activities offered outside of the occasional kayaking adventure on the North Shore. That view of the city from the water is unbeatable, but I needed to learn more about the region’s opportunities to get outdoors from the perspective of a typical Venture Outdoors’ member.
After a quick look at the upcoming activities, I found myself registered for a hike in Hartwood Acres. I had my reservations—organized outings are great for someone newer to the area or activity, someone looking to make connections with people who share an interest in the outdoors, but I am not that someone. Hiking with a group of strangers, allowing for varying paces and experience levels, did not interest me in the slightest. However, I decided to push these thoughts to the back of my mind and reserve judgement until the hike’s conclusion.
When the trip leader sent out an email with the details a few days later, my concerns radically shifted. Upon registration, I had known that the hike was “advanced” and could be up to 10 miles in length. That sounded easy enough when reclining in air conditioned comfort and thinking of the times I had spent at Hartwood Acres growing up—attending concerts, strolling along the paved paths, driving through the light displays at Christmas, even taking my senior pictures at the park’s mansion! There was no way a hike at this place could be difficult.
Let me preface the following with this caveat: my parents introduced me to hiking and other outdoor activities at an early age. Our family vacations often lead us to a mountain rather than a beach. Read: I am no stranger to hiking. However, this email stressing the difficulty and fast pace of the hike, strongly recommending hiking poles and gaiters (still don’t really know what those are), made me now nervous not that I would be slowed down in a group, but that I would be that person slowing the group down. I immediately forgot that I am young, active, and a relatively experienced hiker, instead envisioning a number of scenarios all ending in embarrassment. This combined with humidity levels that brought the projected temperature into the 90s seemed like as good a reason as any to opt out, but the morning of the hike found me at Hartwood Acres uncharacteristically early, wielding my gear and a nervous smile.
I headed toward a group whose long pants and waivers gave them away amongst the families and dog walkers, feeling my nerves ease as I saw a wide variance in ages, only a few hiking poles, which I had chosen not to buy for this hike, and a nice mixture of hikers who had come with someone or alone (I had convinced my sister to come with me on this first hike, but in hindsight going by myself would have been perfectly acceptable and enjoyable.).
The rest was simple—after meeting some wonderful people, we quickly departed from the Hartwood Acres I knew to follow trails not traveled by the average visitor. Sure, the hike was hard; we ended up traveling about seven miles in high heat before cutting it short due to inclement weather, and I was undeniably tired at the end. More importantly, I came to understand that my reservations were unfounded as the group came to a find a natural pace allowing for both speed walkers and stragglers, sometimes in easy conversation and other times in an equally easy silence. Along the way I learned more about the park’s flora and fauna from our extremely knowledgeable leader than I ever could have learned on my own, and even more about its rich history. I was given the invaluable gift of seeing an old, familiar place with new eyes, and I am now excited to return and continue exploring.